The pentathlon show jumping event on Friday the 6th of August has triggered a worldwide scandal after footage of a German coach punching a horse went viral. The video clearly shows Kim Raisner hitting the horse on the rump with her fist while trying to help rider Annika Schleu.
What’s more, the pentathlon coach reportedly urged the rider to “really hit” the horse with her whip before the jump. The instructions echoed off the walls of the arena and were audible on live television worldwide. Naturally, the scandalous scene triggered extensive criticism in equestrian circles across the globe.
The former modern pentathlete’s actions were reviewed by the International Modern Pentathlon Union, who decided her actions violated the rules. The union’s official statement reads:
“The UIPM Executive Board (EB) has given a black card to the Germany team coach Kim Raisner, disqualifying her from the remainder of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The EB reviewed video footage that showed Ms Raisner appearing to strike the horse Saint Boy, ridden by Annika Schleu, with her fist during the riding discipline of the women’s modern pentathlon competition.”
“Her actions were deemed to be in violation of the UIPM competition rules, which are applied to all recognized modern pentathlon competitions including the Olympic Games. The EB decision was made today at the Tokyo Stadium before the resumption of the men’s modern pentathlon competition.” (source: The Guardian)
Rider left in tears after horse refused to jump
German pentathlete Annika Schleu rode onto her show jumping round in tears as her horse Saint Boy was not cooperating. She then attempted to coax the distressed animal over the jumps, unsuccessfully. Following her round, both professional riders and horse enthusiasts raised concerns about her rough handling of the horse.
During a modern pentathlon event, competitors are challenged in five different disciplines: running, shooting, fencing, swimming, and horse riding. Historically, these skills were required by 19th-century soldiers, which is where the sport originated. For the show jumping element, athletes are assigned a random horse and are given 20 minutes to bond with the animal.
Before her show jumping round, Annika Schleu was in the lead with 551 points, having excelled in the previous two disciplines. After placing fourth in Rio 2016 and 26th in London 2012, this time Schleu was after the gold.
Due to scoring zero points on her show jumping round, Schleu plummeted from 1st to 31st (last) place. After the horse’s fourth refusal, the pentathlete let out a painful scream and rode off the course with tears down her face.
Here’s a clip of Annika Schleu’s disturbing ride on Friday:
The horse Saint Boy had already proven difficult to his previous rider, Russian pentathlete Gulnaz Gubaydullina. When Schleu found out she’s drawn the same horse, she was desperately hoping for a replacement ride, which didn’t happen.
“I treated the horse to the best of my knowledge.”
Despite harsh criticism about her horsemanship and riding skills, Annika Schleu claimed she was never in the wrong. In an interview with DPA news, the pentathlete expressed her shock at the violent comments about her ride in Tokyo. “I didn’t expect these reactions at all because I really didn’t have the feeling that I was treating the horse too roughly,“ she said.
Schleu also revealed that she and Saint Boy worked well initially in the warm-up area. While she rode onto her round with confidence, the horse refused to even step on the course, which is when the rider lost her nerve. Despite pulling the reins and using her spurs and whip with force, Schleu didn’t think she was rude to the horse at any time.
After losing the Olympic gold, the pentathlete was left even more devastated by intense hate all over the internet. For the first time, she deactivated her Instagram account and withdrew from all social media platforms.
Concerns for the safety of horse and athlete initiate rule change
Annika Schleu wasn’t the only pentathlon competitor who struggled with show jumping this year. Irish athlete Natalya Coyle dropped from 4th to 19th place after her horse refused to jump several times. Similarly, Michelle Gulyas from Hungary fell out of the top 10 following a troubled show jumping round.
According to The Guardian, countless German individuals and groups have submitted requests for pentathlon reforms to the IMPU. Following open hostility towards Schleu, the German athlete campaign group “Athleten Deutschland” suggested a rule change to take place “to ensure animal protection and appropriate competition conditions for the athletes in future.”
Alfons Hoermann, chief of the German Olympic team also called for an urgent change of pentathlon rules. As revealed in the Reuters, Hoermann stated: “Rules must change in such a way so that rider and horse are protected. The focus must be on the welfare of the animals and the fair competition for athletes.”
Here is a video of a German Olympic official Aflrons Hoermann:
Social media reaction
Annika Schleu’s misfortune sparked some sympathetic comments among non-equestrians, saying how the Olympic gold has been snatched away from her. Many felt sorry that she drew the short straw with Saint Boy, saying how the show jumping element is pure “lottery”.
Others, however, had little sympathy left for Schleu after witnessing her treatment of the horse during her ride. Even sports commentators found themselves judging the athlete’s riding, implying that she was lacking basic horsemanship skills. “This is hard to watch, hard to commentate on,” BBC commentator and former British pentathlete said during the event.
As expected, most on Twitter were not happy.
When you let out your frustration on a scared horse, dig your spurs in, yank on its mouth and repeatedly whip it harder and harder, all for the sake of an Olympic Medal, then clearly you need to rethink your morals and values. #annikaschleu #AnimalAbuse https://t.co/q2yBJTg49A— Annabel (@RunInTheRain7) August 6, 2021
Behind #annikaschleu are 5 Olympic rings.— Mr-S (@CBR6er) August 6, 2021
‘Olympic athletes are expected to embody the three values of Olympism: excellence, friendship, and respect’.
Her repeated whipping & kicking of her horse in the #Pentathlon #OlympicGames whilst crying show none of these values.
Although most were shocked and appalled for how the horse was treated, some found sympathy with the rider.
#AnnikaSchleu and #NatalyaCoyle deserve a massive hug for what they went through this morning. My heart goes out to both of them. Before you experts respond, When Pierre de Coubertin or Viktor Balack came up with this idea. Surely the horse would have been trained a little surely— John Mulligan (@Mulliganj) August 6, 2021
Some interesting tweets also suggested the horse was playing up due to the bit being under its tongue.
Check how the snaffle had been pushed UNDER the horse's tongue. Because of human failure, it couldn't breathe, was in pain when #AnnikaSchleu pulled the reins and pushed the tongue down its throat.— Flora (@FloraFlava) August 8, 2021
A pro would realize this instead of crying angrily & mindlessly beating the horse pic.twitter.com/TVNS3P659k