Sunday, August 05, 2012

Olympic Hypersensitivity: Cut on Coronet Forces Canadian Jumper's Horse Out of Games

An FEI inspection of a jumper's pasterns. The clipped pasterns on showjumpers means that any cuts and scrapes, especially on light-colored hooves and coronets, are visible. When these horses compete, they wear jumping boots and may have studs screwed into their shoes. Their pasterns are exposed below the boots. Horses wearing studs commonly step on themselves when they scramble before or after a jump and it's not unusual to have a cut or scrape on the pastern. Many wear a stud girth to protect their bellies from the studs, but nothing protects the pastern area. (FEI web site photo)

A controversy has erupted in London over a subject that has often been covered on this blog and over at The Jurga Report: disqualification of an international rider for a positive test for hypersensitivity in a horse's lower leg under FEI regulations.

In this article, The Hoof Blog will give the official statement from the FEI, then pass along some quotes from Canadian connections and look at what hypersensitivity is. This is a collection of facts and quotes...the second-guessing will be left to others.

Sunday morning the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), world governing body for equestrian sport, issued the following statement:

"The Canadian horse Victor, ridden by Tiffany Foster, has been disqualified under the FEI’s hypersensitivity protocol due to an area of clear and obvious hypersensitivity on the front of the left forelimb.

"The Veterinary Commission stated that the horse had an area of inflammation and sensitivity on the left forelimb just above the hoof. There was no accusation of malpractice, but the horse was deemed unfit to compete by the Ground Jury and was disqualified from the Second Qualifier of the Jumping competition at the Olympic Games this morning.

"A protest lodged by the Canadian chef d’equipe was heard by the FEI Appeal Committee before the end of the competition in order to facilitate the athlete taking part in the competition if the protest was successful.

"However, the protest was denied based on Annex XI of the FEI Veterinary Regulations, which state: 'there is no appeal against the decision of the Ground Jury to disqualify a horse for abnormal sensitivity from an Event'.

"The FEI General Regulations also clearly state that there is no appeal against an elimination of a horse for veterinary reasons.

"The horse Victor, ridden by Tiffany Foster, will take no further part in the equestrian events at London 2012." (end of FEI statement)

The statement was issued after a press conference was convened at 5 p.m. (London GMT).

What happened? According to a Team Canada press release: "Less than one hour before the start of team competition, scheduled to commence at 11 a.m., FEI veterinarians entered the stall of Victor, the horse ridden by (Tiffany) Foster.

"Following a routine examination of the horse in its stall, Terrance Millar, chef d'équipe of the Canadian Olympic Team for Show Jumping, was informed that Foster was disqualified under the International Equestrian Federation's (FEI) hypersensitivity protocol."

According to the web site, Millar stated that the FEI officials used thermography to evaluate the horse.

Canadian rider Tiffany Foster, from Schomberg, Ontario, is a protege of 2008 Individual Jumping Gold Medalist Eric Lamaze who is riding in her first Olympics. She was walking the course in the arena when veterinary officials examined her horse.

Foster's horse, Victor, is a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Artisan Farms and Torrey Pines Stable of Ontario.

Earlier this summer, a jumper ridden by Ireland's Denis Lynch was also disqualified for hypersensitivity.

Using a Thermographic Camera to Treat a Horse
A typical thermographic examination of a horse's leg usually involves the display of the resulting image on a monitor or laptop screen. (Image courtesy of

Definitions: Sensitivity, Hyposensitivity and Hypersensitivity

In the realm of horse sports governed by the FEI, limb sensitivity refers to the sensation perceived by horses in their legs.

If the sensation is increased beyond normal limits it is called hypersensitivity. Conversely, if the sensation is below normal limits it is called hyposensitivity.

Hypersensitivity can be produced by a range of normal occurrences, such as insect stings, accidental self-inflicted injuries, skin infections etc. Hyposensitivity could result from traumatic or surgical cutting of the nerves to that area of the limb (i.e. neurectomy.)

Hypersensitisation is the term used to define the artificial production of hypersensitivity. It is contrary to horse welfare and fair play as it could encourage horses to jump more carefully and higher.

Sample thermography image
Princess Haya, President of the FEI: "We've had an incredible Games so far. I hope to see Tiffany again in the future, it's very sad for Tiffany that she's unable to compete."

Thermographic evaluations of sport horse limbs has been controversial in the past; FEI protocol calls for both clinical examination and diagnostic imaging of an area of concern.

Veterinarian and former farrier Mike Pownall DVM of McKee-Pownell Equine Services in Ontario commented: "Thermography has too many false positives to be used as the deciding factor on whether a rider is disqualified. More research has to be done to determine a gold standard way to protect the horse. Until then, it is unfair to the horse, the rider and the nation."

Thermography is also used by the US Department of Agriculture in the examination of Tennessee walking horses for the practice of soring at horse shows.

"The rule was put in to protect the horses, but this is just a blind application of a rule without any commonsense at all," commented Canadian chef d'equipe Torchy Millar on Tiffany Foster's elimination.

The flag of the Canadian Equestrian Team
The London Games have been a nightmare for Canada so far. One rider, eventer Hawley Bennett-Awad was hospitalized after she was injured on cross-country. Dressage rider David Marcus was eliminated when his horse suffered a meltdown during the team dressage Grand Prix...after doing most of the test in a torrential downpour. He shied repeatedly and tried to bolt, as if he was being pinged by an electrical shock from the ground, but no other horses had similar problems.

The horse van bringing the Canadian jumpers into London's Greenwich Park facility broke down on the way. Eric Lamaze, defending Olympic gold medalist in the sport, is competing after the tragic death of his Beijing partner, Hickstead. Lamaze is riding a young, inexperienced mare at London.

And now, Canadian jumping has lost its young team member, forcing all team medal hopes on the three remaining riders: Lamaze, Henselwood and Millar.

If I've read the scoring correctly, Canada is in sixth place going into tomorrow's final round for the team medals, but since there are four nations tied for second, it is well within the realm of possibility that Canada can still score a medal.

That would be poetic justice, in the end, since Tiffany Foster would be entitled to stand on the podium with her teammates, and wear whatever medal they can win without her. Tomorrow's final round will be one to watch.

Git 'er done, Team's your pep talk!

To learn more:

FEI page on hypersensitivity testing for show jumpers coverage of the disqualification

Canada fury as Foster's horse is disqualified

Photo of Tiffany Silver at press conference by Cealy Tetley,
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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks Fran for clearing that up for me (and I'm sure lots of other people too). It's sad for the Canadian team, let's hope they do medal right behind the USA.