A second British rider is at the centre of a social media storm over whip abuse.

Show jumper Ben Talbot, 32, who is based in the Netherlands was expelled from a four-star show in Germany at the weekend after striking his horse, Everglade six times when the grey refused.

The incident occurred at the Gros Viegeln show, organized by leading rider Holger Wulschner, who has made the following statement

"During the two-phase jumping competition there was a disturbing scene in the big arena. British (rider) Ben Talbot punished his horse Everglade with such hardness that he was called directly to the judges box." The Judges with Rob Hatz, Peter-Jürgen Nissen and Bent Schultz and show master Holger Wulschner agreed immediately. Talbot was expelled from the tournament. "I have absolutely no understanding for this behavior", stressed Wulschner. "We have to make a clear position and draw signs." Viewers welcomed this quick and clear decision with loud applause."

Since this incident, there have been social media demands for both the FEI and British Showjumping to take action. The FEI is reviewing eventing whip rules following the furore over Oliver Townend at Badminton. Talbot also jabbed the nine-year-old in the mouth as he rode away from the fence, after the commentator asked him to stop and visit the judges’ box immediately.

“It was a reaction from anger, it should never have happened. I care a lot about my horses and they always come first to me. I understand very well that I was wrong. For now, we are waiting for the consequences.”

“I am very sad and sorry for what happened this weekend. My reaction was wrong and there are no words ..., as most of my friends know I love my horses.”

Both the FEI and British Showjumping have been asked for comment.

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Sometimes when something bad happens it can be a force for good so we're really hoping that the recent outcry over Oliver Towend's overuse of the whip during the cross country phase of Badminton Horse Trials 2018 will bring about a change to eventing rules and attitudes toward the use of the whip on horses in general.

This year’s Badminton highlighted the fact that the current rules in eventing don't go far enough to protect the welfare of the horse. So, one suggestion is for British Eventing and the FEI to introduce more stringent rules, suspensions and fines similar to those that were introduced into British horse racing when it came under pressure from the public to protect horses from being beaten to the finishing line. This seems particularly pertinent now in view of the new eventing scoring system which has put more emphasis on fast cross country times.

Obviously new rules would have to be tailor made for eventing but here's a brief intro to British Horseracing Authority rules….

The permitted number of uses of the whip with hands off the reins is 7 time for Flat races and 8 times for Jumps race. Additionally, 'Provided that the manner in which the whip had been used was measured, Stewards may choose to disregard occasions when the whip has been used in the following circumstances:
Flat races
a) To keep a horse in contention or to maintain a challenging position prior to why would be considered the closing stages of a race.
b) To maintain a horse's focus and concentration.
c) To correct a horse that is noticeably hanging.
d) Where there is only light contact with the horse
additionally for Jump Races
e) Following a mistake at an obstacle
f) To correct a horse that is running down an obstacle.

Stewards may be less tolerant should a rider use the whip 8 times or more in a Flat race or 9 times or more in a Jump race:

a) When the horse is young or inexperienced.
b)When a rider continues to use the whip when not being directly challenged for a finishing position.
c) When a rider fails to recognise that his use of the whip is not having the intended effect.

If you listened to Ian Stark's commentary for the BBC's coverage of Badminton you will have heard him justify the use of the whip on quite a few occasions. In fact when Oliver Townend gave his horse Cooley SRS three smart smacks on the rump on their way to the Shogun Hollow, Ian Stark said,  “OK, so he smacked the horse but he is actually getting the horse's attention and concentration. He wasn't beating the horse up, it was actually doing a bit of good, getting the combination thinking together.”

This of course is the view that a lot of equestrians maintain - the whip is actually necessary for horse and rider safety when jumping big obstacles.

However, there are some people who argue we should go even further, much further. One of these is Mark Smith, a very experienced horseman who has evented to international level  and heads up the Bitless not Brainless team chasing team. He also specialises in re-training ex-racehorses and teaching confident, more effective and therefore safer riding cross country. For more of that, read one of our previous posts HERE.

Mark proposes that Badminton Horse Trials 2019 should put itself at the forefront of horse welfare by dropping the whip completely, making eventing the first equestrian sport to do so. Yes, your jaw may have also dropped on reading this, but stay with us because his arguments are very interesting.

"Badminton,' says Mark, 'is our worldwide showcase for the best riders and horses in eventing. For horses and riders to qualify for Badminton they have to be the best in the world and their horses will be used to jumping big and scary obstacles. There won't be much out there that they haven't seen before, well at least something very similar.”

According to Mark, at this elite level, it shouldn't be necessary to use a whip for 'safe' jumping.

"There are only 3 reasons why a horse would refuse a jump at Badminton…"

1. The horse is hurting, in which case it is totally unacceptable to use the whip.
2. The horse is exhausted (many horses won't have encountered a course as long as Badminton, so it's not his fault their fault if they're not fit enough) in which case it is totally unacceptable to use a whip.
3. The rider has screwed up the approach to the fence, so again, it is totally unacceptable to use the whip!"

Mark isn't against competitors carrying a whip at novice level events but insists "Most top trainers agree that the whip has one use only and that is to make the horse go faster. Horses aren't like humans, they haven't the capacity to link crime and punishment. We need to look at things from the horse's point of view and train them so that they volunteer to do the right thing by taking away the wrong thing. We shouldn't be bullying them into it. For instance if a horse stops at a skinny, I put wings at each side, get him confident, then take them away. So, I've taken away the wrong option and let him think he's become a volunteer. I truly believe that people don't want to watch a horse being press-ganged into doing what their rider wants and would rather see that horse enjoying itself.

"As for elite equestrian events, they want to see the best that horse and rider can be and feel sickened when they see a rider asking too much of their horse and beating it. If Badminton banned the whip it would be an opportunity for them to showcase skill and harmony between horse and rider. This could be the best thing that's happened in equestrian sport for a long time."

Is Mark's proposition that Badminton 2019 leads the way and places a total ban on carrying a whip, a step too far? Would you prefer to see a change to eventing rules similar to those in horse racing- or don't they go far enough? Maybe you think a winning rider in breach of the rules should also lose their placing in the results? We'd love your views on this very controversial subject. One thing's for sure, no change is simply not good enough!

If you want to sign Mark's petition then click HERE.

For more info on British Horseracing Authority rules, and penalties click HERE.


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One minute you're sitting pretty at the top of your game and the next, it's all turned ugly! That about sums up the last week of Oliver Townend's eventing career, from Kentucky to Badders. It's tough to get to the top and it can be even tougher to stay there. As the Billy Ocean song goes, " When the Going Get's Tough, the Tough Get Going.' We know that it takes grit and determination to rise to the top of any sport but when animals are involved the less attractive side of ambition can be amplified. 

The reactions of most spectators to Oliver Townend's use of the whip on Badminton's Cross Country day ranged from 'uncomfortable' to 'appalled'. The sudden onset of hot weather married with 'holding' ground meant that a lot of horses were really tiring near the end of the course and had to be coaxed home. A lot of riders did this sympathetically but Townend was seen giving Ballaghmor Class in particular, quite a few smacks plus waving of his whip to drive him home. When we watched the cross country action live on the BBC it certainly wasn't a pretty picture. In his interview with Clare Balding afterwards Townend said that he'd had to work hard on his young horse who was prone to being nappy and was playing up a bit on the way home. Re-watching the footage, Ballaghmor Class actually didn't look as fatigued as many of the other horses and so maybe he did just have his mind on other things.  Cooley SRS who he rode at the beginning of the day, didn't look too tired as he finished and both horses certainly looked good in the jumping phase so certain claims that he was beating unfit exhausted horses home is probably an overwrought response.

Event rider Oliver Townend wearing black top and riding protector with black riding helmet on a bay horse jumping a stone wall at Badminton Horse TrialsOliver Townend on the XC course riding Cooley SRS at Badminton Horse Trials, 2018

You know your horse is talented, you've got your eye on the grand slam and a huge cash prize, new scoring changes have meant that your cross country time is even more crucial than before so it's easy to see that if your steed then decides he'd rather be back in his box munching hay, you might feel impelled to dissuade him! …..and under pressure, in full view of the equestrian world, Oliver Townend did just that with rather too many thwacks and waves of his whip. 

Now, we're not condoning what he's done but let's face it, many of us riders have made errors of judgement especially in the heat of the moment that we regret. There are probably plenty of his critics who definitely shouldn't be throwing stones! On the other hand it's quite right that we demand better of our equestrian heroes; they are supposed to inspire us and when they are flawed, we are disappointed. This has meant that Oliver Townend has received on top of the official warning from the Badminton ground jury, a social media whipping which can create it's own version of ugly. 

Becoming an online critic, doesn't necessarily make you a better horseman than Townend because it doesn't. As he himself has said in his apology. 

"I fully accept the warning I received. My competitive instincts got the better of me and I will work hard to improve in this area.


"I try hard to give my horse the best ride possible. I try to be as fit as possible, to be as light as I can be, to sit as still as I can, to get them on the best strides and take-off points to minimise the energy they have to waste."

These are a list of the positive factors that have got him to be the eventing world's number one rider. This is why horses will do what they do for him. Remember, 'To err is human….' and very few of us are without fault. Hopefully Townend has learnt from this, now let's leave him to get on with becoming the best rider we want him to be.

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It’s not a light saber but may be the closest thing for horse riders: A new flashing horse crop has earned recognition at the BETA trade show in the UK. 

The Gizahand LED whip was highly commended in the Safety and Security section of the British Equestrian Trade Association Innovation awards last week in Birmingham.

The whip with LED light is highly visible to road users and charged using a USB port, providing constant light for 10 hours, flash mode for 14 and flashlight for 20. Various colours and sizes are available.

BETA judges said it was “a simple but clever idea that fulfils safety criteria. It could be expanded to different types of whip.”...READ MORE

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Tuesday, 24 November 2015 14:41

Are you harming your horse by using a whip?

Good horsemanship sees the whip as an extension of the leg, an aid to help enhance and control your horse’s performance. Using a whip whilst riding is fairly harmless, or is it?

New research by Dr Lydia Tong, veterinary pathologist from Sydney University, has shown that horses may feel pain in similar ways that we do.

This begs the question, Are you harming your horse by using a whip?

Dr Tong compared sections of horse and human skin, taken from the same physical area, the flank. It’s been discovered that the supposed “thicker skinned” horse is much more physically sensitive than we all thought. The top layer of the skin where the pain sensing fibres are, is thinner in the equine specimen than this part of the human skin.

From this we must question whether it is morally acceptable to use whips in the same way as the overall thickness of horse and human skin differs by just 1mm.

With this new information we can see that the pain felt being on the receiving end of a thwack from a whip is arguably very similar in the cases of both horses and humans. Dr Tong affirms that, as horses are prey animals, they are more likely to shield their pain;

“If a prey animal shows its pain very overtly, they are more likely to then be noticed and picked out by a predator".

Therefore, your horse may be hiding the stinging aftermath of a quick tap on the rump because of their base position in the food chain, not because it doesn’t hurt them.

This new research has brought into play a whole raft of questions about whip use in the equestrian world.

We’ve all been there, where the use of a whip seems necessary, in the case of a young horse in training or a big old cob who drags his/ her feet a bit. But sometimes just carrying a whip is enough to give your horse the boost he/she needs to work to the best of their ability, alternatively, padded whips can help in softening the blow so to speak.

Perhaps riders should think twice about using the whip and get those legs going instead!

What are your thoughts?

Megan McCusker


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