Controversial Photos Cast Shadow Over Olympic Dressage

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Steward keeping watch over Olympic dressage training arena at Greenwich Park in London. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LONDON, Aug. 5–Photos showing Patrik Kittel riding his horse Scandic with his head pulled to the chest became a controversy at the Olympic equestrian venue Sunday, two days before the team medal final whose format has created perhaps the most exciting Olympic dressage Nations Cup ever.

Internet sites in several countries posted the photos taken by a German photographer on assignment for a magazine that for several years has targeted training methods used primarily in the Netherlands. Patrik trains with Dutch team coach, Sjef Janssen.

Coupled with a misquote of Patrik by the London Olympic official news service, the issues raised by the photos was a major topic of conversation by riders and their coaches returning to full training ahead of the Grand Prix Special Tuesday which will decide the team medals.

Great Britain leads the competition after the Grand Prix, led by an Olympic record score by Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro of 83.663 per cent, that shattered the previous mark of 76.417 per cent set by Isabell Werth and Satchmo of Germany at the 2008 Games. Germany is second by only a narrow margin with the Netherlands third.

To illustrate the evolution of dressage–whether quality of horses, riders, changed judging standards–the top seven placings in the Grand Prix last week exceeded that 2008 Beijing Olympics mark. In addition to Charlotte, 26, and the 10-year-old KWPN gelding, the other combinations were the Netherlands’ Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival, Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill and Kristina Sprehe of Germany, Carl Hester and Laura Bechtolsheimer, British team mates of Charlotte, and Steffen Peters and Ravel of the United States. In fact, the average of the three riders from the top three teams, Britain, Germany and Holland, was higher than Isabell’s score from four years ago.

The photos of Patrik Kittel and Scandic were not posted on dressage-news.com because this correspondent has been at numerous training sessions with all the teams and individuals and did not personally witness any riding that was outside the normal bounds of training. No photographer other than the German who made them available was known to have captured similar images.

Dressage-news.com also opted not post similar photos of Totilas ridden by Matthias Alexander Rath of Germany that were made available at the Horses & Dreams Meets Great Britain CDI4* in Hagen, Germany, in April as this correspondent was also present but did not witness the same moments so could not vouch for their accuracy or whether the image reflected a brief moment or prolonged activity.

The FEI said in a statement from Trond Asmyr, dressage director:

“We completely agree that the pictures are unattractive, but we have spoken to the Stewards who were monitoring the session and they have clearly confirmed that Patrik Kittel was not in breach of the rules as he only maintained the horse’s head and neck in that position for very short periods. The rules state that ‘deliberate extreme flexions of the neck involving either high, low or lateral head carriages, should only be performed for very short periods. If performed for longer periods the steward will intervene’.”

Some dressage riders and trainers complained the statement was weak in its defense of training practices that the stewards admitted was in accordance with the rules.

Others pointed to a double standard in the treatement of dressage and jumper horses, where dressage horses were in training on the same show grounds where jumpers were competing in the first Olympic team qualifying event.

A German jumper horse competing in the Olympic team competition with tack that is not allowed on dressage horses,. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Further, comments made by riders after their competition appearance are reported by the official Olympic news service.

The official release quoted Patrik Kittel as saying after his ride on Scandic in the Grand Prix: “I was happy–but he (horse Scandic) is still s–t on piaffe.”

Both Patrik and independent reporters who were present when he made his remarks said he was misquoted.

The reporters were unanimous in quoting him that he was generally happy with the ride but not with the piaffe and added the commonly used phrase, “s–t happens.”

Stewards were present in force Sunday at the dressage training site in Greenwich Park, the site of Olympic equestrian sports that has become a favorite of both fans and the media around the world for its setting amidst stately trees and with a panoramic views of the city of London just minutes away on the subway.

Patrik ws the center of a controversy three years ago when a video showed him warming up a competition and what appeared to be a “blue tongue” of the horse allegedly caused by tightness of the noseband.

The Grand Prix Special starts at 10 a.m. local time (1100 Central European Time/5 a.m. US Eastern Time) Tuesday with a mix of individual combinations as well as seven teams each with three riders that advanced from the Grand Prix–with Great Britain in the lead followed by Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, United States, Spain and Sweden.

Meantime, hundreds of fans from around the world who paid top prices for Olympic tickets bought from an official sales site had their tickets canceled or were turned away from competition venues because, the London Organizing Committee claimed, the tickets were re-sold to an official re-seller site by a Norwegian Olympic official in violation of the rules.

Brett Raflowitz of Palm City, Florida, was among those who paid several thousand dollars for equestrian jumping tickets and thousands more to bring his wife and two children to Greenwich Park for the equestrian event.

An official statement said that British authorities confiscated the tickets and invalidated those already issued because the sale was in violation of their rules.

The seats that were assigned to the tickets were empty during the event.

The statement said that a court will hear the case in about a week, possibly too late for several hundred purchasers to see the events they paid for.

It is not known whether the purchasers will get their money back.