Trainer banned over spiked horse boots found competing under false name

  • A trainer who was suspended for trying to help a rider conceal the use of boots with nails inside on a horse has breached his ban by competing under a false name.

    H&H reported that Hicham Gharib had been found guilty of horse abuse by the FEI Tribunal, alongside showjumper Essam Zbibi, in relation to gelding HH Sigma at a CSI3* show in Abu Dhabi in 2021 (news, 24 February).

    During the original case, the Tribunal heard Gharib was seen taking boots off the horse and throwing them into a bush. When the show’s chief steward retrieved the boots, each contained a “nail/sharp object” with “blood around the area”. Gharib denied all allegations and claimed he was not in the warm-up as a trainer or support personnel, and that he had removed the boots “as a favour” to Zbibi. But the Tribunal found he had “assisted and encouraged” the abuse, and he was suspended for one year from 2 February, fined 5,000CHF (£4,442) and ordered to pay 2,000CHF (1,593) costs. Zbibi was suspended for four years, fined 10,000CHF and ordered to pay 2,000CHF. When the pair appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in July, their cases were dismissed and both were ordered to pay an additional 5,000CHF.

    In May, the FEI opened new disciplinary proceedings against Ghrarib when members of the equestrian community reported he “might not be complying” with his suspension, and he was seen jumping three horses at an event in Furusiyya, UAE, on 6 April. The FEI was told he was registered for the show under a false name, and that he had tried to enter other events but later withdrew, when organisers realised he was suspended.

    Gharib denied the allegations and the case was submitted to the FEI Tribunal.

    The FEI said a whistle-blower reported seeing Gharib competing under the name Hisham Moataz. The FEI based its claim on this testimony, along with pictures taken by the event’s photographer showing Gharib riding a horse there. A rider named Hisham Moataz was included on a screen showing the athletes participating – and appeared on a start list with three horses.

    The FEI confirmed the rider’s identity through FEI officials who reported the original horse abuse case, and Gharib’s passport confirmed the photos taken during the event were of him. In total, the FEI investigated three events where Gharib allegedly competed, but due to lack of evidence, did not pursue two of these. The FEI added that throughout the investigation “more and more” evidence was removed from the internet and social media.

    The show organiser, the Furusiyya Equestrian Club, confirmed to the FEI that Gharib was at the show with his students and that he participated hors concours (HC) and did not pay entry fees and his results were not recorded.

    The FEI noted that after Gharib was suspended in February, he repeatedly asked about his rights and restrictions during his suspension. He asked whether he could attend events as a trainer or spectator, and was told by the FEI this was not allowed.FEI rules state, “No athlete may take part hors concours in any international competition unless otherwise specified by the sport rules of the relevant discipline.”

    “It is important to remember the respondent was found to have engaged in and facilitated horse abuse at an event. It is therefore entirely logical, reasonable and proportionate for the FEI to prevent someone that has engaged in horse abuse from attending further events under the FEI umbrella,” the FEI submitted.

    In Gharib’s submissions, he acknowledged that he recognised himself in the photos taken by the photographer, but claims he never took part in the event. He said he used the fences in the arena after the show and jumped a course with two horses later that day. He also provided a letter from the organiser certifying he had not taken part in the competition, and had attended as a spectator.

    Gharib argued the FEI never obtained confirmation from the photographer that the pictures were taken during the show, and that the photographer told him she “was not sure” about the image in question and that her assistant sometimes “rotates” them for social media purposes. He added that the horses on the start list under Hicham Moataz were different horses from the ones in the pictures.

    He also claimed there was confusion over the words “hors concours” and denied all allegations, “since he did not take part” in any competitions.

    The Tribunal was “comfortably satisfied” Gharib was at the event and satisfied he participated as an athlete.
    “The fact he was not awarded any prize money is of no relevance,” said the Tribunal, adding that it could not be considered that Gharib did not know he could be in violation of his suspension.

    The Tribunal said whether or not Gharib attended under the name Hicham Moataz “could remain open”, because jumping HC was sufficient to consider he had breached his suspension – but “for the sake of completeness” the Tribunal noted the evidence, and is “convinced” he attended the event as Hicham Moataz. The Tribunal acknowledged Gharib’s claims around the identity of two horses in the photos, but said this was not substantiated with proper evidence.

    The Tribunal was satisfied Gharib had violated his suspension, and the violation showed “how little consideration” he had for FEI rules.

    Gharib was suspended for an additional year, fined 5,000CHF and must pay 2,000 CHF in costs.

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