Decision on McLain Ward/Sapphire World Cup Lawsuit Expected This Week

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McLain Ward and Sapphire at 2008 Olympic Games. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
McLain Ward and Sapphire at 2008 Olympic Games. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

LEXINGTON, Kentucky, Apr. 26–A decision is expected this week on whether to pursue legal action on behalf of McLain Ward against the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) for disqualifying the American rider and his double Olympic gold medal horse Sapphire from the World Cup Final.

The U.S. Equestrian Federation leadership met with McLain and FEI officials in Lexington over the past two days, and is awaiting the decision of the FEI Tribunal on an appeal against the disqualification, which is expected this week.

In what has become one of the most controversial acts in the history of horse sport competition, the U.S. combination of McLain and the 15-year-old Belgian warmblood mare were disqualified on April 16 when leading overall after the second of three rounds of the World Cup Final in Geneva.

Although veterinarians who reported detecting hypersensitivity in one of Sapphire’s legs cleared McLain to compete the horse in the second round, the pair were disqualified after the American pair finished in second place and moving to the top of the leaderboard. The disqualification was declared retroactive by a procedure that could not be appealed and also effectively prevented McLain from competing a second horse in the third and final round.

Despite appeals by McLain, backed by the U.S. team veterinarian and U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) officials, for an immediate drug test and swab of Sapphire, that did not occur until after the Americans conducted their own testing.

After the FEI Tribunal said it had no authority to hear an appeal against the decision thus removing any hope for the American to ride in the Final, the USEF said it would consider what action to take.

The FEI has admitted that McLain and his team are not suspected of causing the hypersensitivity that was reported officially as being detected by FEI veterinarians in a thermographic test of Sapphire’s legs as well as a physical examination.

The FEI, in a statement to dressage-news.com, provided its sequence of events.

“There is a pending legal case and, unfortunately, for that reason, we are unable to go into detail as it is FEI’s policy not to comment on pending legal matters,”.

“However, you may be interested in the fact that Sapphire was jogged, i.e. she underwent the official horse inspection on Tuesday 13 April. This is compulsory for all horses competing in any FEI event in any discipline.

“It is, however, important to note that a trot up is not part of the FEI protocol for thermography and clinical inspection for hypersensitivity, which can be found in the 12th edition of the FEI Veterinary Regulations (Annex XI – Standard Method of Examination for Hypersensitivity of Legs, p.62). A protocol very similar to this one has been in use at FEI events since 2007 and has been known to riders and their veterinary advisers ever since. The current Veterinary Regulations including Annex XI were approved by the FEI General Assembly, i.e. by the National Federations affiliated to the FEI, in November 2009. The FEI thermography teams have worked at dozens of events and have tested many many horses.

“Urine and blood samples, along with leg swabs, were taken from Sapphire on Saturday morning pursuant to standard Medication Control Programme procedures. They, along with all the other samples collected at the Event, have been sent to the central FEI laboratory for analysis.

“Approximately 60 horses were tested for hypersensitivity in Geneva. That included all 42 World Cup horses, some of which were tested twice. Thirty-five horses were tested before Sapphire. No other horse was eliminated or disqualified for hypersensitivity in Geneva.”

The statement also referred to the news conference held by FEI President Princess Haya; Dr Paul Farrington, member of the FEI thermography team for the Geneva event; Sven Holmberg, FEI first vice president, and René Billardon, president of the ground jury, segments of which are on www.feitv.org..

Dr. Farrington explained that when the thermography test was conducted the class had already started and the ground jury was in the judges’ box, so the findings were not referred to ground jury at the time. He did not explain why McLain and Sapphire were allowed to compete in the condition the vets reported and that later were sufficient grounds to retroactively disqualify the pair. The purpose of thermography and other veterinary examinations was designed to prevent competing a horse that was in pain before the the class.