A year ago, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) accused show jumper Andy Kocher of using “electric spurs” on his horses. In April, Kocher was suspended by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) Tribunal for 10 years, fined and forfeited winnings from eight competitions where photographic evidence showed signs of the cables running up his breeches — or the electronic trigger in his hand. Recently, the FEI recently released the details of its full decision which includes Kocher’s “defense.” He claims that the device he had in his hand was a clicker, and that he attached it to a cable and ran it up under his show coat, because he didn’t want to lose it. Right. That’s one of the lamest excuses ever — and it took him seven months to come up with it.
The full report is 54 pages, but to give you some of the highlights, the evidence of his transgressions was significant.
More than 1000 photos were provided to evaluate whether Kocher was using an electric device. In 73 out of 81 photographs, a trigger button was identified. In several photographs, a cable which runs down the Respondent’s arm, was visible. The submitted photographs were taken at various National and eight International (FEI) Events.
Three videos were evaluated. The first shows the device, which included an electrical power bank connected to three cables. The main cable had a trigger button at the end and the other two cables had ends with exposed wires. It is shown in the video that pressing the trigger button would cause electricity to run through the cables releasing an electric charge at the exposed ends which would cause the horse to be shocked. This Electric Shock Device was found at a farm of one of the witnesses where the Respondent trained. It was allegedly common knowledge within the team that the Respondent used these devices during training.
A second video showed a pair of Kocher’s boots that had small holes visible where the cables would allegedly run through. The position of the holes matched the place where the spurs would need to be positioned. A third video of boots corroborated the photographic evidence.
Five witnesses were interviewed, all of whom provided first hand corroboration that Kocher used electric spurs both in training and in competition. All of them had seen the device. Some had been required to use electric spurs when training or competing horses in his barn. None of them had knowledge of Kocher using “clicker training.” More than one commented that horses were “quick off the leg” when Kocher rode them. One said that
Although, ironically, Kocher used the electric spurs as one might use a clicker.
Kocher’s aim, it was alleged, was to change unwanted behaviour. The device had several purposes. One so-called benefit was to provide an immediate acceleration in between obstacles or within an A-B or A-B-C combination, or to prevent a nervous horse from stopping, whether at a particular obstacle, throughout the course or to force a tired horse to continue at a certain pace.
Another witness stated that
A number of horses that were usually very calm, showed very high levels of stress when the Respondent was riding them. The horses would ‘rear up’, ‘shiver’ and ‘bolt’ often. She did not understand why this was the case as the Respondent did not use a whip or excessively use his spurs on the horses and there were no marks from the rubbing of spurs.
Another witness reported:
It was also confirmed that the Respondent was selectively open about using the Electric Shock Device and she observed the use of these devices on over a dozen horses during her time working with the Respondent and confirmed that he always used the Electric Shock Devicein training before competing with them.
Another witness stated:
When she confronted the Respondent about the use of an Electric Shock Devicehe explained that these were a humane way of training horses and the use of these devices helped horses with behavioural issues e.g., “stoppers” (horses that stop in front of a fence).
Kocher denied that he had ever used electric spurs, but he brought forward no witnesses and was unable to produce any of the “clickers” or any people who saw him engaged in clicker training.
The FEI concluded that the abuse by Kocher had gone on for 7-8 years, and that Kocher had gone to great lengths to conceal such devices from FEI officials over these years, by hiding the wires under his clothes via holes in his Boots, making it barely visible to any official. In fact, the color of the trigger button matched the color of the gloves the Respondent often wore, which made the device extremely discreet from any FEI official. When Kocher had falls during events, he refused to remove his jacket or be treated by medical staff and insisted on going off on his own.
In addition, the FEI tribunal took into consideration that in 2002 Kocher was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and a probation period of 4 years after pleading guilty to a felony of the theft of domestic animals (2 ponies and a goat). The Respondent and an accomplice killed the goat by smothering the animal.
Kocher was called out for abusive riding when the day after he won the $500,000 Queen Elizabeth ATCO Cup on Carollo, he entered the same horse in the “Reach of the Sun” Derby the next day. The obviously exhausted horse barely made it around the course, picking up 28 faults. Knowing now, that Kocher was most likely using electric spurs makes this round even more upsetting.
So, why was this abuser not banned for life?
And why is he still advertising and selling horses? More to the point, who would buy a horse from him and reward this abusive behavior?
It is time for the equestrian community to take back their sport from those who sully it with this kind of disgusting behavior.