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The Annika Schleu Debacle: This isn’t horseback riding; Heck, it’s not even sportsmanship

16 Comments

Even longtime equestrians, who love the Olympics and sports in general, were surprised to discover the Modern Pentathlon – an obscure Olympic event, in which participants swim, run, fence, shoot and ride horses, in a bizarre attempt to mimic the skills of a soldier. The first four skills are fine, but when it comes to the rules of the horseback riding section of the pentathlon, things get very problematic.

The problems surfaced with a vengeance in the Tokyo Olympics, when athlete Annika Schleu “lost” her would-be gold medal because of a “stubborn horse”. That’s how the ignorant media framed the incident, and of course it’s complete horseshit. The video of Schleu’s attempt at riding shows so many errors and instances of bad judgement, it’s incredible. It’s clear that the horse was in distress, probably because of an ill-fitted bit (a draw gag bit, a pretty harsh one and an abhorrently painful bit. In the hand of a bad rider, it’s even worse), and it’s also clear that Annika Schleu didn’t have the slightest clue of how to handle this situation. People like Annika Schleu shouldn’t compete in any sport relating to horses, plain and simple. Here’s the video of Annika Schleu and her disastrous attempt of riding Saint Boy:

The equestrian part of the Modren Pentathlon goes against any reason or regard to horse welfare. The “riders” don’t have their own horses in this event. They receive a random horse from a pool of showjumping horses, and they only have 20 minutes to familiar themselves with the horse and warm it up. That, in itself, is utterly ridiculous. Not only that, but the task ahead is difficult even under ideal conditions – the rider and horse have to complete a showjumping course, with obstacles 1.20 meter high. Sure, showjumpers do 1.60 meters in the Olympics, but they have their own horse, they train for years and there are strict rules regarding the horse’s welfare, including vet checks and judges that ring the bell and disqualify the rider is something has gone awry. The level of riding in the Pentathlon is abysmal. The riders have no proper seat nor balance, they have no idea how to judge the distances and it’s mostly the horses saving their asses when they can. The choice of a showjumping course is really baffling. Why not choose a dressage test or an equitation course? Something like that is far less dangerous and will enable the judges to see the athlete’s true ability to ride a horse properly.

Any decent horse person will tell you the most important trait you need as a rider is patience. Nothing else works with horses. In this hard-to-watch video, Annika Schleu has lost her composure from the get-go. Apparently, she was in the lead and on her way to a gold medal. One can only assume she thought the horse knows that and will magically yield to her wishes. The horse, Saint Boy, was already ridden by another competitor, who treated him badly. He was already stressed and tired. His tack was hurting him. Perhaps he was scared. And then comes Annika Schleu, all stressed out, racing against the clock, and starts whipping and kicking him in a despicable display of hysteria, although it’s obvious he’s not responding to any of these “aids”. Her coach only exacerbates the problem by encouraging Annika to hit the horse, and she even punches him in an effort to get him going.

After what seems like forever, Schleu manages to get Saint Boy in a canter, but his distress is still very clear – he’s bending his neck to the outside, she’s sitting badly and bouncing on his back, but he somehow manages to jump a few obstacles. By the time they reach the double obstacle, it’s obvious that this ride is over. What’s even more infuriating, is that the judges didn’t bother to ring the bell and stop this horrendous “riding”, which shouldn’t have even started, really.

On a side note, Schleu’s hysterics are disturbing and pathetic. Is this the behavior you’d expect from a top-notch athlete? One thing goes wrong and you completely lose it? Frankly, it was disgusting and shameful. A proper riding coach would have promptly told her to get off the horse and get her shit together. Drama does not belong in the riding arena.

The media coverage on this event is bad on so many levels, and mostly harmed equestrians that were already under the microscope with many claiming that horseback riding is abuse, and shouldn’t be part of the Olympics. A true rider would have chosen to dismount, give the horse a pat, and wave to the crowd. A good horse-person would have known that there’s no point in continuing this ride, since nothing good is going to come out of it. A true horsewoman always puts the needs of the horse before her own. Obviously, Shcleu isn’t remotely close to being an equestrian and really shouldn’t be allowed near horses.

The damage is done. One can only hope that the Schleu debacle will spark a healthy debate about horse welfare, and that the rules of this weird Olympic event will change or even disappear completely.

About me: An amateur equestrian. Owned by a horse named Talo. A year or so back, Talo fell on me and I broke my pelvis and my ankle. I wrote a book about my healing journey and about going back to riding my horse. Here it is.

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16 Comments

  • August 8, 2021 at 3:11 pm
    Max

    לא מבין בספורט זה. אך חורה לי סבל הסוס.

    Reply
  • August 9, 2021 at 2:12 am
    Alex

    Agreed. I can’t think of any scenario in which that kind of tantrum will calm the horse down.

    Also, I don’t believe scaring the heck out of an animal is in any way a show of skill for “sports”.

    Reply
  • August 9, 2021 at 3:40 am
    Ariel

    That ride was one of the most bizarre displays of ego I have ever seen. A grown ass woman having a tantrum in front of the whole entire world because she thought she could get a gold metal without ever bothering to learn how to ride a horse. Pathetic.

    Reply
    • August 9, 2021 at 8:27 am
      Revital Salomon

      It really was embarrassing to watch. She was obviously not up to the task, in more ways than one.

      Reply
      • August 11, 2021 at 11:49 am
        chelee spence

        she ABSOLUTELY as a show jumper can feel resistance from a bit that’s too tight this horse needed a break was in obvious distress and she should have dismounted and waved the judges are just as much at fault for not blowing the horn to disqualify her!! the poor horse I feel awful for him this rider needs a good long hard rest AWAY from hosea of any kind and should retire to shoveling shit like her shitty riding and horsemanship!

  • August 9, 2021 at 7:11 am
    Annie

    The poor horse has jumoed several fences, and just when he’s trying to do one more, you can see she jerks again (painfully) on the bit and ruins his takeoff. So she foils the jump and he cashes through the bars. And she keeps thinking it’s the poor horse’s fault and that more whipping and more jerking the bit will improve things. She’s no rider, and her coach is obviously just as clueless (crying “Hit!! Hit !!!”). Like you, I don’t understand why she was not rung out by the jury. Or are they perhaps all ex-competitors, and as clueless about horses as miss Schleu and her coach ?

    Reply
  • August 9, 2021 at 11:49 am
    Sienna May

    I agree with you that they should remove the equestrian element.

    I understand the history of the Pentathlon, and that the horse element is meant to mimick the ability to steal & ride enemy horses.

    Which enemy horses are we stealing in 2021? This isn’t the 1900’s.

    Reply
  • August 9, 2021 at 1:01 pm
    Susan Davorn

    Totally agree with everything you’ve said here. I’m shocked at this event being part of the Olympics. It’s ridiculous – cruel and dangerous too.

    What sport does this female specialise in? (I have zero interest in sport)

    Reply
  • August 9, 2021 at 4:57 pm
    MKOK

    There should be sensor in the riding crop paired with electric collar araund jockeys neck. Every time “athlete” whips a horse he or she will get electric shock from collar. Then it would be fair.

    Reply
  • August 9, 2021 at 9:26 pm
    Francie

    I do think the equestrian needs to be replaced by another sport. event in the Pentathlon.

    I’ve represented the US on many Nation’s Cup’s teams in many parts of the world.

    So everyone knows 1.20m is really not a small course for riders. Who r unable to practice frequently. Someone needs to have a lot of access to a good horse and a good trainer too. Sadly that’s not always the case for these athletes.

    Times r changing and I believe that it is too much to ask of a horse to b put in this situation. Perhaps if they rode a simple dressage test it would be different but as I write this I take that back.
    I repeat my vote is for the IOC to replace the riding part of the Pentathlon w/ a sport that does not use horses.
    I’ve watched often and when those of us equestrians watch this part of the Pentathlon we all cringe often.
    Let’s do something about it!!!

    Anyone have any ideas?

    Reply
  • August 10, 2021 at 3:33 am
    Audrey Lee

    Excellent post! Sharing this everywhere

    Reply
  • August 12, 2021 at 1:18 am
    Karen J

    Thank you for your post! I was watching this event and thought I was imagining things! There are competitions where the riders do not ride their own horse.
    That is a legitimate skill test. However, nobody would be allowed to ride a tired animal, with ill-fitting tack, and use a harsh bit much less abuse the horse.
    BTW–The other competitions in this event were really boring. Then I tried to fast forward through them and ended up watching all the commercials! 😬 If the women’s event was bad, I shudder to think what the men’s event looked like!

    Reply
  • August 19, 2021 at 2:58 am
    Kristamalaney

    Well said!

    Reply
  • August 27, 2021 at 2:26 pm
    Cheo

    I don’t think iwas not just her fault, but the horse had already got terrified in the previous round with another Russian player. Here’s the link. https://youtu.be/_yTUpYAY5Js From 3′ 15″ to 3′ 38″, you can see that the Russian player had already problems with the horse, pulling the rein and using whips, which must have affected the behavior of the horse in Annika’s turn. Why do some people entirely blame on Annika Schleu and even not talk about what previously happened with the Russian player? During Annika’s ride, he horse behaved same(and even horse) that he already did with Russian(standing in the corner, moving backwards and with the bell ringing calmly walking to the exit). It was not only Annika’s fault, but there was something obviously wrong with the horse in the previous round.

    Reply
    • August 27, 2021 at 3:55 pm
      Revital Salomon

      There was a lot of criticism of the Russian athlete, as well. I think that Schleu’s drama and hysterics caught people’s attention. Plus, she was in the lead before the “ride”, so that put her more in the center of the attention.

      This isn’t the horse’s fault. A good rider knows how to solve problems with a horse without whipping it or crying about it. The tack wasn’t right, the horse was scared and tired. This is how it is with horses – sometimes they don’t want to do it, and that’s the final word. You dismount and say goodbye. That’s how it is when you are in a partnership with another sentient being.

      Reply
  • September 8, 2021 at 7:38 pm
    Vika

    I agree with everyhing you said in your article.
    But unfortunately, the type of riding Ms Schleu is showing us reminds me very much of a riding promoted by one of my early instructors: the “military style”. That instructor came straight out of Saumur (the French military riding academy) and had one answer to all problems, which was coercion, with the systematic help of strong bits, whips, strange contraptions (howletts…) and spurs. He wasn’t looking for cooperation, but for submission. Horses were tools that had to obey, regardless of their physical or mental state. Apparently for him, a horse that had worked 6 hours in a row still had to be perfectly fresh to jump a 1m obstacle course, or would get the whip. Etcaetera. Absolutely disgraceful and despicable.
    Isn’t Annika Schleu also in the military?

    Reply

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