Top rider vilified online aims to help others in similar situations

A showjumper who was subject to a tirade of online abuse after his ride died at a show is aiming to set up a website to help others who find themselves targeted in a similar way.

Irish rider Kevin Thornton was banned by the FEI for four months last year, in relation to the death of Flogas Sunset Cruise at a show in France in 2016.

Kevin maintains he did nothing to compromise the horse’s welfare, and was “devastated” by his death. But he was vilified by users of social media, who did not know the full circumstances of the incident.

The situation escalated into what Kevin described as a “witch-hunt”, with death threats and abuse directed towards the rider and his family.

“I want to create an organisation to help riders in need during tough times,” he told H&H.

“I was lucky because I had the right legal help, and people around me, but others might not have.”

Kevin said the idea is to provide riders with access to appropriate legal advice if they need it, such as for a tribunal situation, but also psychologists or therapists if they would benefit from emotional support.

“I’ve got an idea of how I want it to go and have had some really good feedback, but I’m waiting for some more,” he said, adding that he is trying to gain the support of organisations including the FEI. He hopes the website could support riders in a similar way to the service charity Racing Welfare provides to racing staff.

“I felt very judged [when it happened to me]; there were lots of untruths and different stories going around, like that I’d ridden the horse for three hours – when actually I had three greys at that show,” he said.

“No one sat back and thought about how it all might affect me if they were wrong. It spiralled out of control, until some people started to question whether there was more to the story.”

Kevin also cited the cases of Bernhard Maier, whose riding at a show was caught on film and who has since died.

“No one thought about how what they were saying would affect him either,” he said. “I think it’s time people sat back and thought about what they’re saying.

“I said after it happened to me that I wanted to do something like this, then what happened to Bernhard really hit me.

“But now, because I’ve been through it, I can help others, with what to do and how to manage themselves; I know how the public is and how things get, but I can also point them in the right direction.”

Kevin said he or others, from a list of people who have already offered to help, will “always be on the end of the phone” or email, but that the website will also help people with advice in other situations such as dealing with owners or sponsors, or balancing the financial books.

“If they’ve had a bad day; a horse is injured, or they’ve lost an owner and want to know how to move forward, it’ll help,” he said. “It’s not necessarily for a situation as dramatic as mine as I hope that doesn’t happen to anyone else.

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“I’ve got ideas about how this will work but want as much feedback as possible, so I can do it once, and get it right the first time.”

Anyone with suggestions or who can offer help can email kevinthornton.showjumping@gmail.com

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