Feet of Clay?

Feet of clay

If you’re like me, I grew up idolizing the top riders in the world. They worked hard, they were amazingly talented. They won. We took clinics. We emulated them. We studied their techniques. And now, it’s coming out that many of them had feet of clay.

Recently, stories have come out about two Olympic champions who are now fighting to preserve their reputation.

First, a video surfaced of German showjumping Ludger Beerbaum allegedly poling horses — poling, or rapping is when a ground person taps a horse’s front legs with a pole while jumping encourage a horse to jump higher and more tightly with its front end by making the horse believe they haven’t jumped high enough. The practice was widespread for many years (even George Morris admits to poling in Unrelenting). Poling is now prohibited by the FEI. The video was taken by a reporter posing as an intern.

Beerbaum admits the video was shot at his facility but states that showed practices that were completely legitimate.

“The scenes shown in the article on the riding arena have nothing to do with parallel bars. It is about permitted touching that was carried out by an experienced, practiced horseman. The object seen in the video met the requirements of the German Equestrian Association for permissible touching: no longer than 3 meters, a maximum of 2 kilograms in weight.”

Last week, a video surfaced of Sir Mark Todd, two years ago hitting a horse that refused to go into a water complex during a clinic with a branch. Ten times.

Todd has since apologized for his actions.

“I wholeheartedly apologise to the horse and all involved for my actions in this video clip,” Todd said in a statement.

One of the main things I preach is about establishing a mutual respect between horse and rider, and that patience and kindness is the best way to get results.

“I believe this is one of the main attributes, along with a great empathy with animals, that has enabled me to have a long and successful career in eventing. I am very disappointed in myself that I did not adhere to that in this case.”

Note: This is the longer video that shows the context of the training in more depth. The shorter video has been removed from

It’s disappointing when you realize that the riders you idolized are not willing to take the time and patience to train correctly. Taking shortcuts inevitably results in horses that are afraid (horses that are poled often refuse to jump if someone is standing next to a jump) and horses that are beaten into submission do not develop the trust in their rider to tackle difficult questions.

In both of these cases, the videos show just a moment in time. I can only hope that training they conducted that was not caught on film was what I’ve always imagined them to be. Surely, these experienced trainers have more tools in their bag of tricks than what they’ve displayed here.

Have you encountered questionable training techniques in your riding careers? Is there someone who disappointed you?

Edited to add context from the owner of the horse, Phoebe Buckley, who posted on Facebook

Interesting that the rider’s friends thought this would be funny. They had no idea what the repercussions would be!

So I’ve thought long and hard about posting this video… But you guys know me!

I’ll die on my sword rather than sit comfy on a fence.

We have a 7year old horse, who has run 13/14 times at BE competitions. So not a young horse that’s never seen water. The rider has made it very clear (before the lesson and on social media) that the horse happily and confidently goes through and jumps in to water. But won’t step down in to water, she asked this to be addressed in the lesson.

So the rider knew there was a problem and wanted to try and sort it. Sir Mark Todd does what every good trainer/horseman would do, he gives the horse time to get his feet wet first – to build it up. The horse approaches the step, Sir Mark uses a ‘branch’ to smack the horse once and then makes a lot of noises to encourage the horse in- which works, the horse jumps down the step well.

The rider comes round again, the rider does and the horse jumps down well and confidently. Sir Mark can be seen in the background ready to help if needed, but he doesn’t need to so he stands back and leaves the horse to it. Now the rider comes round for the third time, it should now be a given that the horse jumps in bravely and well. I mean, why wouldn’t it?

The horse comes round then plan and simply says NO. The rider is slow to react, I honestly believe 2 well timed snacks down the shoulder and it would have gone. But she doesn’t and Sir Mark steps in and assist’s, because that’s what he’s there for it’s for it? That’s what he’s being paid for? Because we already know this is a long standing well published issue the rider hasn’t managed to sort on her own.

Because the horse has been allowed to say NO, it needs firmer handling, you can hear Sir Mark telling her to keep her eyes up, think forwards etc….

After a few snacks and a lot of noise the horse goes in.

The rider, continued the lesson, posted positive reviews afterwards and had an issue she couldn’t sort, sorted.

So why the offense 2 years later? Why lie on social media that the horse was approaching the water for the first time on the edited video?Where are the photos of its whip marks etc?

Another genuine question – What is the difference between a flimsy branch, a whip or a lunge whip or say the type of whip stewards/starters use at the start of a race to make sure horses jump off?

I truly believe this proves Sir Mark was not in fact mindlessly and needlessly beating a horse, it proves he was correcting a horse with a long standing problem of thinking it was ok to do something well then say NO. Isn’t that proper and correct training? Giving a horse chances, letting them get confident but not letting them take the p**s? Does this mean we have to allow horse to say no? Say if they don’t want to come in from the field, stand for the farrier, not leave the yard or even allow you to ride them?

Again, maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m wrong.

But this video certainly doesn’t tally with all that the things the rider has claimed online. And I am not victim shaming, I’m putting both sides out there. We need to put across both sides in a balanced way.

Not just be happy to ruin someone’s life because of a 2yr old edited video.

So, does this change your perspective?

3 thoughts on “Feet of Clay?

  1. Regarding “feet of clay”-growing up, I knew exactly what I wanted to do> Breed, raise and (probably) show Arabians.
    When I was a teenager, my family moved next door to a Quarter Horse breeding and showing barn. I was in heaven, as you may imagine, because up until then, I’d been a horse crazy girl living in the middle of Detroit.
    I ‘worked’ for free at the barn for three years. And in those three years, I learned a LOT-most of it how the showing/breeding industry is a seamy, money driven hell show. I saw a pregnant mare die slowly, in agony from a twisted intestine, because to have her put out of her pain by euthanasia would have negated the insurance policy. I saw the breeding stallion produce babies that almost always developed navicular. I remember being at the Quarter Horse Congress as a muckbooted kid and hearing the lawyers hired by the owner’s of Impressive threaten people if they even breathed that he was responsible for a genetic disease, the owners would sue the living s…t out of the person. …which was proven later. hearing the spies that Impressive’s owner’s. I saw horses have the nerves in their tails severed so that it was a ‘nice, quiet tail’ in the halter shows.
    I saw judges take money as ‘repayment of a loan’ in the shedrow, and later on, wouldn’t you know it, the horse of the borrower won.
    Oh, yes, I’ve seen feet of clay.

    1. It’s pretty appalling what many of us have seen over the years. There were many things I didn’t really process until I was older and realized they were wrong because no one ever commented on them.

Leave a Reply