Last Sunday’s edition of Le Parisien, a French daily newspaper with a circulation of over a quarter of a million copies, devoted a full page to the welfare scandals of Tokyo, and questioning whether enough will be done to protect horses and the sport from such damaging optics.

The editorial was prompted by a letter sent to the newspaper and signed by a number of horse welfare advocates from within the sector, and which is central to the online, sister version of the print article, which can be read here. It follows from the original expert report commissioned by the French Parliamentarian, Loic Dombreval, with 46 recommendations for welfare reform, which was forwarded to the Paris 2024 organising committee in 2022.

With help from ChatGPT, we offer a translation of the version of the article that is exclusive to the print version titled: Et si ces Jeux étaient ceux du bien-être des chevaux ?

Paris 2024. Image of an article in Le Parisien questioning horse welfare

The full page article on the topic of horse welfare at the Olympic Games appeared in Le Parisien on Sunday 11th February 2024

What if these Games were about the well-being of horses?

Prominent figures from the veterinary and equestrian sports world are calling on the organizing committee of the Olympics to address animal abuse.

By Emille Torgemen, Le Parisien, Sunday 11th February 2024.

One of the sequences that most marked the Tokyo Olympics: the German pentathlon rider in tears, hitting Saint Boy with her whip, a horse that refused to perform, followed by her coach punching the animal. During the same games, in the show jumping event, Kilkenny, a young gray gelding, was discharging blood from his nostrils, but he was allowed to finish the competition. Jet Set, a 14-year-old champion, had a bad fall during the cross-country event and was euthanased.

The last Olympiads gave a very bad image of equestrian sports. In an article we publish on our website, specialist veterinarians, riders, and animal welfare advocates are calling on the organizers of Paris 2024: “taking the welfare of horses seriously is essential.”

The plea comes from specialist veterinarians, scientists, as well as riders. Among the signatories is Patrick Gailloux, former French team member and rider of the prestigious Cadre Noir de Saumur, who insists: “I do it for the future of equestrian sports, otherwise they could simply disappear.”

Is equestrian sport really on borrowed time? For Loïc Dombreval, member of the French parliament (LREM) and veterinarian who led a parliamentary report on the subject, the risk is serious: “Some animal rights activists are calling for the complete ban of horses in sports and leisure activities.”

In the field, codes of conduct, charters, and pledges abound. But the signatories demand that on the spectacular site of Versailles, the Paris Olympics go further by imposing “binding measures.”

Ban hyperflexion

Among the most sensitive points is hyperflexion (rollkur, a swan-like neck position obtained through bit pressure). There are many [scientific] publications on the subject, points out the vice-president of the French equine association, Vincent Boureau. Hyperflexion causes pain, lesions to the neck vertebrae, and to the neck itself. But also to the mouth, “to the point where the horses’ tongues turn blue because the blood no longer circulates there.” The article calls for the prohibition of this posture “throughout the Olympic venues.”

Illustration by Le Parisien, adapted from Collectif pour les chevaux, the French advocacy group calling for a blanket ban on hyperflexion.

When questioned, the Olympic Games Organizing Committee (Cojo) recalls that it “has been prohibited for years by sports regulations in all equestrian competitions, including the Olympics.” True, the international equestrian federation banned hyperflexion in 2010. But the Cojo qualifies: “It is necessary to distinguish rollkur from intermediate forms of neck flexion, where the horse’s head can be lightly behind the vertical.” Except that according to the signatories of the article, this nuance is too much, even a few strides with the forehead behind the vertical are restricting and constitue abuse.

Cameras in the stalls

large part of animal welfare issues is invisible to outsiders’ eyes, and takes place behind the spectacular sporting scenes. This is one of the reasons why the article calls for video surveillance of the “entire” site, which will be made available to the “welfare committee,” a committee of about a dozen experts tasked by the Olympic organisers to monitor the four-legged athletes.

hen we talk about well-being, there is also the question of facilities: stalls, relaxation areas too. “Many areas for turnout, exercise, and grazing will be made available to the horses,” describes the Cojo

The end of horse riding in modern pentathlon

After Paris, modern pentathlon will lose its equestrian event. The discipline had been heavily criticized after the Saint Boy incident, especially regarding the rule that reduced the animal’s worth to that of a rifle, interchangeable. To put it simply, each athlete has twenty minutes to get to know their mount.

The end of the horse in this discipline could be seen as a victory for animal welfare… [the rest of the article is illegible in the image]