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  • Writer's pictureJulie Taylor

Moments of truth

Updated: Feb 21, 2018

Did you make an unfavourable comment on the pictures of Akeem Foldager's blue tongue when they were first published? Did you share them? Did you perhaps drop a line to the sponsors? Then there is a 99 per cent probability that you have no knowledge of horses at all. At least according to German dressage trainer and coach to the Danish dressage squad, Rudolph Zeilinger.

”99 per cent of the comments come from people who don't know anything about horses at all. It is so easy to click ”like” on Facebook but people don't think about the consequences for the person at the receiving end” said Zeilinger, according to the Danish equine industry magazine, Hestemagasinet.

Zeilinger is not alone in his support for Andreas Helgstrand. International horse dealer Hasse Hoffmann also feels as if the whole thing has been blown out of proportion: ”I think it is insolent to evaluate anything from one photo. That photo says nothing to me about how Andreas rode on the day. It is a moment in time and you would be able to take such a picture of any horse.”

Most notably, dressage trainer Morten Thomsen who was present during the ride and was actually teaching Helgstrand during the event, claims that only one photo exists and that it must have been taken at a moment when Helgstrand was forced to take a bit more contact on the reins in order to prevent the horse from running off:

”I am completely baffled as to how it could come to this. I was standing there, teaching Andreas, and Akeem was completely relaxed during the entire event. I have watched the video several times to try to see if I could have missed something. As we finish, Andreas rides up the centre line and people applaud. This makes Akeem pull on the bit and get excited. At this point, Andreas has to hold on to the rein, otherwise he would have run off. I think this must be when the picture was taken.”

This is a great quote from Morten Thomsen because it sums up the reason why people on one side of this argument can't understand what the people on the other side are saying and vice versa. Thomsen has seen the video. He has watched it over and over. He was there on the day and he saw no cruelty. We have heard similar statements from other stake holders: ”I was there and I saw it with my own eyes. Andreas was just riding around in a regular way. The horse was relaxed. There was no cruelty.”

Well here's the thing if you think you know the pictures lie because you were there on the day and thought everything was fine. The riding which you think is normal and relaxed and humane is the same riding which caused Akeem's tongue to go flat and blue. It turns out you are mistaken as to what constitutes acceptable use of a live horse for entertainment. The most likely scenario is that you and Rudolph Zeilinger, Andreas Helgstrand, Morten Thomsen and everyone else who saw this ride and couldn't tell how much it was hurting the horse... are the ones who don't know anything about horses.

As a special favour to you and Morten Thomsen and anyone else who is unable to question their own authority for even one second, we have cut a version of the video from the day with the most incriminating photos added at the "moments in time" they were taken. As you can see, Akeem's tongue was flat and blue at the beginning. It was flat and blue in the middle while Morten Thomsen was going on about lightness in the hand and saying how good and relaxed it all was. And the tongue was still flat and blue at the end when the audience were cheering and clapping and swooning over such wonderful riding.

If you want to look at just the photos in high resolution, you can see them here. You can even download them and enlarge them to have a better look.

If you still think a flat, blue tongue is no big deal, you might try to use your thumb and forefinger to flatten your own tongue and count the seconds before you realise what a bad idea it was to try.

We realise that some of you are getting bored hearing about Akeem Foldager, and we'd like to move on too. But as long as the people responsible keep blaming bridles, grooms, photographers and horses for their own mistakes, we will also keep pointing out the gaps in their stories.

Andreas Helgstrand is not just another top rider. He is Denmark's premier hyperflexion apologist - the poster boy for "correct LDR". Click here to watch the videos of Andreas Helgstrand making a case for the benefits of hyperflexion.

Helgstrand is the one the Danish federation rolls out when authorities and mainstream media must be convinced that there are no welfare problems in equestrian sport. For this reason, his riding will be under more scrutiny than that of other riders. It has nothing to do with "jealousy" or a "witch hunt" which are the excuses favoured by those who cling to the fantasy that Akeem's blue tongue didn't really happen.

This also has nothing to do with an accidentally tight bridle - if it did then all the bridles on that day would not have been equally tight. Andreas Helgstrand would have been able to feel that something was wrong. Or Morten Thomsen would have picked up on the horse's discomfort or spotted the obviously compromised tongue in the constantly gaping mouth and loosened the noseband and the curb chain. Thomsen didn't do that. He kept talking about relaxation and excellent riding - not because he is some evil sadist but because he sincerely believed that to be what he was looking at. The audience thought the same thing. Akeem's owners who were present thought the same thing. They all thought this was okay, which is why they can't understand how some pictures could be taken of something so clearly unacceptable.

The problem here is ignorance. Zeilinger is right about that. But he has yet to realise that he is himself standing firmly in the clueless camp.

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