Two of Oliver Townend’s sponsors have announced they have terminated their arrangements with the rider following his controversial performance at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, while others have said they will continue to support the world number one.
Show jump manufacturer Jump 4 Joy was the first to review its involvement with the British event rider after he was handed a verbal warning for overuse of the whip during the cross-country.
The ground jury spoke to the 35-year-old concerning his rounds on both his rides, Cooley SRS and Ballaghmor Class.
Oliver — who was on target to claim the Rolex Grand Slam after wins at both Burghley and Kentucky — later issued an apology saying “his competititive instincts got the better” of him and he was “disappointed and upset” with the way he rode.
The incident sparked a storm on social media, with many criticising the eventer for pushing tired horses.
The BHS also announced it would be “raising its concerns” over the penalty he received with the FEI.
On Wednesday (9 May), Jump 4 Joy confirmed in a statement the company would be terminating its association with Oliver.
“We take animal welfare very seriously and are committed to the highest standards of well-being for all horses,” it said.
A spokesman for Lincoln Equestrian announced today (11 May) that the company had also reached the decision it would no longer back Oliver.
“For some time now we have been reviewing Lincoln Equestrian’s sponsorship terms. After the weekend’s events, we feel that now is the time to make some changes going forward,” the statement said.
“The welfare and care of all horses is fundamentally important to us as people and our brand, therefore with this in mind, following much deliberation and after reviewing the thoughts of our loyal customers, we have taken the decision to end our association with Oliver Townend.
“Looking to the future, Lincoln Equestrian will continue to support Piggy French and Ros Canter, however, moving forwards our focus will now be to support up-and-coming riders who are passionate about the sport and their horses.”
Sponsorship under review
Both Irish feed manufacture GAIN and Zebra Products Ltd — UK representatives of Oliver’s sponsor Veredus — said they would be reviewing the situation.
Anne Priestman, national UK sales manager for GAIN Equine Nutrition said the company was aware of the issue.
“GAIN takes animal welfare very seriously and is committed to the highest standards; we are reviewing this incident and will decide on next steps from there,” she said.
The ground jury spoke to the British rider today after his cross-country rounds on Cooley SRS and Ballaghmor Class
The rider has issued two apologies following his warning for over-use of the whip
The charity has said it ‘strongly believes’ that the sanctions given to Oliver Townend by the FEI were not high
The controversy has divided sponsors, with other long-term backers of the Shropshire rider speaking out in support.
In a statement, Equi-Trek announced it would continue its involvement with Oliver and his team.
“We support numerous riders and feel the whole point of support is to be there for people through good times and bad,” it said.
Sean Hamilton, managing director of Cyclo-ssage, who has sponsored Oliver since 2011, confirmed his ongoing support of the rider and said the company would not “determine its sponsorship judgements in relation to media storms on Facebook”.
“I know the man well, I know his horses well, I know his routine at his yard and how they are cared for and I have been there many times, which a lot of sponsors probably haven’t, and I’m perfectly comfortable with it,” he said. “Whilst he made a mistake, he’s put his hands up to it and apologised and I don’t think there will be a repeat. I’m staying with him.”
He added that he did not believe the rider deserved to be “pilloried” on social media, and feared that some people had used the backlash to cynically “gain publicity for themselves”.
“What’s sad in all of this is that it’s totally detracted from what was a remarkable achievement,” he said. “He rode two horses in America and won there, then came straight back and got two horses safely round Badminton, which was a tough course and a remarkable feat, and came second [and fifth] there.
“He’s come out and said that maybe with hindsight he over-rode and it took courage to come out and make an apology. I think Oliver has done the right thing and put his hands up, accepted he was at fault and we should move on.”
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday
This week’s edition (10 May) features our full report from Badminton, including in-depth analysis, expert comment, pictures and more. Plus, read our feature on the options for retiring your horse and in this week’s vet clinic we look into the challenges of equine surgery