Kevin Lemke has been fined $4,000 and suspended for four months by the USEF after “unsportsmanlike behavior using excessive force with a horse”. The rider was caught on video, at the Desert International Horse Park in California on January 30, reprimanding his horse for refusing an (off camera) jump by hitting the horse hard six times.
Although the announcer reports his elimination because of excessive use of the whip, Lemke proceeds to gallop his horse at the next combination on the course. The horse crashes through the first obstacle and stops at the second. It’s an appalling show of bad sportsmanship and poor judgment. Personally, I think the punishment was too light.
It’s hard to imagine that owners will send their horses to a “professional” who treats horses this badly. One can only imagine how he behaves in private if this is what he does in the show ring.
At the competition, Lemke, who is based in California-based was issued an official “yellow card” warning. His actions were reported by PETA to the U.S. Equestrian Federation, the Fédération Equestre Internationale and local authorities at the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department along with video footage.
The definition of abusive behavior is not well defined. According to JP102 in the “USEF Rulebook,” which covers horse welfare, the judge can penalize a rider for excessive use of the whip through official warning or elimination from the class but does not specify how many times the whip may be used before it is deemed excessive. JP145, which outlines jumping faults, specifies that “actions against a horse deemed excessive (such as excessive use of whip or spurs at any time within the arena.)” result in elimination.
In a statement soon after the incident, Kevin said he had apologized to the show, his horse and the owner. Apologized? Somehow that just doesn’t seem like sufficient remorse.
“The horse show dealt with it by giving me a yellow card and a warning, and I obviously accepted it, and it won’t be happening again,” he said.
It’s time that the USEF stands up to behavior this egregious and it may take public condemnation to make that happen. Following on the heels of Andy Kocher, who was suspended for ten years for the use of electric spurs, it underscores that some professionals and owners will do anything to win, regardless of how the horse suffers. Shocked silence by observers is a tacit acceptance of reprehensible behavior. Four months and $4000 doesn’t come close to a fair punishment.