Double Olympic eventing champion Mark Todd has stepped down as patron of World Horse Welfare after a video circulated of him hitting a horse with a tree branch. The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) says it is “looking into” the footage.
Last week a rider posted a clip on TikTok under the name chloet.eventing, which is said to have been recorded during a clinic in 2020. She later posted a longer video on Instagram. The footage showed the horse refusing to jump a step down into water and Mark Todd hitting it several times with a branch. He also gave verbal encouragement to the horse, and instructions to the rider.
A longer video shared on YouTube shows the horse twice trotting into the water down a slope and out up a small step, then hesitating before jumping off the small step into the water as Mark gives instruction and waves the branch behind the horse. It then shows the horse jumping off the small step more confidently, before refusing to jump off the larger step.
A spokesman for World Horse Welfare described the treatment of the horse as “disturbing and unacceptable”, and added that to Mark’s “credit” when the video came to his attention, he contacted the charity and voluntarily stepped down from his role as a World Horse Welfare patron.
“There is no place in the horse-human partnership for such use of force. Mark agrees that his behaviour was wrong and we welcome his apology. Mark is a consummate horseman, who cares deeply for horses and their welfare but, in this case, either through losing his patience or acting out of frustration, he has badly let himself down,” said the spokesman.
“We all need to take heed from this episode. If equestrian sport, which we actively support, is to continue to maintain the acceptance of the public – its social licence – there cannot be any tolerance for unacceptable practices, no matter how experienced the rider or trainer.”
Mark, who won six Olympic medals, announced his retirement from eventing for the second time in 2019 and he now focuses on racehorse training. A BHA spokesman said the footage had “rightly caused anger and upset” within the equestrian community and beyond, and the BHA was “looking into the incident”.
“His behaviour, for which he has apologised, fell a long way short of the standards of care we expect of licensed individuals and that we know is provided to the overwhelming majority of horses in training in Britain every day,” he said.
An RSPCA spokesman told H&H the charity was “aware” of the incident but has been given information that suggests it happened in another country (Scotland).
Mike Flynn, Scottish SPCA chief superintendent, told H&H the manner in which the horse was treated is “wholly inappropriate”.
He added: “In Scotland, animal welfare cases are time barred. This means any evidence must be less than six months old at the time it is submitted to the procurator fiscal. This video is older than that and therefore we do not have grounds to take action.”
A British Eventing spokesman said the organisation is “aware” of the footage.
“We are disappointed at the content and would like to stress that we view equine welfare as paramount to everything we do and that we expect our members, along with the wider equestrian community, to uphold the same values,” he said.
British Horse Society director of welfare Gemma Stanford said horse welfare should always be “paramount”.
“Riders at this level have an increased responsibility as they are role models and should also be setting an example for the next generation coming through our sport,” she said. “The behaviour displayed by Mark Todd was completely unacceptable and should be thoroughly investigated.”
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