Andreas Helgstrand to miss Paris 2024 – as three Helgstrand Dressage instructors reprimanded

  • Helgstrand Dressage will no longer host apprenticeship training – as it is confirmed Andreas Helgstrand will miss Paris 2024, and he and three others are excluded from the Danish riding instructor association Dansk Ride-Instruktør Forening (DRIF).

    The fallout from the recent broadcast of TV2’s documentary Operation X: The Secrets of the Horse Billionaire, filmed undercover at Helgstrand Dressage, has continued this week.

    The two-part documentary, hosted by investigative journalist Morten Spiegelhau, was filmed by reporter Rebekka Klubien who posed as a groom at the stable in January. Footage showed horses being trained in rollkur (hyperflexion), and included interviews with Helgstrand staff about horses frequently being seen with whip and spur marks, or bleeding from the mouth.

    It was first announced by the Danish federation Dansk Ride Forbund (DRF) on 22 November that as a result of the footage Andreas had been excluded from the national team and team activities. In an update, following an executive board meeting on Tuesday (28 November), it was announced that this exclusion will run “at least” until 31 December 2024.

    “This means, among other things, that Andreas Helgstrand will not be considered for the Olympic team in connection with the Olympics in Paris 2024,” said the spokesman.

    “Furthermore, the executive board decided to report Andreas to the national federation’s disciplinary committee for breaching the association’s general provisions and guidelines for the ethically correct use of horses for equestrian sports.”

    The spokesman added that everyone who owns horses registered for competition under DRF has a duty to comply with the federation’s regulations, rules and guidelines.

    Andreas told H&H he had “always been proud of representing Denmark on the national team, including the opportunity to perhaps represent Denmark at the Olympics.”

    “Therefore, I am of course very disheartened by DRF’s decision,” he said.

    “I take note of the decision, and we will continue the dialogue with the association on how we have tightened our processes and improved our animal welfare over the past year. This will allow us to demonstrate and highlight our points of improvement.”

    DRF previously asked any Helgstrand Dressage riders filmed in the documentary to come forward to face the federation’s disciplinary committee. Yesterday (30 November), the DRIF held an extraordinary general meeting and announced that four members from Helgstrand Dressage have now been excluded from the association; Andreas Helgstrand, Thomas Sigtenbjerggaard, Maria Anita Andersen and Ole Hummelshøj.

    “It will then be up to a future general meeting whether they can be admitted to the association again,” read a DRIF board statement.

    H&H has approached Thomas, Maria and Ole for comment.

    Today (1 December) Helgstrand Dressage issued a statement and said it had received notice from DRF and DRIF that the organisations are “terminating our cooperation agreement as an apprenticeship training site for the master rider education as of 31 December”.

    “We are, of course, incredibly sad about this decision. We are extremely proud of our student master riders, and we consider them close and skilled colleagues,” read the statement.

    “The footage from TV2 has made a very big impression. We understand that there should be a reaction to the images shown in Operation X. We have done so ourselves. Therefore, we have extended an open invitation to both DRF and DRIF for a dialogue and to visit Helgstrand Dressage to see firsthand what our practice is like as an apprenticeship and how we have improved many of our conditions over the past year.”

    The statement added that the stable is “very disappointed” that neither DRF or DRIF had accepted the invitation.

    “Our invitation remains open; both are welcome to drop by – also unannounced, where they can make the necessary inspections of horses, training, and students,” it read.

    “We will, of course, do everything we can to continue the dialogue so that we can continue to welcome our talented students back to Helgstrand Dressage, where we are confident that we can offer a good apprenticeship with healthy values and a strong community.”

    A DRIF spokesman told H&H the decision to terminate the cooperation agreement was taken by a committee comprising members of the federation and DRIF, and this was before the decision to exclude Andreas, Thomas, Maria and Ole from the association.

    Last week in response to the broadcast, the FEI said it takes “all allegations of horse abuse very seriously” and that it will collaborate closely with DRF. An FEI spokesman told H&H there is no update.

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