The dressage world was hit by a storm last week after a German magazine, St Georg, published an article on extreme training methods where it alleged that some top Dutch riders, including Anky van Grunsven, engaged in practices that compromise the welfare of their horses.
The piece, titled Dressur Pervers, caused an outrage in the Netherlands, prompting the Dutch equestrian federation (KNHS) to issue a statement upholding the reputation of its riders. After condemning use of harsh training methods, the KNHS pointed out that “allegations made in the [German] article on the use of such practices by top Dutch riders have no basis.”
The Dutch statement went on to say that “the KNHS thus views the article as a very unsporting attack on its dressage team before the European Championships in Hagen and regrets that the Dutch riders have been connected with animal maltreatment.
“The KNHS is convinced that its coaches and the members of the national team train their horses in an animal-friendly manner. The Dutch riders and coaches are highly aware of the responsibility they have towards their horse and how they must prepare their horses in a welfare-friendly way for top games such as the championships.”
The Dutch federation also pointed out that it has a long-standing policy on animal welfare, which is closely linked to the FEI’s rules on the matter.
The FEI itself also took a firm stance, condemning abusive practices and drawing attention to the fact that its code of conduct requires that “at all stages during the preparation and training of competition horses, welfare must take precedence over all other demands.”
Dressage Chairman Marietta Withages said that “the FEI veterinarians and stewards continuously supervise the stables, training areas and grounds at all FEI events. The FEI Dressage Committee constantly is making every effort to foster the concept of the horse as a happy athlete.”
Other top names in dressage stepped in to lend their support to the Dutch and particularly to dressage supremo Van Grunsven. The Director of Aachen’s CHIO, Frank Kemperman, told Dutch press agency ANP that Van Grunsven’s conscientiousness was unquestionable and urged her to go and compete at Aachen.
Van Grunsven herself shrugged off the allegations against her in the way which suits her most — by scoring a square victory in the European Championships aboard Keltec Salinero.
“Although the weather was not too pleasant, I really felt great in my last lap of honour with the enthusiastic cheering Dutch supporters, and all the Germans clapping and shouting as well, being happy because of the performances and Keltec Salinero being a German horse! So at the end I feel really everybody was happy, except for a minor two,” she said, referring to the two German journalists who wrote the article.
Van Grunsven also filed a lawsuit against St Georg magazine in a German court, which has already ruled in her favour.