Prove Me Wrong, Please

Okay so Epona.Tv has been stirring up trouble again, by displaying Andreas Helgstrand and his horse Akeem Foldager at an openhouse event at Helgstrand Dressage. Akeem has rather clear wounds from the spurs and his tongue is to say the least, blue, in these pictures.

I won’t say we didn’t expect that. Honestly, that is one of the reasons why my friends and I would never go to open house events at Helgstrand Dressage. Akeem is not the only horse ridden like that, in front of a live audience, all of who are clapping their hands off at the end of the ride.

Even the Danish Equestrian Federation has had to pretend to respond to these pictures, and one of Andreas’ sponsors, Equsana, has made a public announcement that they are reviewing their partnership with Helgstrand. Long story short, everybody knows that this horse is being tortured, and no one is going to save him.

I know, just pictures, right? It could be an unfortunate moment… because of course, Akeem’s tongue tend to go blue from one moment to another… I even heard someone on facebook try to explain that Akeem recently changed riders, and we all know that Andreas sit on the horse like he was water skiing, with his legs stretched forward, (allowing him to hang on to the rein with all of his weight, and to actually look like he is sitting quietly on a horse that does not carry itself at all,) so it couldn’t be him who made those wounds on Akeem. Really, his legs never get this far back on the horse… And he only just got it…

Now, what is killing me about this is not the ignorance of the statement, as much as it is the willingness to make up excuses for a man who is quite obviously mistreating his horse in full view of the public.

First off, Andreas bought Akeem LAST YEAR. If the wounds from the spurs, from any previous rider hasn’t healed in a year, well… I would say you can’t hold the current rider totally blameless then. Second, here is the video. Watch it in full screen. The spur marks only get worse as we go through it.

I am actually astounded. Why would anyone clap their hands at this kind of riding? The horse is SO off beat you can SEE it with the naked eye at a trot, which is usually quite difficult. The horse is screaming to the audience and they are… applauding?

Watching this video makes me feel sick. Is this where Dressage is going? No wait, this is where we are at. Can we stop now, please?

Akeem is one of the BEST horses in the world, there can be no disputing that. I have to wonder, WHY is it needed to ride him like this? If Akeem was born and breed for dressage, why then, should you need to kick his sides until he bleeds, why would you need to hold on to the rein so hard that you block all circulation to his tongue? Shouldn’t dressage be easy?

Let me post another video of Akeem and Andreas, from last year, when they had just become a “team.”

Now here, we actually get to see a pretty good horse. Akeem is fighting to remain the well ridden horse he used to be. His trot, his piaffe, his passage, it’s not as horrible, as painful, to behold as it is now. Look at his piaffe work, how he carries himself, by raising his back and supporting himself on his hindlegs. And then go back and watch the video from this year, how he is off beat, jumping up and down, and giving up on doing what his rider wants.

So, one of the best riders we have in Denmark, pretty much managed to ruin one of the best horses, in about a year?

Am I being cruel now? Maybe. I just think these videos speak for themselves, and if I was Andreas, I would take one long, hard look at these two videos and wonder why I have let myself destroy this talented, well trained horse, and why I let my everyday life with the horse turn into a war that no one can win and no one can gain anything from. This was a fantastic horse when he got it, and it held on to its training as long as it could. Now, let’s see, I’ll give it another year, two perhaps, if it gets secret treatments for its joints- (which of course I can’t say if the Equestrian World would ever use and I am NOT saying that Andreas would ever dope his horses, I am just saying that Akeem would live longer if it is doped)- before it breaks down for good and we never see it again.

So, let’s applaud here, like the audience in the video from the open house event 2014. Let’s applaud the slow murder of this horse. Let’s applaud his silent screaming for help, his gasping for air, his tense and aching body, and let’s applaud the rider, the trainer and the sponsors for all taking part in this abuse.

Yes, the sponsors. I know, I haven’t really wanted to go after the sponsors in the past, because I must admit, the Equestrian World needs sponsors for all the big events. I was one of those who told people to lay off Ecco last year, for sponsoring the National Championships, not feeling that it would do any good to just force the major sponsors out of the sport.

I have to admit, I am slowly changing my mind.

Equsana, who is a horse feed company, is sponsoring Andreas. The second I saw their logo on his saddle pad, last year, I stopped feeding my horses any of their products. Why? Because unlike Ecco, Equsana is a HORSE product. They should KNOW better.

Which leads me back to Ecco. Well, Akeem is co-owned by Hanne Toosbuy Kasprzak of ECCO Shoes. She was at the open house event, she saw the horse being abused, and she didn’t stop it. If that were MY horse, being ridden like that, I would not have been watching silently, much less applauding.

So, maybe it is time to go after Ecco after all. Maybe it is time to accept that even those who might not know any better has a responsibility to look into what it is they are backing, and if they don’t care, those of us who do, should walk away. It is all we CAN do, walk away. And keep posting the pictures, talking about it. Maybe someday, the Danish Equestrian Federation won’t be led by Andreas’ father anymore. Maybe someday, change will come.

Unfortunately, it will almost certainly be too late for Akeem. It probably already is.

In the interest of fairness, I will add a link to Helgstrand’s sponsor page. And I know, Ecco is not on it. They just part own the horse he is killing.

And now, before people think I just have a special bone to pick with this guy, I don’t. I really don’t. I don’t know Andreas. I don’t know Akeem. I don’t know any of the players personally. I just have a very low tolerance for animal abuse and I can’t stand it that people keep talking about this kind of riding like it goes away as soon as the horse is let back into his stall.

Yes, it is horrible, how Akeem’s tongue is blue, how the spurs are used, and so forth, but what no one is saying, is how this affect his spine, and his joints. This is not just an hour of torture he has to endure every day, when ridden, this kind of riding IS killing him, because NO horse can handle this in the long run. Basic horse anatomy. This horse will be suffering from ligament injuries and damaged joints, if not yet, then soon. Go back and look at what you CAN see of the horse’s legs, above the bandages, and tell me that the hook is not swollen. I know, that could be caused by anything, but one must wonder, what does the rest of the legs look like, underneath the wrapping?

Again, I am not out to get Andreas in particular. He just keeps spoon feeding us examples of everything that is wrong with Dressage sport these days. I am sorry, I am really sorry, for this magnificent horse.

And for all of you who think I am over reacting, well, time will tell. Let’s see how long Akeem stays in the sport before he breaks down for good. Did that feel like a sick game to play? Well, yes. Dressage has turned that ugly these days. So let’s sit by and watch as this horse dies before our eyes.

And before I am getting sued for this post, prove me wrong. I would love to see Akeem live the next 25 years. Prove me wrong, please.


About Starstone

-Owned by horses. Writer, Photographer, Director, Musician.
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42 Responses to Prove Me Wrong, Please

  1. Denise Tross says:

    Great Blog. Thank you. It’s as if you’ve read my mind and heart.
    Regards Denise

  2. Thank you for your courage to name things as they are. Keep up the good work.

  3. Thank you so much for this post.

    Not just competitive dressage reveals the blindness–or worse–of most of humanity. A few years ago, I watched two riders give displays of doma vaquera riding. The first came in on a horse already dripping sweat. The rider yanked and spurred the horse through the entire ride, losing his hat in the process. His reward? A standing ovation. (Those sitting with me crossed our arms and remained seated.) The second rider came in on his black Quarter Horse stallion. He rode quietly and precisely, dazzling my friends and me by dropping the reins and spinning his horse while twirling the garrocha pole over his head. His reward? Tepid applause, except from me and my friends who were on our feet making a spectacle of ourselves.

    I couldn’t resist asking one of those who applauded so mightily for the abusive rider why she didn’t clap as hard for the second ride. She said, “Oh, that guy was just sitting there.. You could tell that [name deleted] was really MAKING his horse do that stuff.”

    Displays like that and those so common now in competitive dressage make me wonder what percentage of humanity really approves of harsh control and outright cruelty.

    • Starstone says:

      Oh my… that was a horrbile responce… Thanks for sharing… Here I was, thinking that it was all about making it look like you didn’t make your horse do anything, but what do I know 😉

  4. saraannon says:

    And it is all about money:
    Investors aren’t going to get their millions back if there are too many Valegros selling for mere thousands out there. Sound, healthy, horses winning for years means no market for the overpriced stud fees and new foals.
    Speculating on young stock is a great way of laundering dirty money especially when a multi-million dollar horse suddenly becomes worthless because it is unsound. Then you send it off to slaughter and spend a few million buying another promising young horse. So what if it takes some push/pull/kick to cripple the horse…

    • Starstone says:

      I never thought of it that way… That’s just an even more horrible immage than the one I thought I was looking at… 😦

      • saraannon says:

        Once I got started looking, I was completely appalled at the insidiously criminal greed and purposeful cruelty behind the big money in horses and horse slaughter. In the USA, the worst of it is through the American Quarter Horse Association. One group that laundered millions of drug dollars through AQHA race horses got busted in 2012, partly because they were registering horses with names like “Number One Cartel”.
        Apparently we live in times when the truth really is stranger than fiction!

    • tusu says:

      In fact, like all humans, a horse that participates in an active sport at the top levels, is going to eventually have some issue that will lead to his retirement. There is a reason the human marathon races are not filled with 95 year old people. Eventually, some tendinitis, mild arthritis or such thing will mean a horse has to retire from the top competitions. Barring a slip and fall type of accident out in the pasture, they still all aren’t going to be at this level of sport forever. And nor should they be. After some years at the top levels the horse deserves to be retired, go out in a pasture, eat grass with his friends…and most of the top riders make ample provisions for their horse’s retirements. Many of the top horses are living to ripe old ages. One just passed at 28, another at 30, which are exceptional life spans for any horse. Competition is only a part of the horse’s life. For example we have a horse that’s been retired for over ten years now. Happy as a clam. As far as breeders not wanting too many Valegros, that just isn’t true. Everyone in the world would like to have a Valegro in their barn. He goes to competitions and then goes for trail rides with a 72 year old lady riding him. But Valegro is a more old fashioned type of horse – sturdier, shorter legs, longer back, while still having an elegant, balanced look, and his build still allows him to perform with ease. Valegro was brought along the old fashioned way – gradually, progressively. Valegro also had a serious problem with allergies causing irritation to his nasal passages and thus head shaking, and many had given up on him. His British owners were able to overcome this without resorting to illegal means. At Valegro’s stable all the horses are turned out in pasture. It’s not all gloom and doom and evil in the dressage competition world. There will always be people who are in too much of a hurry or have only dollar signs in their eyes, they are found in every group and every endeavor…AND there are always the good people like the owners and riders of Valegro too. And it is not just them – there are others as well.

      • saraannon says:

        Tusu- I am hoping that we do agree that the value of a horse should be based on the quality of his schooling rather than speculations on his breeding and/or potential.
        However, with other avenues of money laundering being closed off (look at the recent scandals at the Vatican bank) unscrupulous people are looking at other ways of getting dirty money into legitimate venues. Inflated prices for young stock in the sport horse industry exploded as other money laundering avenues closed with crippling abuse becoming a given and the competitive lives of sport horses radically decreasing.
        Good horse people need to recognize there is a serious problem and put a stop to it:

  5. LiaS says:

    Excellent point about the overall toll on Akeem, and every other horse ridden like this. Sadly, the sport is now filled with people who don’t know what they’re actually seeing … top level riders, trainers and even judges all seem convinced that this type of riding is what we want, so it becomes self-perpetuating. And with all the calls for getting more money into the sport, the horses will increasingly be reduced to mere commodities.

    • Starstone says:

      And so we end up in a world that feels a lot like horse-racing, where horses die before the eyes of the audience every single day, on track, and no one cares… I am terrified that this is where “we” are going…

      • And I think we all have a choice. We can be kind as individuals and ask ourselves about all of our interactions with fellow men and animals. This is not always the easy path, but I feel that it is the right path.
        That does not mean we have to rescue every animal under the sun. I feel I have to take care of what I already have with me. The two horses who are trained to FEI level to whom I promised they never would be ridden again, the once foundered Quarter horse who can enjoy his days without anxiety and repression, the mixed breed from the shelter who does not have to walk on a leash because it horrifies him (who knows what happened to him before he went to the shelter where I picked him up).
        But it doesn’t end there: The cashier in the grocery store who has a bad day deserves a kind word. The person who cuts me off on the road with their car because he is in a hurry deserves an understanding thought, not anger.
        And when we are scared, we don’t have to become angry. It’s a choice we make every day. I feel if more of us make these choices, we will not have to be “terrified” where we are going.
        But I also acknowledge that it is important to point out the wrong doing in defense of those who cannot defend themselves.
        Thank you to you for doing just that.

  6. beth says:

    Extremely well written, 100% accurate this is animal abuse and Andreas should be strung up! This is horrific almost cried watching the most recent video, did not know i lived in a world where animal abuse is not only tolerated but put on a shiny stage and applauded !! :@

  7. Spot on. The cruelty and ignorance is a sad mirror of mankind. With mans (and woman’s) – our – mental, emotional issues I’m of the firm belief that competing with animals should be banned. Totally. And for all of you kind riders, I’m sorry. But money, and emotional issues connected with performance – anxiety and fear of not being good enough – are just too treacherous and in many cases too unconscious for any horses to be dragged into…
    Happyhorses! Truels

    • Starstone says:

      Happy horses 😉 Yes, that would be nice 😉 I would applaud that, any day 🙂

    • tusu says:

      I will never agree to this ending competition. At its best these competitions improve riding – they are very strictly controlled as to medications and there are very strict rules about the age of the horse and on many issues. Without the governing body we have only chaos, and competitions become like chuck wagon races and suicide races.

      Rather, the rules against drugs and pressured riding should be much more strictly enforced, as in the past. The rules are there already and are very strict. For example if you sign on to be a top level competitor for your country, EVERYTHING you do with your horse is taken into account. Those unjudged stallion shows where you pressure that horse? That is being watched and while the rider can not be charged with an offense at such a competition, it is taken into account when the teams are chosen. Your stables can be inspected at any time and your horses can be drug tested any time. They don’t have to be at a competition to be scrutinized.

      There is an American rider I know who is known to pressure horses. He will never be selected for any team. That is his one wish and he has not in 25 yrs, gotten on a team. He has made his bed and he has been laying in it for 25 yrs. A good part of that is that people who ride pressured horses don’t win. Their scores just don’t make it. Pressuring a horse brings down the score. Even if the rider acts like a little angel in the competition ring, if he rides with pressure at home it will come back to bite him in the competition arena. This is different from technical errors and lack of experience. But it always happens this way.

      Most dressage judges are old curmudgeons…rode themselves and competed for years and they aren’t afraid of anyone and they speak their mind come hell or high water. They aren’t highly paid and only do this for the love of the art and the horse, and they don’t give a poo who they offend, they will say what is on their mind and their standards are very high.

      But with more countries joining dressage too many younger judges were recruited to handle the upsurge in entries, and they are too lenient. This side of it is a new problem and can be corrected.

      In the past the riders and judges banded together to drum out anyone who was not towing the line…such as when Reiner Klimke was on the test committee, the others on the committee agreed with him – they changed the tests expressly to show the deficiencies of one rider who was pressing a horse excessively….and it worked – the horse quit placing and was retired. This was a subtle matter that the spectators never knew about. And that rider was taught a lesson and hasn’t messed about like that since.

      Talk about a grumpy old man – these grumpy old men had kept dressage on the path for decades. Now we have too many new people and the standards are not being followed as strictly. But this is something that has already turned around. You don’t know this because you focus only on the negative.

      With the British starting to win at the top again and again, the pattern of leniency is being broken now and even the most timid new judges are taking new courage. I am far happier with things now than 15 yrs ago, and I have watched it all very closely for many decades, and that is what must be done – with all endeavors of all types, or little people with little minds, will try to become big people.

      We also have groups like Xenophon who are serving as the conscience of the sport and are pushing on the top very hard.

  8. tusu says:

    Well this is not going to be popular since the bandwagon is to trash Helgestrand. I see darker areas of hair on Akeem’s sides, but no spur wounds – the darker hair areas can be from the side of the person’s boot and saddle on the horse. With many horses the hair grows in darker, but this also happens to horses whose hair stops growing in winter(would happen in most areas of US and Europe, certainly would happen in Denmark, Sweden, etc) – the area under the boot and saddle gets rubbed off. Made more obvious because these horses usually get a hair cut several times a year. Here, we leave the hair long where the boot, saddle and bridle go. So I don’t see any wounds from the spur in the photos, just the dark areas. THAT SAID…Helgestrand is not a rider I like. I feel that he buckles under to pressure too much – brings horses out to competition prematurely, takes them to too many demonstrations and exhibits, and in general, puts too much exaggeration into their gaits. I far prefer others who stick more to the traditional ideals. In general, the signs of this exaggeration are far harder to see than these imagined spur wounds. The signs of not sticking to the ideal tradition of dressage are subtle – slightly too much elevation of the forelegs(the forelegs can actually elevate and it still be correct, IF the elevation comes only from the straightness of the horse and power of the haunches – the difference between incorrect and correct elevation of the foreleg is not really so easy to tell from a photo), a very subtle difference in the carriage of the back, and the mouth. The horse can indeed have a momentary resistance and look like the mouth photo(horses can buck, play about and need to be corrected – if these horses do not buck and play out of pure joy of being healthy and fit, something is not right), but it is also possible that the picture shows a more continuous issue. Having watched Helgestrand for many years I would guess that the balance of the horse is not ideal because the underlying fitness is less than ideal. When the fitness in the back and hind quarter and upper shoulder is there from correct, gradually progressing work, the horse doesn’t need to come against the bridle except in a rare moment. The best way to tell if a horse is fit is to run your hands along its back and hind quarters, which you can’t do with a photo. To see the most important features of the performance, you can’t look at photos or videos taken from a distance away.

    • Starstone says:

      I believe that these pictures, and especially the videos speak for themselves and I am getting pretty tired of “you can’t tell anything from a picture, it’s just a moment in time… It could be just a bad moment, and you are just out to get Andreas…”
      There is no band wagon on my part, I am not joining anything for the sake of drama or trashing anyone. Akeem is SWOLLEN down his sides. In fact, an official vet has just been by and has released a statement, saying that Akeem has a cyst-like swelling down his side.
      As for the videos, maybe we are missing the most important moments. If so, that’s sad, because all I see in those videos is a horse being tortured. Still, if there are important moments, we are missing, in the video, then what about all the other moments, those moments we do see, where the horse is off beat, jumping for its life, desperatly trying to avoid pressure from all sides? No, wait, some might call that trotting… My bad… and it is “just a moment.” Ten minutes of those moments…

      • tusu says:

        I don’t like how Helgestrand rides or how his horses go. I feel he is in too much of a hurry and doesn’t put enough time in basics and conditioning. He’s going too much for the exaggeration. But I see no injury, no stitches,and no red marks, in any photos of Akeem. As I said I disapprove of Helgestrand in general and of how this horse is going and how all his horses go (so do most people, he regularly does not place unless no one better is there), but I think you’re also to an extent, seeing what you want to see there and jumping the gun. I looked very carefully at all pics., we looked at them with a loop down to the pixel level – no stitches, though there are some odd white lines and that may be a cyst that was removed – I suppose, but I can’t see it clear enough and at that magnification, stitches of a cyst (or any type of skin break) would be far clearer than that. If the vet was not an official at the competition I am not interested in his point of view about what was or wasn’t on the horse, but if he is the horse’s regular vet and he says the horse has a cyst that was drained or removed, I would pay attention to what he says. The location of the little white marks are out of the area of the boot or spur.

        Riders do leave boot polish on the horse’s sides and often the hair grows in darker where the rider’s boot rubs. That said, I see no wounds on the horse. If someone provided me with less grainy less poor quality photos, maybe I could see a rub or some other type of injury – if it exists. But at this resolution/graininess, I think people are imagining what they want to imagine. Not saying Helgestrand would never rub a horse, either. He’s not a rider I care for at all, but I won’t jump on the bandwagon and say I see wounds where the resolution of the pic doesn’t allow that detail to be seen.

      • Starstone says:

        Boot polish? Come on, I have ridden a lot of competitions, I have never left boot polish on my horses, not even my white ones, and sure as h*** never the black ones?
        I don’t see the need to defend this at all? This was NOT a competition, he was simply showing the horse before a livbe audience of people who must like him, since they came to his open house event. There should have been NO need to treat the horse like that, he was not winning any ribbons… He did lose his main sponser on this though… after they spoke to the vet who examined the horse..

  9. tusu says:

    Also, in the earlier video of Akeem, I would not say it is so perfect. Helgestrand is asking the horse for less effort, that is true. But there is noticeable rocking from front to back in passage, and the horse’s hind feet are creeping up too close to the front feet, in the piaffes. Most people think that if the horse looks like an elephant on a ball it is ‘classical’, it is ‘more engaged behind’, this is untrue and a problem that occurs when people look at too many photos, read too many books instead of getting detailed, long term, in person, instruction and mentorship. In other words these misconceptions are rampant in the internet era, but they have always been present as so many get inadequate instruction. When the hind feet creep so far forward in piaffe it is not right and shows the balance is not correct – you should not like this picture, yet so many do. There are two possibilities of why the balance is not correct – one is that the horse could piaffe better but has been brought along too quickly without each level of the foundation being built patiently – dressage is 95% about building a musculature over years of patient work. The other is that the horse simply is not built in a balanced way and cannot balance naturally in these advanced movements. If this is the case then the horse needs to be kept at a lower level of dressage than Grand Prix. Only a few horses have the kind of structure that allows them to do this level of work. Maybe 1 in 10,000. The rest of course can be very happy and give a rider a lot of happiness at one of the levels below Grand Prix. Most GP riders realize this and these horses will go to other riders who are perfectly happy to have them.

    With the Danish breeding organization vying to catch up to the German and Dutch organizations there is tremendous pressure on people like Helgestrand. They have to not give into it. This is the key. The rider has to be the un-moveable rock – the person everyone else hates, LOL. Because everyone else in the world will be pushing him to do what he knows is not right. Even the owners may not ‘get it’ and push the rider to a too-quick schedule. When Helgestrand had Matine I also did not like that Matine did not look fit – she was simply not conditioned adequately, fat with a big tummy hanging down and her performance showed it. She was injured stepping off a horse trailer, and while recovering put on a diet and given gradual progressive exercise. When she went back to competition she was much fitter and looked properly ready for the work, she was slim and that fat tummy was slimmed down. Unfortunately as often happens the higher level of work irritated even the healed tendon, so she was retired. But what this told me was that Helgestrand was not fitting up the horses correctly, rushing along too much. He was much younger then….age usually makes the rider into the rock that will not be moved or put under pressure…but it seems he is still in a rush now. I don’t care for him, personally. There are some others like that…we old timers know them.

    • Starstone says:

      Oh no, you will never hear me say that the earlier video is a good one- I wouldn’t be caught dead, riding my horse like that. All I am saying is that when he got the horse, a year ago, it was a better horse than it is now… More and more force has been aplied to the poor animal…

      • tusu says:

        I can’t agree with you there. The horse in the earlier videos doesn’t look any better trained than he does in the later ones. The reason the horse isn’t performing more correctly now is because the early training was rushed before Helgestrand even got the horse. You need to look closer at muscling and position of the back and hind legs and learn more about dressage in general, then you will understand what I mean. I bought a horse in Europe that was rushed along, and I spent a year fixing all the training problems with a trainer who competes but is utterly (and very loudly) traditional and classical. But with correcting these errors then the horse was a pure pleasure to ride and a very happy camper. Again, the top people don’t have this ‘pants on fire’ thing going on, they’re the immovable rock, I would guess Helgestrand is about 10 yrs away from being a good trainer. He can get the horses to do the moves, but he hasn’t got the world view yet. Dujardin, Schmidt, etc, they don’t rush it.

  10. oldmorgans says:

    I do agree w/all of you. There is a QH racing stable near me whose owners recently got busted for drug deals & money laundering. The horses are still there–at least 100 mares & foals. I wonder what will happen to all the horses.
    To Starstone, keep writing. To the rest of us, just keep doing what we can.

  11. learnhorses says:

    I really appreciate what you wrote, as someone who has experienced “that world” in multiple disciplines both in the US and in Europe. I remember being told point blank “this” was what you HAD to do to win. The drugging, the politics, the abuse of animals and humans, it just wasn’t worth “it” to me. So I chose to leave the sport as I knew it, and focus on how to help horses mentally, emotionally and physically.

    You’re right on with all the points you’ve made in your blog. I think the overwhelming fear is that everyone knows that if “one part” of the “team” goes down, it will be a domino effect for trainers, riders, vets, judges, breeders, etc. Many folks would be swept up in the tidal wave of “ruined careers” if “they” let “us” “win” by acknowledging any faulty behavior. They are all so interconnected that if one goes down, they all will, so for the sake of their own “survival” they MUST continue to support one another even if it means blatantly ignoring or defending someone using an “all means necessary” approach with their mount.

    To think of how many horses live on a daily basis with pain, fear and stress can be overwhelming and depressing. I know, the weight of the knowledge I had experienced first hand was a heavy burden to carry. But I take comfort that at least the struggling/suffering horses I encounter I help improve their “world” and decrease or eliminate their anxieties and worry and physical hardships.

    Even if just one person helped improve one horse’s life, the equine world would be a changed place.

  12. tusu says:

    I can’t agree that something is there when I can’t see it. Again, better photos could show more clearly what is going on, but I see nothing in these photos of any injury. There are some tiny white lines away from the area where the spur is used, perhaps that is from a cyst removal. As for the mouth photos, yes, Epona could have retouched this photo as others have charged, but more likely to me, through poor adjustment of the bits, the horse has put his tongue in between the two bits. Again, something Steffen Peters and other more traditional riders have cautioned about again and again at their clinics, do not adjust the bridle so the snaffle and curb set too far apart. WHEN this is done the horse will move his tongue about because it is annoying to have the bits apart, and that is going to lead to them putting their tongue in between the two bits. I think that is what happened in the pic of the mouth. But again, when that happens it is time to say bye bye and end the happy little exhibition(I am no fan of these exhibits either, they are meaningless), dismount, put the tongue back and adjust the bridle properly so it doesn’t happen again. The horse is trying to say clearly, hey, my bridle is not adjusted properly and they don’t lie about such things.

    But with these photos, I see no spur injuries. And believe me when I say, I would like nothing more than to see Helgestrand lose his little position in the dressage competition world. I was actually excited when I heard abut this issue. But when I saw the photos I was very, very disappointed.

    • Starstone says:

      I am not asking you to agree on anything. But for someone who claims to not like this kind of riding, you sure put up quite a defense for this guy..
      And there ARE wounds on Akeem, there can be no quistion about that, so let’s not blame the quailty of the pictures. If you don’t see wounds, I am sorry, but you need glasses…
      As for the color of Akeem’s tongue, Epona has not touched those pictures in any way, you can be sure of that. and you can SEE on the pictures that Akeem’s tongue is NOT between the bits, why would anyone even make up an excuse like that?

  13. tusu says:

    The idea of the tongue being between the bits is not an excuse, quite the opposite in fact. Such a thing comes out of utter carelessness and is an extremely embarrassing thing for a professional to be caught in. It is VERY uncomfortable for the horse who keeps lifting and moving his tongue because his bridle hurts him, and his tongue only gets caught between the bits because he is uncomfortable in the first place. In other words, the horse gets his tongue caught between the bits BECAUSE of the incorrect adjustment in the first place. It is a mistake even a 2nd level amateur would be ashamed of making. Steffen Peters went all over the US for years telling every student he instructed that the double bridle must NEVER be adjusted as above and that it is NOT correct to leave the curb chain loose. An excuse? Quite the opposite. It’s disgusting, in fact.

    I am older and I need a clearer picture to be able to see things. I wear glasses but I still need a clearer picture than what I have seen so far. I was telling the absolute truth – I cannot see a wound in the photos I had seen up to today.

    Therefore, today, I have been searching diligently and found a picture where I can see the wound on the side. THIS picture is sharp enough that I CAN see it(sorry the picture did not copy to here, but it is on eurodressage).

    The trouble with spur wounds is they very often are not obvious. A person must look very carefully at the skin and the dark hair can hide it.

    The FEI officials are required to white glove each side of the horse after each class as well as inspect the bits by hand and that is done to every horse as it comes out of the ring, but obviously that isn’t done at an exhibit at someone’s home stable.

    And I can say for a fact that I am VERY glad to see Helgestrand’s horse under the supervision of a vet and VERY happy to see that he has been caught pressing a horse and taken to task. I have NEVER liked him because he over-rides the horse, and as I noted before the muscling of the horse does not reflect a real systematic progression.

    I also was able to find this on eurodressage:

    In a press release (in Danish) issued 19 April 2014, the federation reported that that Busk noticed “a single, superficial, dry crack with no reaction of the underlying tissue and without soreness to palpation.” Busk also stated he found no abnormalities on the horse’s sides apart from a small, cyst-like lump, which Andreas Helgstrand explained that any discolouration of the hairs seen on photos was down to how the horse was clipped.

    Akeem’s right flank: spur mark or discoloration due to clipping?The press release further stated that “the blue discoloration and the avoidance reaction to palpation of the right bar of the mouth are clear signs of incorrect use of equipment or aids. The Danish Equestrian Federation has made it clear to Andreas Helgstrand that his use of the double bridle has been entirely unacceptable and not in accordance with our ethical guidelines. Andreas Helgstrand admits this and is in dialogue with the Danish Equestrian Federation about the use of equipment. At the same time, Andreas Helgstrand has chosen to follow the recommendation of the veterinarian to give Akeem Foldager some time off from training undtil the pain reaction in the right bar of the mouth has disappeared. He has further agreed to let the Danish Equestrian Federation keep track of Akeem Foldager in order to ensure that the above conditions are brought in order.”

    • tusu says:

      So HERE we have a situation where even at his own home barn in an exhibition, the actions of concerned individuals has a huge impact. A feed company has already withdrawn sponsorship from Helgestrand.

  14. Jo Jarrett says:

    Great article. You express very well the current appalling situation with international sport, dressage in particular! May we share this article on Facebook?

  15. Nadja says:

    Thank you for your post, Starstone. There is only one piece I’d like to add: remember Blue Horse
    Matiné at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen 2006 ridden by Andreas Helgstrand, applauded by the crowd, criticized by people for the same reason that makes us now cry out when we see pictures of Akeem. She died 4 years later – allegedly because she broke her leg.
    And sorry, Tusu, I haven’t read all your posts, and I appreciate that you want to be well informed before judging someone. But: These pictures show animal abuse. Full stopp. There is no need discussing it. Even if it was only a moment’s notice (which obviously was not) – that would be enough.

    • Starstone says:

      I remember Matine, I remember the stallion they had, who recently broke a tendon while trained, and was euthanized…
      I am a little surprised by how these pictures are causing such an outrage, when pretty much the same pictures was taken last year, of Akeem and Andreas, and that just blew over…

      • lancet98 says:

        That isn’t what happened to Matine. She strained a tendon, presumably by slipping and falling while being unloaded from the horse van. She was taken out of work and went through treatment and rehab. She was returned to training, but as often happens the tendon was not up to harder work. She was retired to pasture and to have babies. When she was out in the pasture, she broke her leg – it appeared to be from a kick injury or fall. It was not the same leg with the injured tendon.

        Akeem was found by a vet to be sore on the right side of the mouth. The spur rub, which I could see in another photo, was ALSO on the right side. It looked like a rug burn and was NOT where others were saying it was from the earlier, more grainy photos.

        But this is what I was saying all along about Helgestrand, and why I dislike him (no I never defended him, Star, you are accusing me of something that is not true and which is very offensive and a very unfair accusation of me). WHY does this horse have a rub on the right side and a sore right side of the mouth? WHY are both things on one side of the horse????

        There is only ONE reason I know – the horse’s schooling was rushed. The natural uneven-ness of the horse was not evened up through proper, slow, traditional training, which is the essence of classical dressage – basic fundamentals. So Helgestrand then must put a lot of pressure on rein and leg during an exhibit – and I would say, also competitions – to make up for the training the horse was rushed through without proper muscle development. The horse is very likely crooked to the right side. IF a horse is not trained progressively and correctly this is what happens, the rider is ‘caught with his pants down’ in public – and it is blatant proof of what I have said for years – he does not systematically and classically, progressively, train and condition. Hurrying a horse along is not just about making the horse feel hurried – it’s about BASIC, FUNDAMENTAL training that protects the health and comfort of the horse in very, very fundamental, simple ways.

      • Starstone says:

        Did I accuse you of anything? I don’t think we have spoken before?
        Yeah, what happened to Matine, no one really knows anymore, do they? First she sprains a tendon, (which is probably the true story, how could she not, the way she was ridden,) then she falls in the trailer ramp and injures her hip, then when she won’t recover- no one knows exactly from what, they try to get her pregnant, which fails and bam, she is gone, after an accident on the pasture. One must wonder what did happen to Matine, because we have been told so many stories…
        So, what we do know, is she came out of no where, won everything at a young age, crashed and burned and died. Just like so many others. Why or how they explain it, doesn’t really matter to me.
        Keep an eye on Sezuan. “The best four year old in the world,” who was unbeatable for two years in a row. Think they will be showing him this year? My guess is no, because he was already lame when ridden last year. Maybe the new owners will notice… fingers crossed… Or maybe he will get worse… either way, Sezuan has very limited time left, before he is to meet his very own “accident,” unless someone starts to take care of him.

  16. Milly Shand says:

    Starstone, thank you for sharing this blog, more people need to talk about what is wrong in the competition world. It is like many people are hypnotized, they clap and cheer for leg moving robots, they applaud the circus of bling and flash, they cannot see the overuse of spurs, the horrendously held in heads, the sheer misery of the horses. Of course it isn’t ever one who rides or produces the horses like this, but unless the judges stop rewarding it, and the FEI stop ignoring it, more horses will suffer, and the cycle of ignorance will not end.

    • lancet98 says:

      Actually Starstone the facts of Matine were made very clear step by step all along. The owners were very public about it. Her death was no one’s fault. It was not the leg she previously injured. It was a pasture accident. If you want to find a conspiracy there, be my guest. I knew a gal who worked at the farm then and she was very clear that Matine was comfortable and sound retired until the pasture accident. She told me Matine was standing quietly in the pasture when found. She was turned out with several other horses. She also said that Matine loved to tear around the pasture and being so rambunctious she may have slipped or fallen while running.

      And over the years I have had friends who lost horses in pasture accidents. It happens, unfortunately. It’s a very sad thing.

      The fitness of the horse is one of the most important protections the animal has from injury. The fitter the horse is, the more likely he is to be injured less severely. And to recover faster. But some injuries simply can’t be prevented.

      Some of the injuries are like Matine’s – sustained while loading, unloading, a slip, a fall, and these can be career ending. This is how I had to retire a horse of my own.

      The matter of Helgestrand’s riding, is separate from Matine. When a rider does not focus on basic things, when he rushes through training, when he appeases eager owners and organizations by showing horses that actually need a year or more of retraining on basics at home, then he winds up in an exhibition, overusing the spur and bit on one side, and being publicly criticized. And frankly, I think that’s a good thing.

      But also, Helgestrand has reported death threats to himself, to the police. This response to him has gotten out of control and moved into the realm of criminality. I don’t feel that is right either. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

      • Starstone says:

        I believe I have asked people to remember not to make it personal, more than once, on this blog as well, and nothing can ever justify death threaths, that is completly unacceptable.

        About Matine, well.. I can’t help but wonder if she broke her leg, when she was suddenly allowed to be a horse, after having been isolated for years. We all know how “professional” horses are treated, locked up in a stall 21 hours a day, and maybe let out in a paddock, alone, for an hour or two. How is a horse, who has been so isolated, supposed to respond to suddenly meeting other horses and large pastures?
        To be honest, I have seen quite a few of those horses, fracture something, and be euthanized, simply because they had no social skills and were over excited. Abuse? Mistreatment? I think so. I will maintain that isolation is the worst kind of abuse our horses go through, every single day, much, much worse than a hard bit and a cruel hand.
        But then again, I have spent fifteen years of my life, teaching one of those isolated, beaten and broken horses to live… So maybe I am a little touchy on that subjecet, knowing how much he suffered. I bet you, Matine, was no different. Akeem is no different.

  17. lancet98 says:

    I disagree there, Starstone. I have seen PLENTY of horses have terrible fractures, that were turned out constantly – family type horses that were not excessively energetic – Stuff Happens. One day we came to the barn and my friend’s horse was lying against the barn – dead, with a broken neck – that horse never missed a day of turn out its entire life. These things do happen. And horses that are turned out in groups quite often kick each other – for example my neighbor’s turned-out-every-day horses, one kicked the other and broke its hock in 5 places, the splint bone shattered. It happens.

    For upper level dressage particularly energetic horses are chosen and some of them MIGHT have more propensity to get injured at pasture – for example some stallions cannot be turned out because they run the fence like mad the entire time. One of mine goes out every day all day, and has still hurt itself twice at pasture. But most of the top level riders turn their horses out DAILY and go to great lengths to have that available. Langehanenberg, Werth, Schaudt, Graf, and many others have shown their horses turned out and their farms are all set up to allow that. Many of the top dressage riders are young women – a new group of riders who were raised to do things a more natural way. And I have been to barns in Holland and Germany on numerous occasions and seen their day to day routine – the horses go out in a grass pasture, most of them pay megabucks for that extra land and they are adamant that there must be a grass pasture for the horses. As for being in stall for hours a day – not really. Most of the horses had a far better life than I do – they were ridden early morning, then taken out to the Eurociser for a walk, then they were hand grazed, then turned out, and most were hacked out a second time that day, but often in a different way – Isabel Werth used to take her horses out for their second time each day, and ride them bareback – if at a show she would do it at the show grounds all the same. They’re fitter than race horses and they need that much time moving about.

    Unlike you I don’t condemn people so blanketly. Unlike you I don’t try to find conspiracy theories in a horse getting kicked or falling out in pasture (Matine). You want to tar everyone with the same brush…I do not. There are bad ones in every group, in any human endeavor. As one of those people you prejudge and accuse of so many things once told me when we heard a rumor that a rider had had a temper tantrum and struck his horse, ‘Karma will prevail, just not soon enough’. They aren’t all evil.

    • Starstone says:

      Okay, I hardly remember what this post is about any more and I don’t have time at the moment to read up on it…
      I just want to point out how many times you write “unlike you” in your comment…. So who is judging who? Clearly you think you know me perfectly well then? Isn’t that a little…. judgemental?
      Have a nice day.

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