In a controversial decision, Canada’s Tiffany Foster, 28, of Schomberg, ON, was disqualified from Olympic show jumping competition on Sunday, August 5, at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Less than one hour before the start of team competition, Terrance Millar, Chef d’Equipe of the Canadian Olympic Team for Show Jumping, was informed that FEI veterinarians had performed clinical and thermography examinations of Foster’s mount, Victor, and disqualified the horse under the International Equestrian Federation’s (FEI) hypersensitivity protocol.
An official communication issued by the FEI read: “The Veterinary Commission have stated that the horse has an area of inflammation and sensitivity on the forelimb just above the hoof. There is no accusation of malpractice, but the horse has been deemed unfit to compete by the Ground Jury.”
Terrance Millar lodged a protest which was heard by the FEI Appeal Committee before the end of the competition. As Foster was warming up her horse should the appeal be successful, she was dealt a second blow. 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.”
Foster and Victor, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Artisan Farms and Torrey Pines Stable, were disqualified from all further Olympic participation.
“I would never do anything to jeopardize the welfare of my horse,” said Foster, struggling through tears. “What happened today is absolutely devastating to me. I understand that the rules are in place, and why they look for hyper sensitivity in the horses.”
Lamaze, the defending Olympic show jumping champion, is also Foster’s personal coach. His training business, Torrey Pines Stable of Schomberg, ON, owns Foster’s mount in partnership with Artisan Farms.
“I am ashamed of our sport today,” said Lamaze. “This is a complete miscarriage of justice. Yes, the horse has a little, superficial cut on its coronary band that could have happened in any number of ways. The horse was ridden in the morning, and was jumped as part of his exercise routine, with no indication whatsoever that he was uncomfortable. The horse was not bothered by it, and we had no doubts that competing would not have caused any further harm. Victor would not have gained any advantage and was one hundred percent fit to compete. He would not have been hurt in any way.”
Lamaze further explained, “When the horse was examined, they touched the right leg with no reaction, and they touched the left leg with no reaction. Only when they touched the actual cut did the horse show signs of sensitivity. If someone were trying to gain an advantage, you would have to assume that both legs would be sensitive. There is a big difference between two legs being sensitive and a horse reacting to being touched over and over and over again directly on a small, superficial cut. There could not have been any advantage gained from that simple cut, and in no way was the welfare of the horse ever in danger.
“The next move should have been to see the horse jog and seen that he was fit to compete, as we knew he was,” Lamaze continued. “If they had any doubts at all, they could have observed the horse in the warm-up at any time or examined the horse again after he jumped. The decision was made way too quickly. To declare a horse unfit to compete without even taking it out of its stall is outrageous. Coming to the Olympics is everyone’s dream. Tiffany should never have been put in this position.”
Fosterwas making her Olympic debut alongside Jill Henselwood, Eric Lamaze and Ian Millar, all members of the silver medal team for Canada at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
“I never imagined when I came to the Olympics that I would be unable to compete because of something like this,” continued Foster. “I feel so very badly for my teammates. I never dreamed that this is the way that my first Olympics would end.”
Foster broke her back in 2008 after falling from a young horse while training, and was unable to ride for six months.
“I’ve come back from bigger setbacks in my career, and I know I can overcome this,” said Foster, who had just started walking again when she attended the 2008 Olympic Games to cheer the Canadian team to its silver medal, and Lamaze to the individual gold. “Victor is only 10 years old, and he has a long and bright career in front of him. I have no doubt that we will prove this in the future on the international stage.”
Despite Foster’s controversial disqualification, the Canadian Olympic Team for Show Jumping moved up the leader board in Sunday’s team competition and is currently ranked sixth. The final team competition will be held Monday, August 6, followed by team medal presentations.
“I sure hope Canada can win a medal,” said Lamaze. “We lost a great teammate. Tiffany can hold her head high; she has done nothing wrong. She was dealt a raw deal.”