The Quest for Gold – But at What Price?

Arguably, the Gold Medal won by the US Show Jumping Team at the recent World Equestrian Games is a huge success. After all, it’s the first time the team has ever won gold in this competition and it had the added bonus of being on home turf.

I would be a lot more proud of the team if one of the members hadn’t served a six month suspension from showing for animal cruelty in 2016. To my mind, it’s just not that sporting if you “encourage” your horse to jump higher by using illegal methods.

And no, it’s not McLain Ward. Sure, back in 1999, Ward was suspended for eight months and fined $13,000 for suspected hypersensitivity on Sapphire’s left leg. However, since then there hasn’t been a whiff of scandal about him.

The person I question is Devin Ryan, who was expelled from the Hampton Classic Show Grounds on Aug. 28, 2015, after USEF stewards and veterinarians found marks on the legs of five horses under Ryan’s care. That’s right, five horses.  Ryan was subsequently found guilty of violating animal welfare rules. His punishment? A six thousand dollar fine and a six month suspension. Basically a slap on the wrist. Here we are in 2018 and he is representing the US at one of the most prestigious competitions in the world.

Yes, Eddie Blue is a fabulous horse with tremendous scope. Ryan has piloted him to multiple Grand Prix wins over the past few years. But tell me there weren’t other horse/rider combinations who could represent our country without the shadow of shame.

Of course, poling (hitting a horse with a pole to make them jump higher), soring (applying caustic chemicals to a horse’s legs to make them hurt if they hit a jump), putting tacks in boots and other methods are illegal. The problem is that too many owners turn a blind eye to these practices when the horses win. None of this is new. However, it is our responsibility as caretakers of our equine partners, to make sure these practices don’t continue. Everyone makes a huge stink over the fate of the Big Lick Walking horses, but turns a blind eye when it happens in other disciplines.

To put a Gold Medal around the neck of someone who was investigated and suspended? That’s not what our sport or the US Team should be about.

5 thoughts on “The Quest for Gold – But at What Price?

  1. I love you for saying the truth and asking the hard questions.
    In my opinion anyone convicted of animal abuse should never be allowed back into the sport, not as trainer, not as athlete, shouldn’t own animals, etc. People who abuse those gentle souls for their own success are bad to the core and not redeemable in my mind. Worshiping those people as a nations hero … well, sorry for getting political, but look who’s president. That’s equally not understandable to me …

    1. I thought long and hard about posting this and finally couldn’t keep quiet about it. When the accusations first came out there were some anecdotal comments that indicated this was ‘business as usual’ for Ryan. I don’t know if other countries have the same issues, but I will say that I don’t hear these kinds of rumors about riders in the other disciplines. Not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s not as visible.

  2. BRAVO!! THANK you for stating the ethically obvious. Don’t back down from anyone who has the temerity to flame you for this. It’s not an ‘opinion’’s one’s moral and civic duty to point out that abuse of any sort is wrong…even more so when it’s done to an innocent creature in order to win something. (e.g, money or even worse a ribbon).
    And by creature I include kids…for instance, little girls in ‘beauty queen’ contests are just as exploited and if not physically abused, at least they’re probably emotionally abused.

    When I was a kid, I worked on a QH breeding farm. We went to the Congress every year and oh, my god…the things I saw in the shedrow. I was just some muckbooted teenaged girl, like hundreds of others, and thus was invisible to the people who were ‘enhancing’ their horse’s chances of winning a ribbon. But saying anything was useless, because the judges turned a blind eye, or were …um, let’s see how do I say ‘bought’ without saying bought, or just didn’t give a rats’s behind-or were just as guilty of doing the same things to THEIR horses as the folks in front of them.

    As for the clown in the white house…good god, what did we do to deserve him?

    1. Unfortunately, spending a lot of time at a large hunter/jumper barn when I was a kid, I heard and saw things that shocked me, too. I’ve never wanted to win so badly that I was willing to cheat, but I saw a lot of bad horsemanshp and not a few horses that were churned up and spat out of a BNT’s program because they didn’t make the grade.

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