I’m so confused. I imagine you are too, if you have taken in the latest statement from EC, which has the rather wordy title “Equine Canada Issues Clarified Statement Regarding Victor’s Disqualification.” You can find it here if you haven’t read it yet. I’ve already had an avalanche of emails from people who want to know what I think, but I have bad news for them. I just don’t know what to think. Let’s start with what I do know. I know that this is the statement EC should have issued in the first place. I also know that this statement would never have come out if i weren’t for Eric taking such a public stand, and for the hue and cry that ensued. Thank you to everyone who made your voices heard on this blog and elsewhere, and especially thank you to Bev Smith, Akaash Maharaj and Nancy Wetmore for doing your parts in getting the word out that EC had opted out of standing up for its athlete.
I guess the next thing to keep an eye on is whether or not Mike Gallagher walks it like he talks it. I think the most meaningful part of the latest statement is that the Canadian team vet Sylvie Suprenant has spoken out against Tiffany’s disqualification. Her voice should have been heard right from the get-go. I don’t want to go all glass-half-empty on you and say I think this is too little too late. If EC does indeed take a leadership role in compelling the FEI to reexamine its hypersensitivity protocol, then its neither too little nor too late. But if EC fails to follow through, then it’s just another wheelbarrow load of manure on the pile. And it’s already a big pile .
I was granted a long interview with FEI General Counsel (that means boss lawyer) Lisa Lazarus yesterday. I must confess I liked her much more than I expected to, not having met her before and knowing that she took an active role in such things as the Brazil and FEI vs. Dominican Republic dressage debacle. Lisa was knowledgeable and very willing to answer all my questions – none of that side stepping smoke and mirror show we got from Dr. Kent Allen in the press conference. Her answers gave me the impression she has given quite a lot of thought to some of the real issues around the protocol. For instance, she said the need for the protocol to address two issues – fair play and horse welfare – is inherently problematic. I agree entirely, and I also think the situation that arose this week is a perfect example of the problem: that we watched the disqualification of an innocent athlete and a horse that had an injury so minor that pre-thermography it would have gone completely undetected, to no one’s detriment.
Lisa explained the process of the thermography test and physical exam in great detail, and she dispelled the myth that the vets repeatedly poke the sensitive spot, in essence creating sensitivity by irritating it. They touch the legs all over, but they spend more time poking the non-sensitive areas, including poking another leg from the sensitive one in a similar area to see if the repetitive poking is contributing to the sensitivity. Lisa said two things that I think were of material significance:
1. The sensitivity Victor showed was quite clear cut. The four vets who examined him, and the President of the Ground Jury did not have difficulty determining that he had an area of abnormal sensitivity where the scratch was.
2. The location of the scratch, on the front of the hoof, was critical in their decision to disqualify. If he had a scrape on the bulb of the heel, for example, they would not have disqualified him since that part of the leg never comes into contact with a rail in the normal course of jumping.
I asked Lisa if she believed that the current protocol is as good as it can possibly get, and she responded that one could never say that any rule or protocol is as good as it could be. I think you can agree with my logic that if she means what she said, then the FEI should be willing to re-examine the hypersensitivity protocol AND be willing to make changes if improvements can be identified. A certain very annoying colleague sits next to me every day and provokes me with difficult questions, one of which is this: what is the way to improve the protocol so that an innocent athlete doesn’t get eliminated?
Tiffany’s disqualification was an incredibly unfortunate event for her, for the team, her family and supporters, as well as for every Canadian show jumping fan. Just how unlucky was it that Victor scraped the front of his leg? He’s only the eighth horse to be disqualified by thermography testing since it came into use in 2009. That’s very, very unlucky.
I’m still appalled that Mike Gallagher sent out that ridiculous statement a few days ago. He could have saved himself a barge load of grief by getting to the right answer via the direct route. But he didn’t, and that illustrates the kind of poor judgment and mistaken priorities that should make every single EC member question how our federation is being governed. As one commenter wrote last night, the EC Board can be fired through a non-confidence vote of its members. If only we could get enough of EC’s members to give enough of a rat’s ass maybe we could turn this crisis into opportunity. But it would take more than signing on a dotted line. There would have to be a new group of people with the right skills and right reasons to want to turn the ship around.
Now, if it’s ok with you, I’d like to stop thinking about this theatre of the absurd and enjoy some freestyles. I really, really wish Ashley had made it in and it goes without saying that she does too. She was really beating herself up about the pirouettes in the GP Special the other day. They may or may not have cost her a spot in the top 18 today, but they were also the only thing that was not super in the test. Edward has shown signs of greatness this past week, and I expect to see him climbing up into the mid-seventies in the very near future.
Try as I might to stay out of trouble and go to bed early, it has been impossible to do so. It’s just too darn much fun to spend the evenings out and about in Greenwich. For atmosphere I would say it combines the best of a WEG with the best of an Olympics, plopped right into the heart of a great city. Last night things got so rowdy at the normally serene Davy’s Wine Bar that they stopped serving drinks early, probably in an effort to get rid of a table full of Russians sitting behind us. These Russians seemed to have lost the power of normal speech. Instead of talking to one another, they just sang song after song at each other at the tops of their lungs. The drunk Irish (imagine that) nearby decided to try a sing-off, but the Russians shouted them down with a booming Kalinka that shook my fillings loose. The only moment of quiet was when I donned the rubber horse head Jenn Ward’s fiance brought me to use as a prop for my Low-Down blog, and everyone fell silent to stare at my sudden transformation from human to Harriet the Talking Horse.
Poor Pedro has been so stifled in his wardrobe here. The Olympics won’t let him wear anything but his official uniform, which is identical to those worn by the officials. The other morning I went through security with him, and he had a bowler hat he was hoping to get away with wearing. But when the live video camera caught him at the in-gate escorting a rider into the arena, he was back in the official Olympic straw trilby/fedora. But when the Games are done for the day, Pedro gets his revenge, walking the streets in the outrageous outfits for which we all know and love him.