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  • Writer's pictureJulie Taylor

Andreas Helgstrand blames bridle

The blue tongue in recent photos of Akeem Foldager was down to a badly fitted bridle and a curb chain which had inadvertently been adjusted too tightly, according to a press release from Helgstrand Dressage. Helgstrand makes no apologies for his riding. In the press release, Helgstrand states that Akeem will now be given time off until the damage to his mouth has healed up.

"Akeem will have a break from training while we review his equipment and the use of it. We have, among other things, been talking to the manufacturer of bits with a view to finding one which fits Akeem better," said Andreas Helgstrand.

"It is entirely unacceptable that Akeem's tongue turned blue. That can't happen and we think it's the curb chain which may have been adjusted too tightly. This has been immediately ammended."

"We can understand why pictures like these create a debate and we are fully focused on making the changes which were necessary, including an adjustment of the bridle."

On Thursday, the veterinarian chosen by the Danish Equestrian Federation, Peter Busk, performed an examination of Akeem Foldager. According to the report by Peter Busk, both corners of Akeem's lips had: "a single, superficial, dry crack with no reaction of the underlying tissue and without soreness to palpation." On the inside of the corner of the lip on the right side, a 1 centimeter by 1.5 centimeter lump of connective tissue had formed. According to Peter Busk, this lump was not sore and the skin on the surface was intact.

The report makes no mention of whether this lump of connective tissue is considered to be scar tissue from the bits. In addition to the cracks in the corners of the mouth and the lump of connective tissue, Peter Busk found that Akeem Foldager had an abnormal and consistent pain reaction to pressure on the right bar of the mouth.

Peter Busk said he found no abnormalities on the horse's sides apart from a small, cyst-like lump, and Andreas Helgstrand explained that any discolouration of the hairs seen on photos was down to how the horse was clipped. It was also noted in the veterinary report that Akeem's stable was very clean and that the horses has a very calm temperament.

As expected, the Danish Equestrian Federation sent out a press release stating that the episode will have no consequences for Andreas Helgstrand, even though the federation admits that the horse has clearly been subjected to pain.

"The blue discoloration and the avoidance reaction to palpation of the right bar of the mouth are clear signs of incorrect use of equipment or aids. The Danish Equestrian Federation has made it clear to Andreas Helgstrand that his use of the double bridle has been entirely unacceptable and not in accordance with our ethical guidelines."

"Andreas Helgstrand admits this and is in dialogue with the Danish Equestrian Federation about the use of equipment. At the same time, Andreas Helgstrand has chosen to follow the recommendation of the veterinarian to give Akeem Foldager some time off from training undtil the pain reaction in the right bar of the mouth has disappeared. He has further agreed to let the Danish Equestrian Federation keep track of Akeem Foldager in order to ensure that the above conditions are brought in order."

In other words, the safety of Akeem remains in the hands of Andreas Helgstrand and the federation headed by his father.

The Danish animal protection groups Dyrenes Beskyttelse and Hestens Værn have maintained that "dialogue" is the way forward, and neither has expressed any intention to report the matter to the police. We have written to these groups and asked them how they feel this dialogue is progressing. It's been five years since an investigative sports program on national Danish television called Helgstrand's methods into question. Back then, the Danish animal protection groups also said that dialogue was the way forward and they said they would fix the problems with horse welfare at the top of the sport by working closely with the Danish Equestrian Federation.

According to paragraph 1 of the Danish animal protection law: "Animals should be treated responsibly and protected as well as possible against pain, suffering, fear, permanent physical damage and significant discomfort."

What the Danish animal welfare societies are doing is merely taking the "permanent physical damage" part into consideration. If Akeem only had slight wounds one week after the photos were taken, then that somehow cancels out any pain, fear and discomfort he might have felt during the ordeal. In other words, as long as you stop before you cause a chronic injury, you can do whatever you want to your animal.

According to paragraph 17 of the same law: "Animals may not be trained or used in shows, circuses, film recordings and the like if this causes the animal significant discomfort."

As if the paragraphs above were not enough, we have an entire law which is just about the protection of horses. According to paragraph 26 of this law:"Equipment which is used for aiding the horse must be adjusted to the individual horse and must not damage the horse or be used as instruments of force."

The question for the animal protection groups is now: "If you're not going to hold an expert rider who has competed at multiple Olympic games responsible for causing pain to his horse in the name of entertainment, what would it actually take? What would a person actually have to do to a horse if this is not enough?"

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