Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sporting shenanigans and Other Musings

In 2010 the FEI disqualified Olympian McLain Ward from jumping at WEF because his legendary mare, Sapphire displayed "hypersensitivity" in her front legs. To make matters worse, the elimination was retroactive. Eventually the FEI rescinded the retroactive disqualification, but did not apologize or acknowledge any wrongdoing. He had been in second place prior to the disqualification and eventually recovered his winnings.

The incident was so bizarre and random that it was actually covered by the New York Times, which almost NEVER covers showjumping. Sapphire, who had won gold medals in two different Olympics was one of the few modern day equine legends in showjumping. These days when top riders compete with "strings" of seemingly interchangeable warmbloods from Europe, Sapphire was something special. She and Ward won gold medals in two different Olympics. (2004 Athens and 2008 Bejing). If that horse had been abused or mismanaged there is absolutely no conceivable way she would have held up and been competitive for as long as she was.

They tested for the hypersensitivity by tapping her front legs repeatedly and she picked them up 3 or 4 times. All domesticated horses will lift up their legs when you tap them. They are all trained to do this so you can clean out the bottoms of their feet and shoe them. Plus a sensitive mare would probably get annoyed with all the tapping and fussing and pull her legs away. All other scans, drug tests were completely normal. The disqualification sent ripples of disgust and anger through the equestrian community. But nobody was really surprised.

In 1996 Ward's father was sentenced to 33 months in prison for arranging to have four horses killed for the insurance money. I'm not sure what would drive a professional horseman to such a heinous, unthinkable crime, but that's what happened. I think somebody at the FEI decided that Ward's family were douchebags and decided to hit back in a really petty way.

And of course they got away with it. The FEI is the governing body of all these high end horse shows. There is nobody higher to appeal to. At least not until the competition is long over and you've forfeited thousands in entry fees and travel and you've long since packed your toys and went home.

In my opinion the FEI does some really weird shit. They do not require helmets in upper level dressage competitions. Helmets are voluntary. Since Charlotte Dujardin won Olympic gold in her navy blue Charles Owen, more and more upper level riders are opting for increasingly blingy but ASTM approved headgear. But according to FEI Rules  Helmets are not required for dressage

"when competing, warming up directly prior to the  Competition, riding between the stable and the warm up area , riding of the competing Horse in the warm up area, and riding back to the stable."
That is insane. Helmets can prevent traumatic brain injuries. A beloved American Olympic rider FELL OFF AT THE WALK when her horse tripped. She spent 4 weeks in a coma and 3 months in in-patient rehabilitation re-learning how to walk and talk. If she had been wearing her helmet that probably would not have happened. Enough with the top hats. We don't need to to see our best riders compete in men's eveningwear. From the waist up, dressage riders look like they are going to star in Oscar Wilde revival of "The Importance of Being Earnest." But they love their traditions.

I've been thinking about all this a lot as the Superbowl approaches. I went from being horrified to horrifically and uncategorically bored any time somebody mentions the air pressure in a certain 11 footballs.  All sports and their governing bodies are corrupt and corruptible. But sometimes you stand in the rain at the AFC Championship game with sixty thousand people and just dance and high five and have the time of your life. Sometimes you watch old videos of Gem Twist and Greg Best and wonder how the hell they made it over the water from that gallop. But in both cases, you just fly with your heroes and ignore the noise. There is inspiration in it all.

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