An investigation has been launched into the death of a horse at an international showjumping event in France on Monday (10 October).
Horse Sport Ireland said it was “extremely concerned” about reports of the alleged circumstances leading to the fatality.
Flogas Sunset Cruise (not pictured) collapsed and died at the show. He had been being ridden by Swiss-based Irish rider Kevin Thornton at the two-star GPA Jump Festival in Cagnes-Sur-Mer prior to the incident.
Horse Sport Ireland released a statement yesterday (11 October).
“Last night (10 October), Horse Sport Ireland was in contact with our colleagues in the French Equestrian Federation, and the rider, to gather information on what happened. We will be continuing with this process.
“Any rider who obtains a license from Horse Sport Ireland is also subject to the Horse Sport Ireland rules and code of conduct. Accordingly, it would not be appropriate for Horse Sport Ireland to comment further on the specifics of the case at this time as the matter will be subject to due process.
“Horse Welfare is a core value of Horse Sport Ireland. The horse is the silent partner in our sport and everyone involved has a responsibility to ensure that the welfare of the horses participating in our sport is never compromised.”
The FEI has also launched an investigation into the death of Flogas Sunset Cruise.
“We are in direct contact with the Cagnes-sur-Mer organising committee, which has filed a report on the incident with the police,” said an FEI spokesman yesterday (11 October).
“A post mortem is scheduled to be carried out on the horse today.
“The welfare of our equine athletes is our number one priority and, although this incident took place on a rest day between two international events, the FEI has rules in place that mean any horse welfare issues can be addressed, even if they happen outside the duration of an FEI event.
“In order to protect the integrity of the investigation we will not give any further comment at this point in time.”
‘I’m not that person’
Kevin has refuted the allegation that he abused Flogas Sunset Cruise in any way.
He released a statement on his Facebook page this morning (12 October) stating that he was “completely devastated” over the loss of Flogas Sunset Cruise, “a really special horse”, owned by himself and Vinnie Duffy.
“I have been riding since I was four years old, competing both horses and ponies up to international level. My passion for horses has made me become a professional rider and horseman, who loves his daily routine with the horses.
“I have a great relationship with all my horses. I make a huge effort to look after their wellbeing and get the best out of them every single day. There is no way I would hurt a horse or endanger its wellbeing. I did not do that and I never would. I’m not that person.”
Kevin said that Vinnie gave him the ride on ‘Flogas’ around five months ago and “the partnership developed forward nicely”.
“Upon arrival at show in Cagnes-sur-Mer the horse was fit and in super form,” said Kevin.
“In the first days of the competitions the horse was rather hot and strong, even difficult. After discussions with the owner we decided to exercise him on the gallops, some change of training method as preparation for the second show week.
“On Monday, after I had ridden my other two grey horses, Saper and Startschuss, I proceeded with Flogas. I took Flogas up to the big gallop where a section was open to riders.
“He was in a normal snaffle bit, he acted up at the entrance, so I hit him once or twice to get him moving forward. That was the first time I had ever used the whip on him.
“He bolted off around the gallops. I tried to hold him and stay calm. I cantered for one round, and then slowed him down when he stopped pulling, turned him around and back towards the gate where a colleague was waiting. Flogas nearly jumped on top of this person.
“I moved him on up the straight again towards the jumping arena. He was not breathing heavy or fast. He suddenly felt very weird under me, I got off and walked a few steps with him, when he suddenly collapsed.
“I took the saddle off him and shouted for a vet. I rang Vinnie and told him what was happening.
“I totally reject allegations that I was riding Flogas for three hours – it was 15 to 20 minutes before the incident happened. Clearly, people have become confused that I was riding Flogas for a long length of time, as I have two other similar grey horses (Saper and Startschuss), that I had ridden previously to him that day.”
Kevin added that he was “completely shocked”.
“The reactions on social media of people who do not know the facts and elaborate about the unfortunate incident based on rumours are very disappointing. These people do not even identify the correct horse as Flogas, instead referring to Startschuss as the horse that was involved in this tragedy.
“It has escalated into a witch-hunt endangering my safety and reputation, which is totally unacceptable. I have received violent threats towards me and abusive messages to myself and my family. It is difficult enough to deal with such a tragic incident, but it is even harder to cope with false accusations and violent threats in the press and social media.
“I am very sad and devastated about this tragic incident. It is heart-breaking to see a horse die. I am taking a temporary break from competitions at this very difficult moment.
“I would like to thank firstly the owner of Flogas, Vinnie Duffy, for his heartfelt support and everyone at Duffy Sporthorses, all the owners of my other horses, and all my colleagues and friends for their support in this difficult time.”
Mr Duffy said he was “completely devastated”.
“I’m heartbroken, he was a lovely horse,” he told H&H yesterday (11 October). “I was not there at the show myself, I was away looking at horses.”
Mr Duffy said he did not wish to comment further until after the investigation had concluded, but added that he reiterates what he said in an interview with the Irish Field.
He told the publication: “I’m devastated for Kevin, being vilified like that. There is a lot of inaccuracies and wrongs being taken as fact.
“I feel so bad for him, it’s awful what is being said. The last thing in the world I would condone is any abuse of horses. Horses are our lives and our business here and I like to think we do it fairly well.”