The FEI Tribunal has now released its full decision on the hearing into Andy Kocher’s electric spur use, for which the US rider was banned for 10 years. H&H finds out what the witnesses, rider and FEI said, and the panel’s verdict
THE FEI has released the full details of US rider Andy Kocher’s “pre-planned, deliberate, intentional, methodical and continued abuse of horses” by using electric spurs.
H&H has reported on the FEI investigation into the rider, who has represented the US at the World Cup and Nations Cup finals. The FEI announced in April that Kocher had been banned for 10 years, and for using the spurs on numerous horses in training and competition.
The details of the Tribunal hearing have now been released. It lasted three days and featured testimonies from a number of witnesses.
The panel heard that a witness reported Kocher’s use of the spurs to the Equestrian Community Integrity Unit (ECIU) last May, and that a French publication ran an article stating that Kocher was suspected of using electric spurs.
The FEI was then sent numerous pictures and videos of Kocher at shows, and an investigation was launched. Kocher denied using electric spurs throughout the case.
“According to the FEI, the evidence submitted proved that the electric shock device used by the respondent was a modified electrical power bank, to which a trigger button and cables with exposed endings were attached,” the Tribunal report states, adding that the device was strapped to Kocher’s body, with a trigger in his hand and the trigger cable running down the arm. Two other cables ran down the rider’s legs, with the exposed cable ends connected to his spurs. When the rider used the trigger, the spurs shocked the horse.
About 1,000 pictures were sent to the ECIU, and 81 were analysed further. Of these, in 73 a trigger button was identified, and “several” showed a cable running down the rider’s arm.
Videos submitted showed how such a device worked, and Kocher’s old boots, which had holes allegedly for the cables to run through, in the place the spurs would rest.
“The respondent went to great lengths to conceal such devices from FEI officials over these years, by hiding the wires under his clothes via holes in his boots, making it barely visible to any official,” the FEI’s submission to the tribunal reads. “Finally, it referred to the colour of the trigger button which matched the colour of the gloves the respondent often wore, which made the device extremely discreet from any FEI official and that is why the respondent was so successful in concealing any evidence of such devices from FEI officials.”
Kocher claimed the device visible was a clicker trainer, which he wore attached to a cord to avoid misplacing it. But two witnesses, who both worked for him in the past and were international riders, said they never saw or heard of the rider using a clicker.
One said that “during her time working with the respondent, she observed that the horses would react in a volatile and temperamental manner around him and would be very ‘sharp’ off the leg”. She also noticed that at the first farm they were based at, Kocher would go to a trailer to get changed, “which over time she realised was in order to kit out the electric shock device underneath his clothing as he always came out wearing the same clothes as he had entered”. The same witness said she saw Kocher attaching the device to a horse at a show, and that Kocher told his employees also to use the devices, providing them, and that she felt she had to use them.
The second former employee also said he saw Kocher carrying a device at a show, and preparing one elsewhere, and was told to use one on horses himself, which he did once.
He told the panel Kocher had rung him, to “pressure him to withdraw his statement”.
A former owner of horses ridden by Kocher also gave evidence. She said she had never known of clickers being used, and she asked Kocher not to use the electric spurs on her horses, but that he told her they were humane.
The witness said by early 2020, use of the spurs was a “daily routine”, and Kocher was open about their use. She added that “she observed the respondent needing to go to the bathroom numerous times before and after a class… she recalled the respondent’s behaviour after his numerous in-competition falls. She testified that after every fall the respondent insisted that he was fine and refused to be examined by the medical staff or to take off his jacket, but instead the respondent said he must be by himself to “call his mother” or to pull himself together after the fall”.
The witness said the device had “left a lot of anxiety and behavioural problems in the horses, as it is a form of coercive training in addition to cheating”.
Another rider also said he saw Kocher working on a device at a show in 2013 or 2014, and that Kocher explained how it worked, and how he concealed it.
Kocher denied any use of electric spurs, dressing in competition kit to show the panel how he wore the clicker on a long cord, and adding that he did most of his training alone, so other people would not know he used one. He said the relationship with his owner broke down, and there are lawsuits pending in the US, saying “he began to feel very uncomfortable as the relationship progressed due to the issues of both a personal and business nature which eventually led to the breakdown of the relationship”.
He said he sacked the second rider witness owing to “working difficulties” and alleged it was he who had used the device as well as the first rider, adding that he told both its use “was not appropriate and it was against the rules”.
In his closing remarks, Kocher said the witness testimonies were “based on suppositions and assumptions”, that “every witness appeared to indicate that they did not know or never saw the respondent using the device underneath his clothing and the latter assumptions were based only on the videos and photographic evidence provided”. He claimed that the other witnesses were hired by a key witness to collude against him, and pointed out that no official had seen him use the device at more than 1,200 shows.
“The FEI also reminded the tribunal that in 2002 the respondent was sentenced to six months imprisonment and a probation period of four years after pleading guilty to a felony of the theft of domestic animals (two ponies and a goat)” the report reads. “The respondent and an accomplice killed the goat by smothering the animal. The FEI brought this prior criminal felony and in particular the circumstances of the cruel death of the goat, to the attention of the tribunal as the FEI deemed that the respondent’s past behaviour, in particular towards animals, is relevant for these disciplinary proceedings.”
The panel noted that Kocher could not provide a witness to refute the others’ evidence, nor any evidence to support his use of a clicker. It found the only credible explanation for the cables seen was the electric device, and that the FEI had proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.
“When the FEI asked for a minimum five years’ suspension, it did not know that the respondent would persist in his denials, which the tribunal has found to be untrue, nor did it expect the total lack of remorse inherent in his case,” the report states.
All Kocher’s results from events at which the FEI has photographic evidence of his electric-spur use are disqualified. These include the Hickstead Derby meeting in 2018, at which Kocher’s ride Navalo De Poheton suffered a broken leg on the flat in the Derby, and had to be put down.
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