The man, who preferred to remain anonymous, is an equestrian professional who was there to support a rider in the lesson before the one in question, and stayed to watch the next session. He has sent a report of his observations to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), which is investigating the incident.
He told H&H there was a small group of “grassroots riders” in the next session.
“Mark explained what they were going to do in general, but at that point also asked if any of the riders had anything specific they wanted to deal with,” he said. “The girl involved in this investigation made it crystal clear she had no problem with her horse entering water or jumping fences into water but she had a specific issue with her horse jumping off steps or drops into water, and that she’d like him to focus on that, and he said yes.”
The spectator said the clinic went smoothly; other than “the odd rider mistake”, “nothing remarkable” happened. The spectators eventually followed the riders to the water complex, at which none of the versions of the video circulating online shows all that happened.
“[Mark] proceeded to go through a lengthy process, ensuring the horse became increasingly confident and relaxed by repetitively asking the rider to enter/exit the water at various points and very gradually increasing the level of difficulty to support both horse and rider confidence,” the spectator wrote in his report to the BHA. “Once this had been obviously achieved, [Mark] proceeded to focus on this individual’s specific issue.”
The spectator said Mark gave the rider so much time, building up very gradually from walking into the water on a shallow gradient to eventually cantering and a steeper gradient, that “from a spectator’s point of view, it almost got a bit boring”.
He added: “The horse was happy and willing at all times.”
In the report, he said: “On the first approach to the step into the water, the horse started to slow down and present signs of unwillingness. [Mark] at this point was close by, holding a small branch he had picked up from a bush. As it became evident the horse was not going to continue to go forward, he supported the rider in persuading her horse forward by waving the stick and making noise and because of this the horse jumped down the small step into the water and an initial successful outcome was achieved.
“The rider was then advised by [Mark] to come back to the same area and jump into the water from the same point, the horse jumped into the water without hesitation, showing increasing levels of confidence, at this point [Mark] was in the background to offer support if required, however he maintained a healthy and independent distance.”
The report adds that there was a third attempt to jump off the bank, in a different place, “for the purpose of consolidating confidence levels of both horse and rider as a partnership”.
“On approach on this occasion the rider ‘froze’ and became completely ineffective and the horse stopped,” the report reads. “At this point the coach became involved and supported the rider by persuading and driving the horse forward from behind to overcome the lack of belief of ability that had presented itself at that moment in time. Through persuasion a successful outcome was reached as again the horse jumped into the water complex.”
The spectator said there were 20 to 25 people watching and none “uttered any form of concern at all”.
“My take was that it wasn’t pleasurable to watch but Mark had been specifically asked to fix this and problem-solve, and my take is that’s exactly what he did, and he did it without any anger or aggression at all,” he said, adding that the horse showed no signs of fear of anxiety, and the rider appeared “over the moon, delighted” afterwards. The cheer that went up when the horse jumped in can be heard on the video.
The riders all then moved on to another jump complex, the spectator said.
“The horse looked happy; confident and relaxed and showed absolutely no signs that his welfare had been compromised in any way, shape or form,” he added.
“Mark did what he did, he took no pleasure in it and he was calm. The girl asked him to sort the problem, which he achieved.”
The rider told H&H she did not give Mark permission to hit her horse. She confirmed he took her through easier options into the water first but the jump in question was the first time he had faced the “bigger bank”.
“I can’t comment about my riding,” she said. “It probably wasn’t the most effective. I’ve never claimed to be a rider but that’s why I sought instruction.
“I think anyone watching the video can decide for themselves if my horse was showing signs of fear, and you can’t argue with what you see with your own eyes.”
The rider said she was happy when the horse jumped in, but this was because she had not realised “the situation around why he had jumped in”, and did not know he had been hit until she watched the video later.
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