Equestrianism: Ban on rider for cruelty

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL SAYWELL, who rode for Britain at the Munich Olympics in 1972, has been fined pounds 1,500 and suspended from the British Show Jumping Association for three years.

The penalty follows the discovery of 'illegal strips of plastic with sharp protruding points stuck to the inside' which were placed under the fetlock boots of a horse Saywell was riding at Bakewell Show, in Derbyshire, on 5 August. The plastic strips were found by a steward of the BSJA after Saywell's horse, Sunblest, had competed in a national competition.

The sharp points would clearly make the horse's legs painfully sensitive, so that it would be anxious to avoid touching a fence during the competition.

This gruesome form of abuse may result in a more severe penalty. The three-year ban was the maximum that could be imposed by stewards of the BSJA when they investigated the case at a hearing at the British Equestrian Centre at Stoneleigh on Wednesday, but they have made a recommendation for it to be extended by the executive committee, who meet next week.

Saywell, whose stable is at Cottam, Nottinghamshire, claims he did not know that the plastic strips were under the boots. 'I didn't put them on,' he said yesterday. 'I told the stewards that and I think they have been a bit hard.'

'The maximum penalty clearly reflects the association's abhorrence of such activity,' Andrew Finding, secretary general of the BSJA, said. 'It will not be tolerated at any time by any rider, no matter what his public profile may be.'

A similar incident occurred at Hickstead in May when James Brizzel, an 18-year-old rider from Northern Ireland, was accused of applying an astringent lotion to the legs of his horse, Copper Pride.

Stewards from the Equestrian Federation of Ireland, who investigated that case, imposed a five-year ban on Brizzel. His father (also James), who acted as the horse's groom, was banned for life. Both suspensions were extended to Britain, so Saywell's penalty is bound to be enforced in Ireland.

This represents a shameful fall from grace for Saywell, who rode Hideaway for Trevor Banks's Yorkshire stable when he had the best British score in the team competition at the 1972 Olympics. He and his team-mates - David Broome, Harvey Smith and Ann Moore - finished fourth.

Chainbridge, another horse owned by Banks, later took Saywell to two major individual victories when winning the 1976 King George V Gold Cup at Wembley and the 1978 Dublin Grand Prix.

Saywell has not jumped internationally for some years but his son, Andrew, competed at a show in France last month after winning the two major contests at July's Great Yorkshire Show. He is due to jump at another show in Athens next week, where Sunblest is one of his possible mounts.

Though the Saywell and Brizzel cases are bound to spark rumours of widespread abuse in show jumping, there is no evidence to suggest that this form of malpractice goes further than these isolated instances which were promptly uncovered by diligent stewards.

Protruding points and astringent lotions are likely to produce such obvious signs of distress in the horse that the culprit is almost bound to be caught. They would also be likely to lead to refusals, which is the obvious escape route for a horse that is afraid of touching a fence.

In 1990, Germany's Paul Schockemohle was shown (on a secretly made video) rapping some horses being prepared for one of his sales. This practice, which involves hitting the horse's legs with a hand-held pole to make it jump higher, is forbidden by the International Equestrian Federation. The Schockemohle affair led to spot checks at German training establishments.

Next Wednesday's meeting of the executive committee will consider extending penalties on three banned BSJA members: Saywell and two young riders, Daniella Mattock and Darren Newton, who were given a three-year suspension after being convicted of stealing three horses.