Akeem Foldager time line
According to a press release issued by Andreas Helgstrand's lawyers, the Olympic medalist has been acquitted of animal cruelty in a court of law in Aalborg on November 28, 2014. We are not yet sure of the details of the verdict, but here is an overview of events so far in the Akeem Foldager/blue tongue scandal. The list is not exhaustive and may be updated ongoingly.
12 April 2014:
Helgstrand Dressage hosts an open house day to showcase its stallions. Among the guests are co-owner of Akeem Foldager, Ecco Shoes owner Hanni Toosbuy Kasprzak and Danish Equestrian Federation President and FEI presidential hopeful, Ulf Helgstrand, father of Andreas Helgstrand. On the floor in the arena, Olympic rider and international dressage trainer Morten Thomsen coaches Andreas Helgstrand.
After the event, a user in the breeding forum at Danish horse portal Heste-Nettet.dk posts her observations from the open house. She starts out by explaining that she is aware that she is going to be unpopular for saying her opinion, but she feels she needs to state it all the same. She tells of being ”ready to cry” from watching the riding at the event. The young horses, she states, were over-ridden and the older horses who were shown in double bridles all had gaping mouths. She particularly mentions Akeem Foldager and claims that his sides looked as if someone had tried to mask spur marks with shoe polish. She can't believe that the audience applauded and thought everything was fine. As expected, several other users berate her for criticising the event. Some agree with her. You can read the google translated thread here.
16 April 2014
Epona.tv receives photos of several horses, including Akeem Foldager, from another member of the public who had attended the event. The photographer is upset about what can be seen in the photos but does not wish to be named. Epona.tv receives about 10 photos at first. Later, more photos follow. The photos show the horse's tongue being squashed almost flat and turning a shade of blue. The photos of Akeem's sides show marks where the spur is used as well as the dark patches presumed by the poster on Heste-Nettet to be shoe polish.
Epona.tv publishes the photos on its Facebook page. A lot of people become angry and start sending emails and posting to the Facebook pages of Helgstrand's sponsors as well as that of the Danish Equestrian Federation, demanding action. The photos are also posted to the Danish Animal Protection Society's (Dyrenes Beskyttelse) Facebook page and the page belonging to Hestens Værn, a Danish horse protection charity.
Feed company Equsana, announces that it will be reconsidering its sponsorship of Helgstrand in the future.
18 April 2014
The Danish Animal Protection Society sends out a sharply worded press release based on the photos published by Epona.tv. According to the press release, Andreas Helgstrand has been illegally using his tack for coercion of his horse in violation of §26 in the Danish Law of Horse Husbandry. In the opinion of the veterinarian at Dyrenes Beskyttelse, Jens Svenningsen – a former FEI vet and former President of the Danish Combined Driving Association – the photos clearly show wounds on the horse's abdomen. Like the poster on Heste-Nettet.dk, Svenningsen speculates that something has been smeared on Akeem's sides to try to mask the wounds. He announces that he will take part in a veterinary examination of Akeem Foldager, planned by the Danish Equestrian Federation.
The Danish horse welfare charity Hestens Værn also announces that it wants to examine Akeem Foldager. ”Within ten days” of April 18, the President and Vice President of Hestens Værn will visit Andreas Helgstrand and ask him how he plans to train his horses in the future. In a Facebook post, Hestens Værn states that it is considering whether to take the matter to the police. The photos, according to Hestens Værn, show ”bad riding” and ”approach abuse”. Hestens Værn hopes to engage Andreas Helgstrand in a dialogue to improve horse welfare. But it also states that ”In this case, a court ruling may be necessary in order to establish what is acceptable training and use of horses within the parameters of Danish animal protection law”
After this, Hestens Værn becomes silent about the Akeem Foldager case and no statement is issued after President Julie Fjeldborg and Vice President John Randskov attempt to inspect Akeem Foldager. When asked by Epona.tv about the visit, Julie Fjeldborg explains that Hestens Værn has not actually seen Akeem at all because he happened to not be at Helgstrand Dressage on the day of their visit. According to Fjeldborg, the explanation is that Akeem was at the vet clinic being treated for a hoof crack. Instead of inspecting Akeem as announced, Fjeldborg has a talk with Helgstrand about the importance of detail and tack adjustment.
19 April 2014
Equine veterinarian Peter Busk examines Akeem Foldager at the request of the Danish Equestrian Federation. This happens without the participation of Hestens Værn or Dyrenes Beskyttelse. Busk is billed as an independent veterinarian, even though he is - at the time of the examination - listed as the President of a riding club under the Danish Equestrian Federation. His findings include a painful reaction to palpation of the right bar of Akeem Foldager's mouth as well as a 1.5 centimeter lump of connective tissue in the right corner of the lips. Peter Busk does not find any signs of the spur wounds apparently visible in the photos. No blood samples are taken to check whether the horse has been given pain medication ahead of the examination. A strange pattern of hair growth on Akeem's body is offered as a plausible explanation for the dark ”shoe polish” marks mentioned by the poster on Heste-Nettet.dk as well as veterinarian Jens Svenningsen from Dyrenes Beskyttelse.
The Danish Equestrian Federation admits in a press release that Akeem Foldager's tongue is blue in the photos and based on the further information gained from the veterinary examination it is concluded that Andreas Helgstrand's use of the double bridle has been "entirely unacceptable and not in accordance with our ethical guidelines."
The Akeem Foldager scandal kicks off in Danish national newspapers which even cover the story in English, due to the massive international attention it is getting.
20 April 2014
Andreas Helgstrand releases a statement admitting that it was ”completely unacceptable” for Akeem Foldager's tongue to turn blue. He blames the bridle, which he says must have been incorrectly adjusted. He says he has contacted the bit manufacturer to find a more suitable bit.
21 April 2014
In the light of veterinarian Peter Busk's findings regarding the spur marks, veterinarian Jens Svenningsen publicly regrets having made allegations of wounds and camouflage. He does so even though any spur wounds could have healed up by the time the horse was seen by a veterinarian. Svenningsen states that Dyrenes Beskyttelse's criticism of the way the bits have been used on Akeem Foldager on April 12 still stands.
Following Svenningsen's retraction of the statements regarding spur wounds, Danish news media light up with stories of how the allegations against Andreas Helgstrand were in fact false.
25 April 2014
In an interview with Danish broadsheet paper Politiken, Vice President of the horse welfare charity Hestens Værn John Randskov claims that what is seen in the photos of Akeem Foldager is in fact ”far from abuse”. This is completely contrary to Hestens Værn's earlier statement from April 18, when the charity publicly said that the riding in the photos ”approached abuse” and was possibly even criminal. In his interview, Randskov makes it clear that he sees the horse as ”a sports prop” and that all elite sport is hard on the athletes.
4 May 2014
Danish police confirms that at least one formal complaint has been made against Andreas Helgstrand on the basis of the photos from April 12 and that a case has been opened. The newly founded group Hestevenner af Hjertet (Horse friends of the Heart) is behind one report. Working with the group is well known Danish animal welfare campaigner, Lene Kattrup, who is a veterinarian and sits on Denmark's Ethical Council which advises members of Parliament on bio-ethical issues. Read her detailed statement about the photos and video of Akeem Foldager here.
7 May 2014
Reinike Hameleers, head of Eurogroup for Animals (an umbrella organisation for European animal welfare groups), gives a presentation at an international equine expert meeting held by the European Commission. The topic is future horse welfare legislation in Europe and there are five key areas where Eurogroup wants to safeguard horses. One photo is used to illustrate the problem with horse abuse in top sport: A photo of Akeem Foldager's blue tongue. Hameleers highlights the incredible fact that hundreds of spectators were applauding during Akeem's ordeal.
11 May 2014
Following claims that Andreas Helgstrand was being unfairly treated because of a photo representing a single moment in time, 50 photographs as they came to Epona.tv from the anonymous photograher (Epona.tv is aware of the identity of this person) are made available via a Dropbox link for anyone who wants to download and examine them more closely.
21 May 2014
The Danish Equestrian Federation issues a statement saying that, while the case against Andreas Helgstrand is being processed by the police and the federation's appeal committee, Andreas Helgstrand will not be eligible for the Danish dressage squad going to the World Equestrian Games. This is not a formal suspension.
Following claims in the Danish horse magazine, Hestemagasinet, that the entire scandal was based one photo taken completely out of context, Epona.tv publishes a version of a spectator video from the event with some of the worst photos edited in to show when they were taken. Click here and scroll down to see the video.
The official Danish Equestrian Federation magazine, Ridehesten, publishes its own photo (by photographer Annette Boe Østergaard) of Akeem Foldager's blue tongue from the open house event at Helgstrand Dressage. The photo is accompanied by a caption which tells how the performance was "marred by the visible, blue tongue of the horse." In article which goes with the photograph, Andreas Helgstrand admits that Akeem's tongue was blue and blames the adjustment of the bridle. He says he does not wish to try and make excuses as there are none for what has happened.
28 November 2014
Board member of Hestens Værn, attorney Sophus Bøgeskov, defends Andreas Helgstrand in court against the charges made based on the photos taken on April 12. The charges include failure to protect the horse Akeem Foldager against "pain, suffering, fear, permanent injuries and significant disadvantage" as well as "riding in a double bridle in such a way as to compress the horse's tongue and cause it to turn blue." Andreas Helgstrand pleads not guilty of these charges. His testimony is backed up by trainer Morten Thomsen who was standing in the arena during the ride. The court finds that the 50 photographs and the video handed in as evidence are not sufficient reason to discount the testimonies of Helgstrand and Thomsen, due to the fact that the photographer wishes to remain anonymous.
The only veterinary witness during the court case is the veterinarian brought in by the Danish Equestrian Federation, Peter Busk. The photo or photos and eye witness account from the named journalists from the official magazine of the Danish Equestrian Federation, Britt Carlsen and Annette Boe Østergaard, are not made use of by the prosecution. Neither are any of the named eye witnesses who have posted their observations on social media.
8 December 2014
Sophus Bøgeskov Christensen's law firm Delacour Dania issues a press release which says that Andreas Helgstrand has been acquitted of animal cruelty because the prosecution could not prove that Akeem's tongue had in fact been blue on April 12. The press release goes out ten days after the verdict, which is exactly the deadline for appeal. According to the press release, the veterinary statement used in the court case was the one done by the veterinarian from the Danish Equestrian Federation. Bøgeskov Christensen takes the opportunity to berate those who turned the Akeem Foldager scandal into a big deal. He fails to mention that his own organisation, Hestens Værn, was the first to bring up a possible criminal case against Helgstrand based on the photos.
9 December 2014
The Danish Equestrian Federation announces that its appeal committee can now finish processing the disciplinary case against Andreas Helgstrand
10 December 2014
Danish mainstream papers report Helgstrand's acquittal. Tabloid newspaper Ekstra Bladet questions the decision of Bøgeskov Christensen to act as defense attorney in a case of alleged animal cruelty, given that Bøgeskov Christensen is a board member of Hestens Værn. Both Bøgeskov Christensen and President of Hestens Værn, Professor Julie Fjeldborg, deny any conflict of interest.
Veterinarian and member of Denmark's Ethical Council, Lene Kattrup, maintains to Ekstra Bladet that the photos and video show violent riding and that any spur wounds would have likely healed by the time the veterinarian from the Danish Equestrian Federation examined Akeem Foldager. Kattrup points out that, in her opinion, the considerable suffering the horse must have experienced during the ordeal is enough for a conviction for animal cruelty, even if any trauma had nearly healed by the time of the veterinary investigation. According to the article, the photos and video evidence were disregarded in court because they had been taken by an anonymous photographer, and so the testimonies by Andreas Helgstrand and Morten Thomsen that the horse's tongue had not been blue were taken as true. According to the article, the court had heard that the photos had only "allegedly" been taken during the open house day.
Julie Fjeldborg sends out a press release stating that she does not feel that the 50 photos and the nine minute video of the ride on April 14 was sufficient evidence of animal cruelty for a criminal case. She urges the judicial system to put more focus on "serious" welfare problems. The statement is met with much criticism on social media and is later removed from Hestens Værn's Facebook page.
28 January 2015
The Danish Equestrian Federation's Board of Appeals reaches a decision in the case against Andreas Helgstrand. Helgstrand is issued with an official warning for "improper use of the bridle".
6 February 2015
According to an article on Eurodressage.com, Helgstrand Dressage has decided to sell Akeem Foldager to US based Dane, Charlotte Jorst.
Helgstrand has explained earlier that the horse has been on allergy medication due to poor performance and the Danish Equestrian Federation has released no information about the announced follow-up visit by its veterinarian, Peter Busk.
9 February 2015
Following the announcement that Helgstrand Dressage will be showing its stallions in cooperation with the Lodbergen Dressage Performance Center on February 15 in Vechta, Lodbergen's other partner, Gestüt Bonhomme, sends out a press release to "affirm its non-affiliation with Helgstrand Dressage", according to an article on Eurodressage.com.
"We deliberately reject questionable training techniques because they are not according to our philosophy. We want to distance ourselves from that in every way" says Bonhomme management in the strongly worded statement.
14 February 2015 Helgstrand Dressage issues a press release stating that it will not show its stallions with Lodbergen at all but instead with the stud farm Zuchthof Klatte on 21. February.
"Owners nor representatives from Gestüt Bonhomme have never visited Helgstrand Dressage, however, like anyone else, they are more that welcome to visit us if they would like to see how we train our horses.
We are proud of our breeding stallions and our horses in general; we are also proud of our daily work with our horses and we do not in any way consider Gestüt Bonhomme’s conduct and comments reasonable." Click here for the full press release