Showjumper Kevin Thornton has been banned for four months for his actions prior to the death of his ride Flogas Sunset Cruise at a show in France last year.
The FEI tribunal has found the Irish rider guilty of horse abuse, stating that his behaviour “went way beyond what could be considered an acceptable conduct towards a horse” and concluding “with confidence that the horse has been whipped repeatedly, substantially and excessively and clearly more than the three times alleged by Mr Thornton”.
The tribunal heard details of the incident, which occurred on the Hippodrome de la Cote d’Azur racetrack, Cagnes-sur-Mer on 10 October.
Kevin was seen by witnesses galloping the 10-year-old stallion on the track and striking him with a whip, after which Flogas Sunset Cruise collapsed and died.
The FEI said it had eight witnesses, all “equestrian people” who “knew where the acceptability line was, and that Mr Thornton had crossed it”.
“All witnesses confirmed that they saw Mr Thornton on the horse violently whipping it for far too long, ie excessively, and that he did not stop when he should have stopped. That the whipping was so loud that other horses got scared. Further, that Mr Thornton had been angry, frustrated and was taking it out on the horse,” reads the tribunal hearing summary.
But Kevin told the tribunal the horse, who he described as “sensitive but not difficult”, had reared at the gate to the galloping track, after which he hit him twice, “not excessively” on the buttocks.
The summary adds that the horse then bolted and Kevin was unable to stop, and that when he arrived back at the in-gate, the horse “went sideways”, so he waved the stick, but only hit him once more.
“Mr Thornton stated that he had been waving the stick to show the horse the stick was there, and that in his view someone might have mistaken that for hitting,” the summary reads. “He did not want to lose control of the horse again as he did when he hit the horse the first time… he had been almost overwhelmed by the horse’s reaction when he hit it the first time so it was logical not to hit it again.
“When questioned whether he was angry, he stated that he had acted normally and had not been agitated when the horse bolted off. Just because witnesses said that he was angry does not mean that this was true; this was, for Mr. Thornton, just the witnesses’ personal assessment.”
The tribunal also heard Kevin felt there was a vendetta against him, or conspiracy, as “the witnesses all knew each other and were in a certain way related”.
But the FEI said there was no evidence to support this claim. It submitted that “there was no doubt that the horse experienced discomfort, and that it had been pushed beyond its capabilities. The horse had been whipped excessively; as some witnesses confirmed, it had been whipped for a time at every stride. Mr Thornton showed complete disregard for the welfare of the horse”.
Kevin will also be fined 5,000 Swiss francs and ordered to pay another 5,000 in costs.
The tribunal stated that it was not asked to and would not deciding on the potential responsibility of Kevin for the horse’s death, adding: “The tribunal has never been in a position to take a stand on this issue as the FEI in its protest did not claim that to be the case, and no evidence has been adduced in this respect.”
FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez said: “The FEI stood up for horse welfare by taking this case to the FEI tribunal and given the severity of this incident I truly would have expected a much tougher sanction.” “It was important to the FEI that the allegation of horse abuse was confirmed by the tribunal. We had requested a two-year suspension, but the level of sanctions is at the discretion of the tribunal and we respect its independence.”
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The decision can be appealed before the Court of Arbitration for Sport within 21 days from the date of notification (6 June).
Kevin told H&H after the incident that he was “heartbroken”, adding: “I am very sad and devastated about this tragic incident. It is heart-breaking to see a horse die.”
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