‘We take allegations of horse abuse very seriously’: FEI responds to Helgstrand Dressage documentary

  • The FEI has said it takes “all allegations of horse abuse very seriously” in response to the broadcast of the undercover documentary filmed at Helgstrand Dressage – and that it is “rigorously addressing this issue”.

    This week the equestrian world was rocked by the airing of TV2’s Operation X, The Secrets of the Horse Billionaire. The first part of the documentary aired in Denmark on Wednesday evening (22 November), and the second part will air on 29 November. Both parts are available now to Danish viewers who are paid subscribers of the TV2 app). The documentary is not currently available in the UK.

    H&H has viewed both parts of the documentary – which includes exchanges, filmed on a hidden camera, between undercover reporter Rebekka Klubien and grooms and staff at Helgstrand Dressage. Throughout these conversations, it is acknowledged that horses are often seen with whip and spur marks, or bleeding mouths. Footage also shows horses being ridden in rollkur and tight draw reins.

    In a statement this evening (24 November) the FEI said it is “aware of the distressing images” presented in the Operation X documentary.

    “The FEI takes all allegations of horse abuse very seriously and at all times the welfare of the horse must be paramount,” said an FEI spokesman.

    “The welfare of horses is at the core of our values and regulations, and any action or omission which causes or is likely to cause pain or unnecessary discomfort to a horse constitutes a violation of our rules.”

    The spokesman added that equestrian sport is “built on a foundation of respect and welfare for our equine partners”.

    “Any deviation from these principles is unacceptable, and the FEI remains resolute in its commitment to upholding the highest standards of equine welfare, maintaining the integrity and wellbeing of our athletes – both equine and human,” he said.

    “The FEI will however collaborate closely with the Danish national federation (DRF), and there is a mutual recognition of decisions and any sanctions imposed. We will continue to communicate as the situation develops, and want to assure the equestrian community, our stakeholders and the public that we are rigorously addressing this issue.”

    Yesterday H&H reported that the DRF had excluded medal-winning Andreas Helgstrand from the Danish national team and that the DRF board “strongly distances itself from the unacceptable methods of riding, training, and treating horses the broadcasts clearly show”. DRF also appealed to riders at Helgstrand Dressage filmed in the documentary to come forward to face the federation’s disciplinary committee. In addition, DRF called a stop to national competitions running with Helgstrand Event, part of Helgstrand Group.

    The FEI spokesman said that it is for the governing bodies to “assure that there are rules in place to sanction any welfare breaches and uphold horse welfare”.

    “There is an onus on everyone within the equestrian community to adhere to such rules and best practices in equine care and welfare, in order to maintain equestrian sport in a strong, healthy and ethically sound way for the future,” he said.

    In response to the broadcast of the documentary, Helgstrand Dressage issued a statement on Wednesday evening (22 November), and stated that the footage had made a “big impression” on the stud.

    “It is not ok. This is bad riding and treatment of horses that we do not want to see at Helgstrand Dressage. It does not live up to our guidelines and values set, and it is not an expression of our culture. We have to fix that,” read the statement.

    “We can see that there has been a shift in our value set, and it is our responsibility as management to ensure that our training and treatment of horses takes place in the best way. We can see in the programmes that this has not happened. We can and must do better.”

    Read Helgstrand Dressage’s full statement in H&H’s report of part one of the documentary.

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