Who knew electric spurs — which deliver a zap to the horse when a rider pushes a button — were even something you could buy? A while back I posted about “electric jockeys” who use “buzzers” or “machines” to shock their mounts. Now, American show jumper Andy Kocher is accused of using shock spurs on several of his horses during competitions. The story is, quite literally, shocking — and the fact that so many people on websites and equestrian bulletin boards have shrugged, makes it apparent that this is neither new nor unusual.
The report first appeared on the French Showjumping website, Grandprix.info. In multiple photos in the article, Kocher, 37, appears to be holding a device in his right hand with a button. Photographers have since found similar articles in their archives. The article states that Grandprix.info was contacted by a whistleblower who alleges that Kocher used the spurs on Fashion V during the $36,000 Welcome Speed Stake at the 2019 National Horse Show at the Kentucky Horse Park. In photos of the event, Kocher appears to be holding a device with a button.
The informant has also circulated a video that shows how the device works. The button is connected to a wire that runs up the sleeve of the rider’s shirt and then down his back to a box that provides a charge; the wire then runs down the pant legs and out through a hole in each boot to the spur. I have seen the video but am not able to link to it.
On http://www.worldofshowjumping.com, Kocher claims to be the victim of someone who has doctored photos to harm him. However, multiple photographers has stepped forward with pictures from different shows, which appear to contain a similar device.
This is not the first time that Kocher has been in trouble for his treatment of horses. July 2019, the day after he won the $500,000 ATCO Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Spruce Meadows (Alberta) on Carollo. He made the controversial decision to ride the same horse in the “Reach for the Sun” Derby. The exhausted horse finished — barely — with 28 faults after being ridden hard around the course. What I’ve read is that Kocher has not been invited back to Spruce Meadows.
Kocher has also been disciplined twice for schooling his horses off site during major shows — an act that is not permitted (once you check-in for a Grand Prix, the horse must remain on the show grounds). It does make you wonder what kind of schooling he thought needed to be done in private.
I’m sickened by this peek under the tent of the upper echelons of show jumping, even I know I shouldn’t be. After all, this is the same discipline that produced Barney Ward and Paul Valliere, both of whom were convicted for insurance fraud after electrocuting horses in their care just because they were not performing up to snuff. And it’s the same team selection committee that appointed Devin Ryan to the US team, even though in 2015, he was suspended for six months and fined $6,000 for “marks” on five horses’ legs (reports that I’ve read suggest he put a caustic chemical under their boots to increase their sensitivity should they knock a fence.)
It’s time to clean up our sport and treat the remarkable athletes, who try their best for us, with the respect and care they deserve.
Update: The Chronicle of the Horse reported this on July 1.
Andy Kocher has responded to the Fédération Equestre Internationale’s open investigation into accusations that he used electric spurs in competitions. The claims, made by an unnamed source, were first raised on the website Grandprix.info.
“I can confirm that I received a notification from the FEI yesterday that someone has asked the Equestrian Community Integrity Unit to investigate allegations of horse abuse against me,” Kocher told the Chronicle on July 1. “I was devastated to receive this letter from the FEI. I know who has brought these allegations against me, and sadly that person is improperly using these important horse welfare protections to gain an advantage over me in a private dispute. I love my horses and would never do anything to sacrifice their welfare. However, I will participate in the FEI process and defend against these allegations, so that the real story behind them ultimately emerges.”Chronicle of the Horse