The use of gadgets within the equine industry frequently dominate headlines with negative press. Today, that didn’t change after Oliver Townend was officially reprimanded for his use of the whip when riding his two horses at Badminton round the demanding cross country course. The use of gadgets are to compliment the riders aids, after all we are no match for their mass. I have always thought to use the whip as an “extra leg”, which I saw other riders at Badminton doing. As they rode into the jump, they put their leg on for a long stride, the horse’s reaction was delayed so a tap on the shoulder was enough to spur them forwards. For me, this saves the horse and rider from a fall. I watched Oliver Townend’s ride on Cooley SRS whereby he smacked the horse a few times going up a hill, I don’t think he needed quite as many blows, he even said he was a young horse who was attempting his first 4*. His second round on a horse which was higher up the placings was even worse.
The going this year at Badminton was sticky as the ground began to dry in the heat but was still wet from the relentless rain these last few weeks. I guess the overarching question about Townend’s ride on Cooley SRS is, should he have pulled that horse up as the going caused many horses to tire more quickly. For background information, Townend had just won at Kentucky, putting him in poll position for the Rolex Grand Slam, if he takes the win at Badminton he will win $350,000. Obviously this would be in the back of his mind, money like that is well needed by a professional event rider, as we all know the expense that the sport demands. However, would it be totally wrong of me to say that perhaps those dollar signs were the catalyst behind his excessive whipping? Without confirmation, we will never know and perhaps it was even subconscious for Townend. This whole incident has created a storm of criticism on social media with some questioning whether a competitor reprimanded for excessive whip use should even be allowed to remain in contention let alone win the competition. What sort of example does this set to younger riders? Competitors such as Townend will be idolised by many and should be more careful with their behaviour. Sometimes they forget that their behavior expands further than just them and their horses. With media coverage increasing and riders gaining celebrity status, now is the time to improve their ways.
Over use of the whip is most frequently documented in horse racing, although rules have been tightened to help prevent excessive use, nonetheless it still remains an issue. However, this is not an isolated issue within one discipline of the sport. Cast your minds back to Rio 2016 when a showjumper was disqualified for excessive use of the whip. The ground jury made this decision based on official FEI rulings. In racing, current rulings state that a horse can be whipped eight times in races over jumps and seven times on the flat, with a maximum of 5 strokes in the last furlong. By standardising a number, this helps to save the horse although the ground jury should be vigilent and proactive in monitoring this.
So what is the final verdict on this? This argument is getting tiresome, top riders need to still remember what their motive was for becoming a professional horse rider and for many I am sure it stems from the love of the horse. Whilst gadgets, such as the whip, is appropriate at times for reinforcing the aids and potentially saving a horse and rider from a sticky situation, for so many it is the go to option before using other aids. I think Townend made a mistake fueled by competitiveness and dare I say greed. But can we blame him? I don’t think we can be too harsh on Townend until we have $350,000 dangled in front of our noses. In this instance, the ground jury should be praised for their decision, it perhaps could have been easier to just dismiss Townend’s actions as he is a key rider at this competition. Gadgets, such as whips, are necessary for certain horses. As always it is important to remember that these gadgets are not extreme and if used effectively, can be helpful. It is important to use such things responsibly and effectively without allowing emotions to dictate your actions. This is the message that riders at the top of our sport should be projecting by a good demonstration. No official statement from Oliver Townend as of yet.
After the competition, Townend was faced with a question from the interviewer regarding the incident. His own reply to the camera was, “I can win prettily and I can win ugly, and that is why I am seven times British number one and world number one at the minute.”
Wow… well where do I start with this one… I am disgusted. I think this is a highly disappointing statement from his own lips. His egocentric attitude is appalling and a poor representation of our sport. Personally, I feel sad that he is supposedly the best representation of British Eventing.
Interestingly, the official statement released which I can assume was conjured by some PR guru, was totally different to what he actually said. “Having watched my Badminton cross-country rounds for the first time… I’m so disappointed and upset about the way I rode.” Why did it take watching back his round for him to decide this? He was in control of the whip, he knew how many times he used it.
Again, a disappointing incident and reaction from one of the best in the sport. I can only hope he learns and grows from this experience.