A short while ago, the governing body of the Modern Pentathlon, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM), has decided to remove horseback riding from the Olympic event and replace it with some other sport, that doesn’t include animals. This was the direct result of the Annika Schleu debacle (in which the German rider whipped the horse endlessly, in order to get him to move, and her coach even punched the horse). The decision was generally welcomed by horse lovers and professional riders around the world, but it seems we are still far from the end of this story.
It seems that some of the participants of this obscure event aren’t very happy. Some of the event’s leading athletes have threatened to quit it altogether in protest. Others went to the media and told horror stories of receiving limping, wounded horses to ride during a World Cup event in Mexico, in 2014. The UIPM is called out as not caring about the sport at all.
Some Pentathlon participants are arguing that the problem isn’t horseback riding by itself, and that some changes to the rules and conditions can solve this issue. For example, it was suggested that 36 horses, instead of just 18, will be provided to the athletes. This way, each horse should only do the course once, and not twice. That might make it slightly easier on the poor horses, but won’t change the fact that they have to carry bad, inexperienced riders, who are just not up to the task of serious showjumping. Some athletes have suggested lowering the height of the obstacles, and emphasize that during regular competitions (and not the Olympics), Pentathlon athletes are used to riding a much easier and lower course.
“It’s like driving around in a Mini Cooper and then suddenly jumping in a Jaguar and going around this course, which they just don’t have the experience, skills, or know-how to successfully complete. That’s why time and time again at the Olympics, we see modern pentathletes showing awful displays of horse riding”, said retired three-time world champion Samantha Murray.
Here’s a thought, guys: if you knew the standard in the Olympics is always higher, why aren’t you practicing for it? Do you hear other athletes whine about how hard it is for them? If you know you need to jump 1.20m obstacles, why do you train only at lower heights and then be surprised you’re not up to the challenge? Would you compete in a 10,000 meter run by only practicing 5,000 meters?
There’s also talk about inner UIPM politics, which I assume is of little interest to horse lovers, so I’ll spare you the details. The bottom line is this: if the organizers of this event can’t vouch for the quality of the riders, then changing the horses and the course won’t do much good. A great horse isn’t going to make much of a difference if the rider is terrible. Clearly, the athletes in this sport don’t take horseback riding seriously. A horse is not a gun or a sword. It’s not a tool. It’s a living, sentient being, and it’s our job to take care of it. Modern Pentathlon participants don’t care much about horses, and don’t know how to treat them, let alone ride them. Taking the horses out of this equation is the best thing to do. Ride bicycles instead, guys. And here’s a pro-tip: whipping a bike won’t do you much good, either.
Here’s a video reminder of the Annika Shcleu horror show: