This video has been making the rounds on social media for the past week. In short, Austrian rider Bernhard Maier, was banned from competition for three months after this round on a Paddy’s Darco, a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding. Maier bought Paddy’s Darco earlier this year, ostensibly for his daughter (now that’s a scary thought).
The round is grim. It’s hard to believe that someone with FEI experience level (Maier’s has competed at this level since 2006) on a horse that has jumped around courses like this before could be so, well appalling. From the very first fence, where the pair crash through (rather than over) the jump, it’s painfully obvious that this pair is having more than just a bad day. It is terrible, scary and dangerous. Certainly not the kind of round that you want to go viral.
The video has sparked outrage. And also some very interesting observations. Most people — myself included — are appalled that the ground jury didn’t put an end to this travesty after the first few jumps. In fact, Maier wasn’t sanctioned until the next day (after the video had gone viral).
A lot people who watch the round blame the poor performance on Maier. Certainly, his aggressive ride only riles up a horse that looks tricky right from the start. His approach of gunning the horse at fences and then getting left behind and hanging on his mouth made my eyeballs bleed.
But the other thing I saw was that a horse doesn’t like his job. Before they’ve even started jumping, the horse starts backing up, unwilling to go forward. This well-bred horse has been bounced around a lot in the past couple of years — five different riders in five countries (Ireland, Columbia, Quatar, Italy and now Austria). That’s a red flag right there. A horse of this caliber doesn’t generally get passed around unless there are issues. Take a peek at his FEI Record and it’s spotty.
Looking at past videos of the horse jumping around you can see the beginnings of the problems that are in full display with Maier in the saddle: he gets behind the leg, jumps up but not over, then lands in a heap. He fights his rider to the fences, getting flat. And he looks for that escape hatch coming into the jumps. Sometimes, just because a horse can jump, doesn’t mean he should become a jumper.
Here’s the horse at the very beginning of his career, training with Mark Duffy
You can see some of the issues that surface later. This is not an easy horse to ride but he has the scope and the step that show the promise of greatness.
Paddy’s Darco works better with a quiet, tactful ride. There’s some footage of Stephen Moore competing him at the beginning of his FEI career that’s quite nice (although you can see how much the rider influences his performance).
After the video of his round went viral, Maier made this statement to the press.
“Paddy was the best show jumping horse in Ireland as a five-year-old and eventually was sold to the USA. There the horse lost his confidence.”
“We knew Paddy’s Darco was to difficult for her [Johanna Sixt] to ride, therefore I initially took over the reins,” states Maier. “I want to give the horse’s confidence back. Bring it back on an international level.”
“Although the video shows our disturbing round in Wiener Neustadt, I am convinced the work and training is developing positively,” explains Maier.
Is Maier the rider that’s going to turn this horse around. My money says not. One of the best statements I’ve seen about this situation was on the Chronicle of the Horse forums where someone wrote,
The issue with these horses is often people dump so much money into them they literally cannot even conceive of selling them cheap to someone who will take more time and/or do something else with them.
Too many people have spent too much money believing that they are the ones who can tap into this horse’s potential. It’s just a shame that no one asked Paddy’s Darco what he wanted to be when he grew up.