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  • Writer's pictureJulie Taylor

Hestens Værn: Far from abuse

What is shown in the photos of Akeem Foldager is far from horse abuse, is the official stand of Danish horse protection group Hestens Værn. "It's hard training and all elite sport involves that. The horse as we use it today is a sports prop, even though people don't like the word." So says professional rider and trainer John Randskov who is Vice President of Hestens Værn to national Danish newspaper Politiken today.

In his interview, John Randskov admits that Andreas Helgstrand's contact was too firm, that the 4-year-old horse Vincent Maranello who is in some of the photos the photos was being asked to do work which was too advanced and that the blue tongue of Akeem Foldager is "completely inappropriate."

Yet, this is all "far from what you can characterise as abuse".

This statement is in contrast to an earlier reaction by the Hestens Værn, which was that the riding in the pictures "approached" abuse and an even earlier statement which said that the society planned to visit and examine the horse and that it would possibly be time to set a legal precedent.

In an email to, the initial reaction of Hestens Værn's President, Professor Julie Fjeldborg to the photographs, was this:

"We clearly speak out against this and these are definitely not nice pictures. It looks very violent. We have stated our opinion on Facebook and yes, we will do something. Visit the place as we write and possibly report to the police."

In today's article in Politiken, Professor Fjeldborg says:

"Specifically, the blue tongue in Helgstrand's horse is not okay and of course you can force some things through to some point or another. But there is not much about a horse if you have to force it."

The attitude that this is just how things have to be if you want to use horses in sport is not surprising. Lots of people in the sport are of the opinion that whatever level of pressure is needed to win them a ribbon is the acceptable level of pressure for that horse. What is somewhat surprising is that these people are now admitting it to newspapers and on social media. What defense will the sport have left when it's out in the open that governing bodies and even animal protection societies think that blue tongues are just one of those things that happen once in a while and it's no big deal?

In the short run, this communication strategy will work. It works every time. If enough people with authority just say that this is how it has to be, the furore will go away.

There is just one problem, which John Randskov has not considered. It is illegal in this country to cause pain to a horse in order to make it perform in a show or circus. It is illegal in this country to unnecessarily induce pain, fear or physical harm to a horse. So the principle of "no pain, no gain" cannot apply to equestrian sport unless the only one who suffers is the rider.

Admitting that riding horses are always going to be experiencing some pain and fear - and ramping that up to include what we see in the pictures - is basically to say that there is no humane or even legal way to ride horses. We don't happen to share that opinion. But that is the message being sent out in the frantic effort to make this incident go away.

Meanwhile, the Danish Equestrian Federation has decided to send the matter to its Board of Appeals. Probably, nothing will happen. Time will tell.

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