After the pictures from the Open House Event at Helgstrand Dressage was published, displaying Akeem Foldager with a clear blue tongue, a lot has happened. It even went to court.
Now let me make this clear, I don’t have any personal grudge against Andreas. I don’t think he is doing anything that most riders doesn’t do these days, be it professionals or private riders. Andreas was never the problem, he is just a symptom of a truly sick sport. A sport where riders are awarded for mistreating their horses, and where you have to play along, and to at least some extent, join in the abuse, to win. Being a professional rider, how could Andreas do anything else? He is not the worst rider there ever was, and I know, people love to hate him at the moment, but truth is, he is just better at playing the game, the sport, than so many others. Which is why he does get in trouble with animal welfare activists once in a while, when his horse turns up with a blue tongue.
Andreas was acquitted though, and once again, as was the case with the law suit against the owner of Tortillas, we have the courts word for that riding your horse like this, is not abuse. All day people has been screaming about it on face book, how horrible it is that he could get away with it, and so forth…
I don’t know. I always felt that it was misguided to go for Andreas like this, because he is not the only one. All professional dressage riders these days, ride like this. I think it is taking the spot light away from the real problem; the sport itself. Going after one single person, makes it personal and it makes the problem smaller. In fact, all of those, hunting down Andreas, is saying that he is a horrible person and that he should go to jail, where as they are losing sight of the big picture. Andreas would not do it if it wasn’t allowed by the FEI, he wouldn’t do it if it didn’t win him ribbons.
I guess one can say a lot of things about Andreas. I don’t know the guy, but he doesn’t strike me as stupid. He is truly just doing what he does best; being a professional rider.
What we should be ashamed of, is not that Andreas didn’t go to jail for this. We should be ashamed of a sport that has gone astray, to such a point that animal welfare takes a backseat at all times.
As far as I understood it, a lot of the reason why the case was dismissed, was that it couldn’t be determined from the pictures, if the horses tongue was truly blue.
I know, they could have been photo shopped. There is no way of telling, since all we have access to is a JPEG original, and that can have been tampered with. The colours could have been darkened, it is not that hard to do. I will admit, I thought of it too, when the pictures were first published, by an anonymous photographer. They could have been tampered with. We can’t know. Based on that, I do think it is fair that Andreas get to walk. To hold up in court, that is just not good enough.
That said, anyone who knows anything about horses will look at the pictures and see the vertical pole bit, the tight chain, the flat tongue, and the overall desperate look in Akeem’s eyes. There can be no question, that this horse is in pain, but considering that most dressage horses these days, look like this when ridden, why single out Andreas? I repeat, he is not the problem. The sport is. And making it personal will diminish our chances of being taken seriously, if we truly hope to change the sport.
Even if Andreas had gone to jail, what would we have won then? Would it have changed anything? So we could have celebrated, gloated and patted ourselves on the back for a while, feeling that justice was served, all the while Andreas would have taken the blame alone, for everything that is wrong in the equestrian world, and nothing would have changed at all?
I never wanted to be a part of that. I never wanted a witch hunt, singling out one rider after another, ruining one life after another. I want the sport to change. I want FEI to make rules, where the justice system can’t. I want all of us to remember what truly matters here; making the equestrian sport horse friendly.
It should be possible. But not by gathering our pitchforks and torches, going after the Frankenstein’s monster, who happen to play the game better than the others. If we want things to change, it is the federations that needs to find us hammering on their doors, demanding rules to protect the horses, demanding rules that will allow the judges to actually judge, demanding rules, that will make this kind of riding obsolete.
Because it is not just Andreas, it is not just dressage; it is show jumping, driving, racing, you name a sport and you will find horses like Akeem, screaming for help, and no one is listening. Let’s not make it personal, please. That won’t change the sport and it won’t help the horses. Taking down Andreas would have probably not even helped Akeem. He would have just got a new rider, who would have ridden him exactly the same way, because that is what the judges expect to see, that is what the audience expect to see, and it is what we applaud and reward. I did see the video of Akeem from that day, where the pictures were taken. I did hear the audience clapping and cheering. Like it or not, this is dressage sport now a days. Nothing will change for the individual horse, unless the sport changes entirely.
I would like to point out though, to wrap this up, that I am VERY ashamed of the president of Horse Protection, (Hestens Værn.) I don’t understand how you can lead an animal welfare group and still come up with arguments like “you should see some of the abused horses we find. This, is nothing.” So according to that kind of thinking, it’s okay to abuse your horse, as long as someone is doing it worse than you. Or taking that argument out of the equestrian world and into the “real world;” as long as the neighbour beats his kids, I can to, because he is worse than me… Is that how we want our animal welfare organisations to think? Is that how it works?
Yes, I think Akeem is being abused. Yes, I think these pictures are criminal. Just as criminal as any starved horse one may find on a pasture, forgotten and left for death somewhere. Abuse is abuse, pain is pain, no matter if it could be worse. After all, Google the Tennessee Walking Horse, or look up how many race horses dies on track every single day, and we can all agree that Akeem is a lucky, lucky horse, because someone is being treated much, much worse than him. But does that make it all right?
Hestens Værn? FEI? What will it take? How far should the sport go astray before someone calls a halt? When the horses start dying in the show ring, like they do on the race track? Or do we even accept that, because someone else might have it so much worse?
I could go on….