Nine months after several incidents and accidents marred the equestrian disciplines of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, a study group from the French National Assembly (the lower house of the French Parliament), makes 46 recommendations for making Paris 2024 the Olympic Games of Equine Welfare. 

This is the the full 72-page report in English.

Addressing the Paris 2024 Organising Committee directly, and bypassing the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the report highlights shortcomings in the current regulations.

The list of issues raised is comprehensive, but the authors insist the recommendations are balanced and would allow Paris 2024 to be the Olympic Games of equine welfare. 

To read a summary of the recommendations, click here. 

Study Group presided by Loic Dombreval, Deputy of the Maritime-Alps.

Equine Welfare Recommendations for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, April 2022

Translation by Horses and People

Part 1: Introduction and context

The equestrian events of the Tokyo Olympics saw incidents in several disciplines. These incidents triggered some very strong reactions from the media and spectators, with a section of the population asking for a ban of all equestrian competitions from the Olympic Games, considering them to be practices harmful to the well-being of horses.

It therefore seems essential to us to think about possible improvements, for the horses on the one hand, but also to ensure a serene future for these equestrian sports.

The equestrian events of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, which will take place in Versailles, must be a model in terms of equine welfare.

Cover of the recommendations for equine welfare at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games

I. The main incidents of the Tokyo Olympics

A. Jet Set 

On August 1, 2021, the Olympic cross-country event took place as part of the Eventing Team Riding Competition on the Sea Forest course. Following a poor landing after the obstacle of Mount Fuji (the 5th before the end) and a heavy fall, the horse Jet Set, a 14-year-old gelding ridden by Robin Godel, rider of the Swiss team, tore a ligament in his forelimb. Deemed irreparable, this ligament tear led to the euthanasia of the horse later that day.

Saint Boy, ridden by German pentathlete, Annika Schleu

B. Saint Boy

On August 6, 2021, Annika Schleu, German athlete and first in the provisional classification of the modern Pentathlon event, failed to make her horse Saint Boy jump the course, and attacked him with a whip and spurs in an attempt to make him yield and obey. His trainer Kim Raisner then punched the horse.

Irish horse Kilkenny competing at the Tokyo Olympics

C. Kilkenny

Kilkenny suffered a major epistaxis (nasal discharge of blood) during the show jumping event. His Irish rider Cian O’Connor did not stop the round, nor did the FEI jury. The horse finished the show jumping round with his chest stained with blood.

II. The media reaction

Immediately after these incidents, social networks exploded, numerous press articles were published and the media seized information and images and streamed them to television news of the major national and international channels.

All three incidents were the subject of major articles in the specialist print media. It is especially the images of Saint Boy, struck by his rider, which were disseminated by the television channels.

III. Citizen reaction and issues

The horse is the third favourite animal of the French people, behind dogs and cats, and horse riding is the 4th sport in France with more than 600,000 licenced members.

Following the incidents mentioned above, the general public and animal protection associations mobilized and launched petitions. The 30-million Friends Foundation has called for the modern pentathlon event to be removed from the Olympic Games.

The editor-in-chief of the German magazine St. Georg said: “In pentathlon, horses are what they should never be: sports equipment like the rifle in shooting and the rapier in fencing. They don’t deserve it, it hurts their dignity. Therefore, equestrianism should disappear from modern pentathlon as soon as possible.

A German animal protection association Deutcher Tiershutzbund filed a criminal complaint for animal cruelty against the German rider and trainer for cruelty to animals.

The media and animal protection associations were outraged by these three spectacular incidents for the general public. Other professional voices in equestrian sports are increasingly speaking out against certain training methods such as hyperflexion, or against physical artifices that constrain the horse’s posture (frame), that create more or less painful movement or medicinal artifices that can jeopardize the health of the horse.

Groups and associations continue to denounce mistreatment in equestrian sports and want to challenge the Paris 2024 Olympic Games Committee (IOC), using shocking images to call for Games that treat horses well.

Journalist Julie Taylor of Epona TV has written a book called “I can’t watch anymore. The case for dropping equestrian from the olympic games. An open letter to the IOC”, which she sent to all members of the International Olympic Committee.

Meanwhile, some animal or anti-speciesism activists go further and demand a complete ban on the use of horses in sports and leisure.

The German branch of PETA also sent a letter to the IOC asking that all equestrian sports be banned from the Olympic Games.

IV. The response of the authorities concerned

‘I Can’t Watch Anymore’ is an open letter to the IOC by Julie Taylor.

A ligament tear during the cross country phase of the Tokyo Olympics, led to the euthanasia of Jet Set later that day.

A. For Jet Set

The FEI communicated succinctly on this event via Twitter and then on its official website, explaining that Jet Set received adequate care on site and that he was then transferred by equine ambulance to the veterinary clinic dedicated to the Olympic Games where additional examinations revealed “an irreparable rupture of the ligament in the right lower limb, just above the hoof, and for humane reasons and with the agreement of the owners and the rider, the decision was taken to euthanase the horse “.

The FEI also specified that a necropsy would be carried out and that the results would be communicated. To date, this does not seem to have been done, or at any rate, made public.

On August 1, 2021, the Swiss Olympic Committee made a point of specifying in a press release that “the accident is due neither to a fault of the rider nor to faults in the terrain of the Sea Forest Cross Country Course” and that, despite the tragic accident, the Swiss equestrian team had decided to take part in the final show jumping competition the following day, with the substitute rider Eveline Bodenmüller on Violine de la Brasserie, while specifying that the rider Robin Godel had not been injured and offering her condolences for Jet Set’s death.

B. For Saint Boy

The day after the incident, the UIPM disqualified German pentathlon coach Kim Raisner for the end of the Tokyo Olympics, thus preventing her from participating in the following men’s events. Then, last November, the Disciplinary Commission of the International Federation of Modern Pentathlon issued its findings and concluded that Raisner had breached UIPM competition rules by hitting a horse and encouraging his athlete to do the same.

The jury therefore confirmed the validity of the decision of the executive committee of the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM) to exclude Kim Raisner from the end of the Olympic Games. They also gave her an official reprimand, adding that any repetition of this type of behavior could lead to the withdrawal of her accreditations from the UIPM Coaching Certification Program and her authorization to coach in competition. In addition, she will be required to attend a trainer education seminar, including a module on the humane treatment of animals, prior to her participation in any competition.

Nevertheless, the UIPM chose not to sanction Annika Schleu stating: “it was determined that the use of the whip or spurs was not excessive and although the situation was certainly distressing for the rider and the horse, the committee concluded that there were no animal welfare issues to be resolved and that no sanctions would be taken” 

The UIPM said in a press release that it had already set up a working group to reform the modern pentathlon riding event.

For Paris 2024, the organization seems to favour a reduction in the height and number of obstacles without touching the draw, which is however, the most criticized rule.

The UIPM also wishes to make amendments to its code of ethics in order to better take into account the welfare of horses. In addition, it has been decided that a meeting will be organized with the president of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) so that he can provide his expertise in this matter.

On Sunday November 28, the outgoing President, Klaus Schormann was re-elected for an eighth term as President of the UIPM. First elected in 1993, President Schormann received the support of 85.71% of the electorate in an election where no other candidate was running.

The UIPM’s first vice-president, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr, a member and former vice-president of the IOC, also retained his position, with more than 90% of delegates voting in his favour. 

This 71st congress also saw the election of a new vice-president, Sharif Elerian, president of the Egyptian Federation and secretary general of the Egyptian National Olympic Committee – and the re-election of the French vice-presidents Joël Bouzou, Russian Viacheslav Aminov and Mexican Juan Manzo Oranegui.

In addition, the delegates ratified by 81% the decision of the UIPM Executive Committee to initiate a consultation concerning the fifth discipline, announced on November 4, in order to propose to the IOC a format for the Los Angeles 2028 Games with a new fifth discipline, to be determined by the UIPM. This fifth discipline would replace horse riding among the modern pentathlon events. 

Annika Schleu undertook to pay 500 euros to a recognized association of general interest in exchange for the closing of the case by the Potsdam public prosecutor’s office, which was accepted in January 2022.

For our part, we have repeatedly invited Mr Joël Bouzou, President of the French Pentathlon Federation, to an interview. He did not respond positively to these invitations.

C. For Kilkenny 

The media and general public were outraged that Kilkenny completed his competition performance while bleeding profusely. The FEI replied that only traces of blood on the mouth and on the flanks, that are caused by the action of the rider, were cause for elimination.

His rider announced following this test that Kilkenny had been authorized by the FEI to continue the competition and to carry out the following events but that, to protect the health of his horse, he had decided to withdraw from the competition.

Summary of Tokyo incidents

Tensions which seem to be growing are evident between the various stakeholders in equestrian sports: media, public, animal protection groups, riders, federations, and professional organisations. 

It is therefore urgent that the main sources of accidents and damage to the well-being of horses in competition is analysed, in order to put in place adequate corrective measures.

Everyone wants the Paris 2024 Olympic Games to be an exemplar in terms of respect for horses, and for the general public to continue to enjoy following the equestrian events.

The stakes for the sector are considerable.

Part 2 – Consideration of equine welfare at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games

The welfare of horses has been very well studied in recent years. The ‘Charter and Good Practice Guide for Equine Welfare’ published by the Fédération Nationale du Cheval, the Association Vétérinaire Équine Française, the Fédération Française d’Equitation, France Galop, the Groupement Hippique National and Le Trot, has been ratified by most of the sector’s stakeholders. 

In addition, several theses and studies on equine welfare have been published by INRAE, IFCE and CNRS and others are currently in progress. IFCE regularly publishes books, fact sheets and hosts online conferences on the subject, and positions for equine welfare managers exist within the AVEF, the National Council of the Veterinary Order, and veterinary schools which now provide courses on equine welfare. 

In addition, there are many private initiatives emerging within the equine industry, which demonstrates an enthusiasm for this subject and its growing importance in the sector, such as the Equures Event label, which is a collective approach, legally supported by the Horse Council of Normandie, which brings together many representatives of the sector such as SHF, FNCH, France Galop, Le Trot, Pôle Hippolia, FFE, RESPE, AVEF, French League for the Protection of Horses, IFCE, GHN, FNC and which is recognized by the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Paris 2024 Olympic Games, which also want to be those of reason and moderation in terms of environmental impact, can therefore become an example for the following Olympic Games by putting equine well-being at the heart of its concerns.

I. Equestrian Facilities

The equestrian facilities at the Tokyo Olympics were judged to be of a very good standard by the majority of those interviewed. Our recommendation is therefore to resume at least the principles with, however, two important improvements for the well-being of horses.

Recommendation #1:

Provide relaxation areas (grazing areas, lungeing and exercise areas, galloping track, paddocks, etc.) in sufficient quantity and surface area to be accessible to horses as needed, while respecting a controlled environment that guarantees the safety and biosecurity that are essential in competition.

In addition, in these paddocks, the horses should have access to hay and water, while absolutely taking into account the health and biosecurity risks (transmission of disease between horses via hay and water, cross-contamination with respect to doping). Each horse should therefore have their own hay net and water bucket. 

Recommendation #2:

Ensure that horses are housed in boxes that are large enough (4 m sides minimum), high enough, well ventilated, even air-conditioned (according to FEI rules), with a comfortable, non-slip and easy-to-clean flooring that can accommodate the bedding that is familiar to each horse.

The criteria of equine well-being which would be improved are: bedding comfort, access to free but controlled exercise, and visual social contact with conspecifics (social contact allowed by setting up paddocks next to each other, but respecting sufficient distance to allow biosecurity).

II. Food

Horses are monogastric, with a small, non-expandible stomach. Under natural conditions, they spend about 15-16 hours per day grazing on grass and browsing various woody herbaceous plants, such as shrubs or bark. They eat and digest continuously. The cellulose fraction of the food is digested by the microbial flora of the caecum and large colon. It is therefore important that a regular intake of fibre maintains the balance of this flora.

Sport horses are all fed concentrates and feed supplements, but hay is essential for their health and well-being when they are stabled and cannot graze freely. Ideally, the hay will be left ad libitum and if this is not possible, it will be necessary to ensure that a minimum daily quantity of at least 1.5% of the live weight of the horse in dry matter (i.e. for example 9 kg of hay at 85% DM for a 500 kg horse) is provided at regular intervals throughout the day.

Recommendation #3:

Ensure a sufficient supply of hay (roughage) to allow feeding several times a day, even ad libitum, and according to the needs of each horse.

III. Monitoring and compliance

In an interview with the magazine “L’Éperon” on January 20, 2022, Jean-Maurice Bonneau, ex-trainer of ‘Bleus’, explains that the major authorities must question themselves following the incidents in Tokyo as well as the recent scandal following the leak of video footage from the stable of Ludger Beerbaum rapping horses or using jump poles covered with nails.

He admits that he himself has not always respected the rules of good treatment and that this concerns everyone in equestrian sport. He adds that “sometimes, some stewards in the arenas do not set clear boundaries and I have already gone to see such and such a rider to point out his bad behavior… We have to regain credibility and for that, we need new rules…”.

Professionals also point out that “at the high level, event stewards do not dare report abuse, for fear of reprisals from the sports stars who threaten them when they try to intervene to protect the horses“.

It seems essential to us to put in place for the 2024 Olympic Games, concrete and dissuasive measures to ensure that the rules are respected, and deviations sanctioned if necessary.

Recommendation #4

Strengthen the surveillance of control teams already provided for by the FEI, in particular, with regard to the alert criteria in terms of health, wellbeing or dangerous riding practices.

Set up a “Welfare Committee”, made up of independent experts authorised to move freely throughout the Olympic site of the equestrian events, as part of a special “Equine Welfare at the Olympic Games” mission.

Recommendation #5

Remind participants and inform the public that the entire equestrian competition precinct is under 24/7 surveillance by purposely trained veterinarians and stewards, and that recordings of the video surveillance is undertaken by an independent company, to any consultations on request, in particular that of the “Welfare Committee”

Recommendation #6

Apply the existing rule which states that when leaving the arena or competition area at the end of the events: no one can access the horse before it is checked by the FEI steward in charge.

IV. Tack and artificial aids

A. Nosebands

The traditional noseband is the French (Flash) noseband that riders learn to tighten from an early age (theory of the Galops curriculum from the FFE).

When it is too tight, the noseband causes many problems, as demonstrated by Dr Isabelle Burgaud (IFCE Publication, 2020):

  • painful pressure on the fragile structures of the muzzle;
  • injuries to the cheeks, bars, corners of the lips;
  • the horse can no longer chew or swallow its saliva and often drools profusely;
  • ulcers on a poorly maintained mouth with dental points;
  • disturbs the poll flexion;
  • compression of the nerves and blood vessels of the face;
  • postural discomfort (increasing occlusion);
  • an increase in the frequency of osteopathic dysfunctions;
  • affections of the mouth, TMJ (temporomandibular joint), neck, and hyoid apparatus;
  • a stressful affect (evaluated by variations in heart rate, cortisol, thermography, and behaviour).

    Image of crank noseband with flash.

    Other studies have also shown that excessive tightening of the noseband could lead to:

    • Physiological discomfort (Doherty, 2017):
      • a brake on breathing caused by the significant pressure on the nose and the muzzle;
      • an alteration of the blood circulation, by the compression of the vessels of the head;
      • an impossibility to swallow (swallow), which often manifests itself by a strong production of saliva;
    • An impossibility for the horse to express pain or fear and even relaxation (Doherty, 2017);
    • An increase in stress which results in particular in an acceleration of the heart rate (Fenner, 2016).

    Recommendation #7: 

    Improve the controls against the excessive tightening of nosebands and curb chains: Provide a more calibrated check, preformed randomly during training sessions and systematically when entering or leaving each event, using a 1.5 cm ISES taper gauge placed on the nasal bones (which allow one adult finger to slide between the noseband strap and the hard nasal bone) and apply a penalty in the event of an infringement.

    Unfortunately, manufacturers provide riders with nosebands that allow them to further amplify the tightness of the straps.

    Recommendation #8: 

    Review the list of tack which, by its creative design or manufacture, can cause harm and discomfort to the horse, and prohibit its use in competition, in particular nosebands that increase the capacity to tighten (crank, lever, grackle, double, etc.) as well as flash nosebands in all disciplines: Create a positive list of authorized nosebands.

    B. Bits and mouthpieces

    In dressage, there is a list of authorized bits, while in jumping and cross-country, there are no restrictions, although specialists describe some bits as causing pain.

    Recommendation #9

    Prohibit the use of elevator/gag bits on cross country, particularly when combined with a grackle or flash noseband.

    Recommendation #10

    Prohibit the use of tandem/combination bits, bits with twisted or double mouthpieces, and all bits that do not align with equine welfare, and create a list of authorized mouthpieces.

    Image of a grackle (Mexican) noseband fitted with an elevator (gag) bit, and a running martingale. The horse’s facial expressions are consistent with subtle signs of discomfort or pain.

    Image of a combination bit used commonly in show jumping (CSO)

    It will be necessary to inform all riders in advance of all modifications interfering with the FEI regulations.

    C. Reins

    Many reins are used during the tests, during training and warm up phases and during the prize giving. Care must be taken that they never prevent horses from extending their muzzle in front of the vertical and that they are not used with a device designed to raise the head when the reins promote lowering.

    At this level, riders should be able to make do without them, and they are a bad model for all the lower level riders who do not understand the potential danger these reins pose to horses.

    Recommendation # 11:

    Prohibit the use of martingales in combination with an elevator (gag) bit throughout the entire Olympic Games grounds.

    Draw reins (photo on the right) run from the chest to the hand of the rider passing through the bit, with the effect of bringing the muzzle of the horse towards his chest, thereby tending to enforce a hyperflexed posture, even when used by riders of a high level.

    In order to avoid encouraging postures (frames) that are deleterious for the horse’s welfare, it is necessary to fit a snaffle only and in such a way that its rings are connected only to the reins and the cheek pieces, and no other straps or system should run through them or be fixed in any way so as to pressure a part of the horse’s body or join with another saddlery accessory.

    Recommendation #12:

    Prohibit the use of running reins (draw reins) throughout the entire Olympic Games precinct.

    D. Hind boots

    For many years, in CSO, as soon as certain riders have finished their round, the grooms rush to the horses to remove their hindleg tendon boots and replace them with simple fetlock boots.

    Rising up to mid-tendon and tightened before entering the ring, these rear boots painfully stimulate a sensitive area of ​​the fetlock and motivate the horse to escape this pain, by tilting the back excessively and passing the hind legs well over and above the obstacle. It is a ploy which aims to artificially and painfully improve the performance of horses, therefore akin to “a mechanical doping device”, as denounced by the French Equine Veterinary Association.

    The use of these hind tendon boots is not without risks, since it causes serious pathologies to the back of the lower limbs, compressing the tendons which are sometimes sheared on landing.

    Frédéric Cottier, team World Champion and course designer at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, has also declared that “even honest riders are encouraged to use these so as not to be disadvantaged. It must absolutely be banned because it is nothing but mechanical doping. Without these gaiters, most of these horses would never jump clear rounds, and would not be in a position to shine”.

    The FEI has banned them but only for young horses.

    Recommendation #13

    Prohibit the fitting of tendon boots on the hindlegs by extending the FEI rules already in place for young horses, to all horses in all disciplines. Increase controls of the tightness of fetlock boots and review their authorization, to reduce their use.

    Recommendation #14

    Organise a tabletop check of the tack and protective equipment of each horse with video recording, and before the events.

    E. The whip/riding crop

    Striking a horse with a whip is always badly perceived by the general public. Whipping is de facto an act that violates animal welfare, it seems very cruel and useless when we consider the images of Annika Schleu (Pentathlon, Tokyo 2021).

    Ideally, whipping should be absent from competition at this level altogether.

    Recommendation #15: 

    Prohibit the use of the whip more than once per event and more than twice during the warm-up. The use of a whip more than once per event and twice during warm-up will result in a sanction or even disqualification. Video surveillance used as evidence if necessary.

    E. Spurs

    Spurs are mandatory in some events even though some riders prefer to ride without them.

    Recommendation #16:

    Authorise riding without spurs in dressage, as is the case in all events.

    Belly bands were created to prevent the horse from being injured in the event of excessive or poorly controlled use of the spurs. If the skin is no longer lacerated thanks to these belly bands, the abuse persists but is less visible, superficially. This device must not be used, and spurs must be used with precision and moderation.

    Recommendation #17:

    Prohibit belly bands.

    Last year, American rider and 2018 World Cup finalist Andrew Kocher was suspended for ten years by the FEI for using electric spurs in major international competitions. He was subsequently disqualified from all the events in which he had participated with this electrical equipment, i.e. Hickstead (June 21-24, 2018), Lexington (May 14-18, 2019 and May 22-26, 2019), Calgary ( June 5-9, 2019 and June 27-30, 2019), Traverse City (August 7-11, 2019), Columbus (October 2-6, 2019) and Toronto (November 5-9, 2019). It is unfortunate that this painful practice has been able to continue for so many years. It is therefore essential to systematically check all the artificial aids of the rider.

    Recommendation #18:

    Systematically check the conformity of the rider’s artificial aids (spurs, whip), as well as the horse’s tack and protective equipment, as provided for in the regulations.

    V. Veterinary care and checks

     Law n°2021-1539 of November 30, 2021 aimed at combating animal abuse and strengthening the bond between animals and humans, and more particularly its article 21 proposed by Mrs. Martine Leguille-Balloy, deputy for the 4th district of Vendée , finally allows the traceability of the neurectomy.

    By artificially and dangerously masking pain, this practice is considered a form of doping. It is prohibited in competition because it can have dramatic consequences for the horse: the loss of limb sensitivity modifies perception of the effort and can lead to fatigue fractures or the aggravation of existing injuries.

    Veterinarian Franck De Craene, a French equine expert, campaigned for a law to make it mandatory to mention any medical or surgical intervention of this type on the equine identification document for French horses. However, this is not the case for foreign horses that will come to the Olympic Games.

    It should be noted, however, that the FEI has taken this problem into account: for the first time, the horses of the AlUla endurance race in Saudi Arabia on January 29 were the subject of sensitivity tests carried out by veterinary doctor Morgane Schambourg, who has been working for a long time on the development of a neurectomy detection system. It would therefore require a veterinary certificate to certify that these horses have not undergone this intervention, or take the risk that they do not respond to sensitivity tests which would lead to disqualification.

    Recommendation #19

    Remind everyone that the fight against doping is the priority of all international competitions and that the rules prohibit the use of horses who have undergone any type of neurectomy, at any level, whether chemical or surgical.

    Mainly used in endurance for the moment, the hyposensitivity test consists of screening horses which have undergone treatment intended to reduce their sensitivity to pain in their limbs by truncal anaesthesia (either definitive by surgical section or temporary with anaesthetic blocks of nerve trunks) so that horses do not stop or slow down due to being in pain. 

    Thermography is also a valuable tool, as it allows assessment of the differences in surface temperatures of the horse’s skin, by highlighting hot and cold thermal signatures on body areas. Thermal variations as well as asymmetries are all clues that will help identify possible pathologies or traumas. Cold signatures may be related to possible vascularization defects related to the presence of oedema, hematoma, or abscess (existing or in formation). The hot thermal signatures specify areas of inflammation (e.g. back pain, tendinitis, etc.). They also allows the detection of fraudulent use of rubefacient products.

    Finally, the hypersensitivity tests highlight an exacerbated sensitivity of the horse’s limbs obtained thanks to sensitizing products which make each touch of the bar very painful and push the horse not to touch them during its jumps.

    All these tests require scientific validation, in particular of their sensitivity (false negative rate), and their specificity (false positive rate) before the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

    Recommendation #20:

    Increase the random use of hyposensitivity, hypersensitivity and thermography tests to check at least 10% of the horses after each event.

     The fight against doping in human athletes recommends carrying out 20% of the tests during competitions and 80% outside. This principle should be applied to equestrian sports.

    Recommendation #21:

    Conduct longitudinal monitoring of horses in preparation for the Olympic Games and provide for anti-doping samples between 1 month and 15 days before the veterinary visit prior to the events.

     Horses participating in the Olympic Games must not present pathologies of the musculoskeletal system in the clinical phase which must be managed sufficiently in advance. Horses should therefore not receive intra-articular injections in the weeks preceding the competitions. If they are still pathological two weeks before the start of the tests, they should not participate.

     Recommendation #22:

    Prohibit all intra-articular injections, whatever the nature of the product injected, 14 days before the official start of the competition and until the end of the event, with no possibility of exceptions on this rule

     The fight against doping but also the maximum reduction in the administration of even authorized drugs is one of the pillars of equine welfare on physiologically healthy horses. Various control measures are to be implemented as well as awareness of the over-medicalization of these athletes before and during competitions.

    Recommendation #23:

    Impose the maintenance of the FEI Medication Logbook (register of the care and treatment administered to the horse throughout their career) and present it at the pre-event veterinary control.

     The possession of medicines, syringes and needles is prohibited by the FEI/EADMCP regulations, but despite this prohibition, a large number of medicines are constantly circulating in the stables during competitions. They must be made inaccessible.

    In addition, there should be no exemption or relaxation from national law and regulations, particularly with regard to veterinary practice and the use of drugs.

    Recommendation #24:

    Ensure that all medication brought in by the attending and/or team veterinarians are properly controlled on arrival and on departure, and are traced by keeping a controlled register, administered exclusively in the clinic and only when necessary by authorised attending veterinarians under the responsibility of the FEI Veterinary Commission.

     The FEI has five accredited laboratories that carry out analysis of samples from horses tested under the World Anti-Doping Program and Equine Controlled Medicines at FEI events. All approved laboratories are not necessarily equivalent and other innovative laboratories have arrived in this sector since the last approvals were granted.

     It would be necessary to create an inventory in this field and blind test these different laboratories on different samples that tested positive for various substances. New poorly detectable doping substances appear regularly.

    Recommendation #25:

    Expand the call for tenders and increase the number of analysis laboratories for the Olympic Games, in addition to the five establishments already selected by the FEI and, if necessary, provide for a comparative test phase.

     In early 2021, during an international competition in Valencia, Spain, where nearly 850 competition horses were gathered, a first horse with fever tested positive for rhinopneumonia. “From there, everything went very quickly,” says Anne Couroucé-Malblanc, equestrian veterinarian mandated in Valence by the French Riding Federation (FFE). A vast testing campaign was launched on symptomatic horses, but it was too late.

    Within 48 hours, 52 horses were declared positive. In the end “Nearly 20% of horses returning from the Valencia Spring Jumping Tour present these neurological symptoms”, indicated Christel Marcillaud-Pitel, director of the Equine Pathology Epidemiological Surveillance Network (RESPE). This was the start of a huge global cluster.

    Obviously, everything must be done to ensure that this does not happen again. Even if the vaccine is not completely effective on the nervous form of disease, vaccination remains the best way to limit viral spread.

    It would also be prudent to request a negative PCR test within 8 days prior to the arrival of the horses in the Olympic precinct for influenza and rhinopneumonia.

    Recommendation #26:

    Mandate vaccination against rhinopneumonitis (Equine Herpes virus) in accordance with the protocol validated by the responsible veterinary authorities, this is in addition to the existing regulatory mandate for equine influenza vaccination as a condition of entry into the Olympic Games precinct.

     The CSO and the CCE challenge the entire musculoskeletal system of horses. This can lead to pathological consequences which sometimes leave sequelae or particular fragility that is conducive to fractures or ligament ruptures, and which often lead to euthanasia of the horse.

    We believe it is necessary to remove horses from competition with this type of sequelae or weaknesses in order to limit the risk of euthanasia. An exception may be made for young horses treated surgically for OCD (osteochondrosis) with a veterinary certificate of perfect recovery.

    Recommendation #27:

    Remove from competition any horses with a medical history that is not compatible with an optimal state of health (e.g. a history of bone, ligament or muscle injury resulting in long periods of inactivity), which is necessary for participation in the Olympic Games. This optimal state of health will have to be verified in advance by the FEI Veterinarians.

    For better observation and impartiality during veterinary checks, video recording is recommended. 

    Recommendation #28:

    Systematise the video recording of veterinary controls (pre-competition checks and sensitivity tests) to enable viewing the slow motion control on request in case of suspected lameness, in the event of a dispute or subsequent accident, and for educational purposes.

    FEI rules stipulate judges must stop the competition performance or disqualify the rider-horse combination if the horse shows bleeding due to the action of the rider at the level of the horse’s mouth, because of the mouthpiece or its flanks because of the spurs. The performance is therefore not automatically stopped if the horse bleeds for another reason. This led to the Kilkenny scandal during the Tokyo Olympics, with the horse finishing a bloodstained course without the bell ringing and without any disqualification from the FEI, which would have allowed the pair to continue for subsequent events. 

    Recommendation #29:

    Impose the immediate stopping of a ride at the slightest trace of blood on the horse and eliminate the horse from the rest of the competition.

    For the well-being of horses and to reduce their stress, a longer time to adapt to the local climate and time zone is recommended. 

    Recommendation #30:

    Allow horses and their teams to arrive at the pre-competition stables in the Olympic Games precinct at least 15 days before the competition, giving them time to rest after transport and acclimatise to the conditions before the competition begins.

    VI. Dressage

    From riders, groups and animal protection associations a large number of people are increasingly voicing their denunciation of the hyperflexion of the neck imposed on horses, which is harmful medically and on welfare grounds.

    Hyperflexion is a head and neck posture that is imposed by the hands of the rider via the reins, where the horse curls the neck placing the nose line behind the vertical.

    This posture is unnatural, disturbs the balance, vision, and breathing of the horse, and induces stress and physical suffering. Studies carried out over the last 15 years conclude that the effect on performance is lacking (74%) and the practice is detrimental to the horse’s welfare (88%), and these percentages are still increasing in view of the most recent studies, such as Kienapfel et al. November 2021.

    The negative effects of hyperflexion are documented: restriction of the field of vision, contraction of the head-neck balance, consequent reduction in the diameter of the pharynx, significant difficulty in breathing and swallowing, obstructed jaw, lack of relaxation, signs of discomfort and conflict behaviour, post-inhibitory rebound, hyper submission, learned helplessness, reduction in the horse’s ability to learn, trauma (in particular to the nuchal region and the nuchal ligament), increased mobility in the lumbar region, compression of the vertebral bodies and intervertebral discs, increased cortisol (stress), restriction of breathing, change in back mechanics and pathologies of the forelimb and feet, blood circulation of the tongue impeded by the pressure of the bit (blue tongue).

    In addition, horses whose training is based on hyperflexion, show a denaturation of gaits, in particular a loss of diagonalization in the trot, passage and piaffe. The walk becomes lateral. They are unable to maintain a halt correctly, nor keep the poll as the highest point of the neck; the neck ‘breaks’, the 2nd or 3rd vertebra becomes the highest point in collected gaits and movements. Often, these horses struggle to maintain the nose in front of the vertical during the dressage test.

    The nose must always be in front of the vertical whatever the type of work requested:

    • at its highest posture, the neck flexion is correct if the neck is extended, the jowl open, the nose remaining in front of the vertical;
    • in lower postures, when ‘giving to the bit’, the right posture or outline is when the poll is the highest point, and the nose is on, or in front of the vertical.

    Hyperflexion, on the other hand, is always harmful and is described using various names:

    • on the left, the LDR (Low/Long, Deep and Round, in French “low and round”);
    • in the middle, the rollkur, which is the extreme form of hyperflexion;
    • on the right, a high-level horse during a dressage test, showing another form of hyperflexion, which is also called overbent.

    The International Society for Equitation Science (ISES), has provided the scientific basis (anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, behaviour) and contributes a legitimate position, clarifying the semantics by naming as hyperflexion any position of the nasal plane (cranio-facial profile) behind the vertical. Thus, the ISES recommends that the FEI always prioritise its regulations which state that the nose must always be maintained on or in front of the vertical. Definition of rollkur and LDR according to the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES)

    In 2010, following pressure from the public and scientists, in particular from ISES, the International Equestrian Federation banned the rollkur in its regulations.

    The FEI itself writes explicitly in its guidelines: “the poll is the highest point, the nose line is in front of the vertical” (…) “the frame of the horse must be able to extend in the medium gaits and elongated“. It believes that the positioning of the muzzle behind the vertical testifies to too strong a hand action, or incorrect training.

    The FFE also agrees with the fact that the nose should not be behind the vertical and in its 2020 version, we find “the nose in front of the vertical” or its corollary “the poll of the neck the highest point” in all definitions: roundness, contact, giving (mise en main).

    For the FFE, the indicators of a good contact are: “a horse who confidently accepts the hand/bit, with the muzzle remaining in front of the vertical, a relaxed mouth, a permeable neck, a neckline which easily adapts its attitude according to of the amplitude of the gaits”.

    Example of a blue tongue observed during dressage competition.

    And yet although everyone seems to agree on the harmfulness of hyperflexion for the horse, this practice is still used at all levels of competition.

    At the last Olympic Games in Tokyo, a Russian rider pulled so hard on the jaw that she pushed her saddle forward, relying on the big knee rolls of her saddle. These rolls, which are getting bigger and bigger when they were practically absent from dressage saddles before, are an invention of the “rollkur generation”: they serve to quadruple the force that riders can exert on the reins.

    The riders pull hard and long on the reins, the curb bit turns into a tourniquet, and the tongue turns blue. We also see lesions at the level of the commissures of the lips and the bars of the mouth.

    Switzerland has already legislated on the subject and taken a stand against hyperflexion, which has been an offense prohibited by law since 2014 for its practice in training or competition.

    Recommendation #31

    Enforce the prohibition of intentional or unintentional infliction of unnecessary suffering or discomfort, and of an overly constrained posture or frame.

    Prohibit flexion of the neck that places the nose line behind the vertical (“hyperflexion”) throughout the Olympic grounds and apply sanctions with immediate effect for all equestrian disciplines. 

    VII. The Show Jumping Competition

    The vast majority of riders and professionals in the show jumping world strongly wish that, in the interest of horse welfare, the Paris 2024 Olympic Games returns to teams of 4 rider-horse pairs with a “drop score”.

    Indeed, for Tokyo, a new event format has been set up with three horse-rider combinations in order to allow a greater number of nations to participate, some of which do not have a sufficient number of high-level riders.

    In addition, previously, only the 3 best scores of the 4 combinations counted in the classification and this drop-score system allowed riders not to finish the course if their horse was in poor shape.

    This is no longer the case since Tokyo, where the scores of all horse-rider pairs count and are added together to form the overall team score. Where a team rider withdraws, their score is also counted, and the resulting pressure pushes the rider to finish the course even if the horse is in poor shape.

    This format was again chosen for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, perhaps also because it increases the suspense, since the placings can change up to the last participant.

    During the Tokyo games, Sophie Dubourg, national technical director of the France CSO team declared:

    We are very happy! The French team is qualified and will be in the final tomorrow. Nevertheless, we clearly doubt the validity of this new Olympic format imposed by the FEI. So many points and penalties earned just for qualifying! Certainly the course was difficult but usually the drop score does its work since there are 4 couples in the team. This Olympic format even worries us. Mainly because many countries end up with only 2 team members, not to mention that it is far from favouring animal welfare. Finally, I do not see how emerging nations can imagine doing well in a competition imagined more for the media than for sport. I hope that real balance sheets will be drawn after all that happened in Tokyo.

    On November 15, at the FEI General Assembly, Steve Guerdat also spoke as the riders’ representative and, in a sincere and alarming speech, did not fail to point out the issues and dangers of such a format, particularly concerning animal welfare:

    We have seen too many images of riders who simply did not have the level to compete in the Olympic Games. Moreover, I am firmly convinced that no rider should ever find himself in the obligation to finish his course whatever the cost. This new format requires us to finish our turn so as not to eliminate our team. It goes without saying that a team of four couples and a “drop score” is much fairer for the sport”.

    Unfortunately, these arguments were not heard by the FEI who voted and made the decision to maintain the Tokyo format.

    To increase the number of participating nations in the equestrian events, it would be possible to keep to three horse-rider pairs, but keeping only the score of the two best, or by penalizing the team in the event of a horse-rider pair withdrawing from an event, without going as far as disqualifying the whole team.

    World-renowned dressage rider Isabell Werth recently warned the FEI about the sporting level required for championships like the Olympics: “It is essential that an adequate level is maintained during the Olympic Trials, as there are flags qualified who do not have the Olympic level: the well-being of the horses then necessarily suffers”, she said in particular. Even setting aside the subject of teams of three or four pairs, it is essential that all teams are able to compete at an Olympic level. It is especially necessary in show jumping and eventing, disciplines where the risk is high for both horses and riders. We do not want to have a bad image of the sport because of the pressure put on the shoulders of the riders”.

    Recommendation #32:

    Return to the pre-Tokyo Olympic Games show jumping format of 4 rider-horse pairs per team, with a drop-score.

    The individual events are of a higher standard than the team events and the difficulty of the courses for the horses should be increasing.

    Recommendation #33:

    Accept the French Equestrian Federation’s (FFE) request to reschedule the individual event after the team events.

    The horse’s vision is altered by sudden variations in light (Ref M.A. Leblanc) and the horse is “more alert” during night events because of the effect of artificial lighting. Many riders therefore ask that jumping events take place in broad daylight, unlike what was done in Tokyo. Nevertheless, in order to ensure the horses do not get too hot, it will be necessary to avoid the hottest periods of the day for jumping events.

    Recommendation #34

    Organise events involving show jumping in daylight, while avoiding the hottest periods of the day. 

    Consider changes to the schedule depending on the weather. 

    VIII. Eventing

    The cross-country is one of the three phases of the eventing competition which also includes a dressage test and a show jumping test.

    The cross country event is particularly formidable for horses and Jet Set was the fourth horse to die during the cross country round in 2021 (counting only official international competitions) thus adding to the loss of Pakistani Olympic hopeful Kasheer (Riverbreeze) and Nightcaps on the same day in May in Australia, and Hendrix in Britain in June.

     It is imperative that we protect horses better and check their state of health perfectly before taking the decision of their commitment.

    Recommendation #35

    Improve the protection of horses by fully checking their clinical condition before deciding whether or not to allow them entry to the Olympic Games.

    It should also be remembered that horses are not the only ones who pay a heavy price for this sport, but that many riders die regularly too. In an interview with the newspaper l’Equipe in 2019, following the death on a cross-country course of two great French riders, Maxime Debost in 2017 and Thaïs Meheust in 2019, rider Arnaud Boiteau takes stock of the dangers of this event and the different solutions put in place.

    Asked about the progression of safety in cross country, he explains that it has greatly improved because “Now, the specifications impose a third or a quarter of the obstacles are designed to collapse if a certain pressure is exerted. They collapse when the horse hits the rail and could tip over, reducing the risk of a rotational fall. This is a major development: horse and rider may hit the ground but without harm. And then, the course designers are constantly thinking about the best way to build courses that force the riders to slow down, to ride with their heads. And protective equipment is progressing, in particular airbag helmets and vests.”

    There is still a need to improve the safety of riders and horses on this event in terms of obstacle design and innovations in horse protection.

    Recommendation #36:

    Continue to support equipment manufacturers who work on horse protection as well as those who work on rider protection.

    Collaborate on the development of better leg protection for horses for 2024

    Recommendation #37:

    Equip the cross-country course with 100% frangible obstacles designed to collapse in the event of a fall or impact.

     The most dramatic falls, for horse and rider, mainly occur on fixed obstacles (which by definition do not collapse when the horse hits them), on poorly designed obstacles, or those that do not encourage the rider to slow down the pace.

     To avoid reliving the accident on the cross country in Lexington and seeing a horse impaled again on a protruding part of an obstacle, each obstacle must be thought out with safety in mind.

    Recommendation #38:

    Check that the design of the obstacles complies with the regulations and that the profile, the angle of attack, the top or any other area does not have any right angles or protruding parts.

     The horse has difficulty getting used to changes in light. They are easily blinded when passing from shadow to light and vice versa. Care must be taken to avoid any change in luminosity or backlighting in the approach and landing areas, whatever the time of day.

    The quality of the ground conditions and horse biomechanics can also be a risk factor for osteo-articular and tendon lesions. Tests on the ground surfaces have already been carried out, but new measuring devices have been developed since the last games in Tokyo and it would be interesting to evaluate them before the Olympic Games in Paris.

    For example, the “Equine Track Tester” is a device that realistically simulates the loading of the ground by the forelimb of a horse in sporting conditions. Its patent was filed in early February 2022 thanks to close collaboration between ENVA, IFCE and INRAE.

    Recommendation #39

    Assess the quality of the cross-country course surface using validated measuring tools and test new, patented equipment for the evaluation of cross-country course surfaces in the various equestrian disciplines prior to the events.

    IX. The Pentathlon

    The modern pentathlon equestrian event at the Tokyo Olympic Games was a real disaster in terms of the sports’ image. It cast public opprobrium on all equestrian events. The Modern Pentathlon Federation has decided to stop the equestrian events after the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

    Almost unanimously, the people and organizations we interviewed called for an end as soon as possible to the modern pentathlon equestrian event, which damages the image of all equestrian sports, even though the question of equine welfare is addressed if we judge the regular positive evolution of the regulations of the various federations.

    In order to avoid new scandals, it seems essential to us to modify the modalities of the equestrian Pentathlon event on various points:

     Recommendation #40:

    Implement all FEI safety and welfare rules for the Pentathlon Equestrian event and take into consideration the feedback from the working group involving the FEI and the FEI Veterinary Commission.

     There aren’t enough horses selected for the event. Horses must therefore perform several times with different riders, which leads to excessive fatigue for the horses and a form of injustice for riders who do not ride a horse in the same physical conditions according to their starting order.

     Recommendation #41:

    Assign a different horse to each rider to avoid multiple rounds. 

    The horses are currently drawn 20 minutes before the event, and the pentathletes therefore, have a very short period of time to familiarize themselves with their mount.

    This format makes it difficult to establish the calm and serene communication that is essential when riding any horse. A horse-rider mismatch may also become evident during this period of time and it is, therefore, necessary to consider the possibility of a change of mount, up to 12 hours before the event if there is a sufficient supply of reserve horses. 

    Ideally, each rider should arrive with his own horse or a loaned horse, but one with which he has trained well in advance. When today we know that time is needed to establish a perfect human-horse relationship (months or years), it is unthinkable to continue to draw horses just prior to the events. Riding an unknown horse on the day reduces the horse’s status to that of any other sporting equipment. 

    Recommendation #42:

    Draw lots for the horse 24 hours before the event, so that every rider-horse pair can get to know each other. 

    For various reasons, horse riding is often the sport in which pentathletes excel the least. They can sometimes be confronted with very big difficulties during the equestrian event. Obstacles that are too high, as well as a discrepancy between the riding level of the pentathletes and the sporting abilities of the horse, cause riders and horses to take great risks.

    Recommendation #43:

    Lower the height of the obstacles to 110 cm maximum.

    X. Make the Paris 2024 Olympic Games the Equine Welfare Games

     In view of the long tradition and French excellence in horse riding, the Paris 2024 Games must exemplify the respect and well-being of the horse. They can also be responsible for raising public awareness.

    For this, an equine well-being scoring system could be in place during training and competitions, over the entire duration and presence of the horse in the Olympic precinct, taking into account the criteria seen above and behavioural indicators of good/bad- behaviours (conflict, opening of the mouth, position of the ears, etc.) during work.

     A score would be awarded at the end of each event, with a brief explanation of the bonuses and penalties obtained by each horse. The detail of the mark would be accessible to everyone on the internet. This would allow teams to pay more attention to equine well-being, to raise awareness among amateur and professional riders at a lower level and finally to offer the general public a positive message about this sport.

    Recommendation #44

    Create and apply an “Equine Welfare” scoring for the Olympic Games, explaining it to the media and the general public as a ranking for “benevolent sport”.

    Recommendation #45

    Use the evaluation frameworks validated by the equine industry to award an “Equine Welfare” score at the Olympic Games, and entrust this mission to the “Welfare Committee” composed of independent experts who will carry out their work on site and via video surveillance.

     The equine welfare charter has been drawn up by the National Horse Federation, the French Equine Veterinary Association, the French Horse Riding Federation, France Galop, the National Horse Group and Le Trot, based on the expertise of the Institut de l’Élevage as well as the guide which declines it in which the above-mentioned APCA, IFCE, FEG, SHF and SFET participated. This charter and this guide cover in detail the major themes of the BEE and must be highlighted during these games to be known to as many people as possible.

    Recommendation #46

    Make the Paris 2024 Olympic Games the Olympic Games of equine welfare, by applying the Equine Welfare Charter and Good Practice Guide produced by the FNC (Federation Nationale du Cheval), l’AVEF (Association Vétérinaire Equine Française), FFE (Fédération Française d’Équitation), France Galop, the GHN (Groupement Hippique National) and Le Trot.

     General conclusion

     The respect and well-being of horses entered in competitions are increasingly scrutinized by animal welfare organisations, the public and industry players.

    The Tokyo Olympics have given a very bad image to the general public on these subjects. The Paris 2024 Olympic Games will be particularly observed and must therefore be irreproachable in the management of equine well-being. Many of the recommendations in this report depend on the evolution of the rules issued by the FEI for application by the FFE.

     It therefore seems essential to us that the 2024 Olympic Committee take strong measures now alongside the FEI and the FFE to guarantee the sustainability of this sport and that societal acceptance of the constraints imposed on equine athletes can be in line with the evolution of our society which appears more and more sensitive to the respect of animal welfare.

     These recommendations will probably seem excessive to some professionals and insufficient to some animalists. This undoubtedly means that the cursor is well placed, reasonable and without excess, a balance which would allow the horses, the riders, the teams, the organizers and France to experience wonderful Paris 2024 Olympic Games, placed under the banner of horse welfare.

    List of people interviewed

    This report is the result of 18 hearings carried out from October 2021 to January 2022.

    To produce this report, we interviewed:

    • Charles-François Louf, Veterinarian Doctor and President of the French Equine Veterinary Association (AVEF);
    • Vincent Boureau, Veterinarian, Vice-President and Animal Welfare Referent of AVEF;
    • Richard Corde, Veterinarian and President of the French League for the Protection of Horses (LFPC);
    • Professor J.-M. Denoix, Veterinary Doctor and founder of CIRALE and ISELP, author of numerous books and international publications on horse locomotor pathology;
    • Patrick Galloux, BEES 3rd degree, Engineer and Phd (biomechanics), Former squire of the Black Frame and former high-level athlete (Elite), author of 2 books on horse training (CCE), commissioner of the Verrie races. Former manager of the R&D “sport horse and riding” technical platform at the Saumur site (IFCE);
    • Cécile Berault, Veterinarian trained in osteopathy. Teacher and director of an equestrian center. Instructor of Philippe Karl’s light dressage school and member of the “Collective for horses”;
    • Eva Van Avermaet, Veterinarian, rider and founder of the “Collective for horses”;
    • Jean-Pierre Barjon, Chairman of the board of directors of the “Le Trot” association;
    • Arnaud Duluard, Veterinarian Doctor and Head of the “Breeding and Animal Health” Department of the “Le Trot” association;
    • Frederic Bouix, General Delegate of the French Riding Federation (FFE);
    • Catherine Bonnichon de Rancourt, Director of European and Institutional Affairs of the FFE;
    • Lola Quitard, Director of Equures Event, environmental and animal welfare label for events in the equine sector;
    • Charlotte Fustec, Project Manager of Equures Event, environmental and animal welfare label for events in the equine sector;
    • Agnes Benamou, Veterinarian and equine well-being referent for VetAgrosup;
    • Tony Tyler, Deputy Chief Executive and Director of the UK for the World Horse Welfare association;
    • Édouard De Rothschild, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the “France Galop” association;
    • Henri Pouret, Deputy Managing Director in charge of the Operational Management of the races of the “France Galop” association;
    • Sonia Wittreck, Veterinarian Doctor and Head of the Booklets & Inspections Department of the “France Galop” association;
    • Gregory Cottard, international professional rider and member of the French show jumping team;
    • Sophie Dubourg, National Technical Director of the FFE;
    • Marie-Bénédicte Desvallon, Lawyer at the Paris Bar;
    • Blanche de Granvilliers, Lawyer at the Paris Bar and member of the office of the Equine Law Institute;
    • Professor Nathalie Crevier-Denoix, Veterinarian Doctor and Director of the INRAE-EnvA 957 unit “Biomechanics and Locomotor Pathology of the Horse”;
    • Liliane Trevisan, journalist at L’Équipe;
    • Ingmar De Vos, President of the FEI;
    • Christine Briant, Veterinary Doctor, development and research engineer at IFCE and INRAE, author of a scientific work on the well-being of equines;
    • Lea Lansade, IFCE researcher and doctor in ethology, author of numerous scientific publications on the behavior and well-being of equines;
    • Jacques Nardin, Veterinarian specializing in anti-doping controls for animals at FEI, AFLD and FNCH;
    • Dr Jérôme Thévenot, federal veterinarian in CSO;
    • Dr Xavier Goupil, federal veterinarian in CCE.


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