The high incidence of tendon injuries suffered by horses competing in the Olympic show jumping in Athens has led to the promise of an enquiry into the going by the FEI.
The problem was highlighted by the outcome of the jump-off for individual bronze and silver between Brazil’s former World Champion Rodrigo Pessoa and team silver medallist Chris Kappler (USA), who was excused the American trials due to the outstanding form of his stallion, Royal Kaliber.
Pessoa’s ride, Baloubet Du Rouet, lowered a pole at the final jump-off fence and Kappler looked on course to beat him until, two fences from home, he pulled up and leapt off after Royal Kaliber went severely lame.
Other victims of dramatic breakdowns in the ring were the French World Cup champion, Bruno Broucqsault’s gelding Dileme De Cephe, and the mare Who Knows Lilly, ridden for Argentina by Federico Sztyrle.
All three horses appeared to stumble on landing over a fence and were then virtually on three legs. They were each transported to the veterinary clinic and later diagnosed by Dr Leo Jeffcott, chairman of the veterinary commission, with “acute strains of the superficial flexor tendon [bowed tendons]”.
Some riders blamed the going, pointing out that a number of similar injuries could not be coincidental, but the technical delegate at the event, Leopoldo Palacias, disagreed.
“The ground has been prepared by the same expert who looked after the highly praised arena in Donaueschingen in Germany,” he argued.
Course-designer Olaf Petersen defended the choice of a grass arena, calling it “a natural surface”.
Although everyone agreed that the facilities at the Markopoulo centre were superb, from the first individual qualifier, riders were already taking about the ground and the heat. Also noticeable was the number of shoes lost by horses throughout the week.
Britain’s Robert Smith said: “The going is hard and the turf is breaking up on the landing side of the fences.”