US eventer Marilyn Little has offered her “sincere regret” after pictures of blood in her horse’s mouth at the Kentucky Three-Day Event sparked a social media storm.

Marilyn said RF Scandalous was checked “multiple times” by FEI vets before and at the finish of the cross-country phase on Saturday (28 April), and again at the second horse inspection the following day.

Marilyn and the 13-year-old mare finished in third place in the CCI4*, behind Oliver Townend and Michael Jung, adding only eight cross-country time-penalties to their dressage score of 24.8.

Her statement read: “First, I want to offer my sincere regret for the negative attention this has brought to the horses and sport that we all love, as well as the pressure that is being put on my personal sponsors. I could never achieve any success in this sport without my horses, my incredible support team, the people who make this sport great, and the sponsors who help me along the way.

“I tried my very best to be transparent in every possible way in Kentucky and followed our sport’s protocol in the best interest of my horse. My horse was checked multiple times by FEI officials before the start of cross-country, again at the finish, and at the second horse inspection on Sunday morning, and at all times was passed fit to continue.”

A statement released by FEI officials at Kentucky read: “At the warm-up, Marilyn and the groom went to official veterinarian Duncan Peters to have [Scandalous] checked because there had been some blood that was wiped clean. The vet noticed a small cut inside the lip away from the bit. It had stopped bleeding, which said to the vet that the horse had bitten herself. The bleeding stopped, the ground jury was informed, and there was no report of blood at the finish.”

An FEI spokesman added: “Marilyn Little went through all the correct channels to ensure her horse was given the all-clear to compete. The mare was checked multiple times by FEI officials: by veterinarians before the start of the cross-country, again at the finish and at the second horse inspection on Sunday morning, and at all times she was passed fit to continue.”

Blood was visible in Scandalous’s mouth when Marilyn rode her in the Fair Hill CCI3* cross-country in 2016, and has also been seen in the mouths of other horses being competed by Marilyn.

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Marilyn’s statement continued: “I believe very deeply in following the rules our sport has in place and am beyond devastated by the comments and negative perception of how my horses are cared for. I love my horses very, very much and their happiness and wellbeing mean the world to me. I want to personally thank the officials doing their jobs to keep our sport fair and safe, as well as my sponsors and those who have stood by me at this time.”

FEI rules covering the cross-country state that not all cases of blood mean elimination and that in minor cases, “such as where a horse appears to have bitten its tongue or lip, or minor bleeding”, the ground jury may allow riders to continue, following investigation and consultation with the vet.

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