The FEI Tribunal has issued its Final Decision in the horse abuse case against Brazilian Dressage athlete Leandro Aparecido Da Silva, who was filmed riding and mistreating his daughter’s very small pony last year.
Three Year Suspension
Under the terms of the Final Decision, the FEI Tribunal has imposed a three-year period of ineligibility on the athlete. A fine of CHF 5,000 and costs of CHF 2,000 were also imposed.
Video footage of the abuse was widely shared on social media and the athlete publicly acknowledged that it was him riding the pony in the video.
No Sanctions from Brazilian FN
In September 2020, the Brazilian Equestrian Sport Tribunal (“Superior Tribunal de Justiça Desportiva do Hipismo Brasileiro”) issued a decision that they had no jurisdiction in this case as it was an out-of-competition incident.
As a result, the FEI opened separate disciplinary proceedings against Da Silva in accordance with Article 30 of the Internal Regulations of the FEI Tribunal for alleged breaches of Article 142 of the FEI General Regulations, which prohibits horse abuse.
Mr Jose A. Rodriguez Alvarez (MEX), Ms Harveen Thauli (CAN), and Ms Diane Pitts (USA) were on the FEI Tribunal for this case.
On 9 November 2020, Da Silva submitted an acceptance letter, accompanied by a video. In said video, he admitted the alleged infringements, and accepted the sanctions proposed by the FEI, i.e. an 18-month suspension and a CHF 2’500. fine. He requested, however, that the fine be reduced.
Settlement discussions took place between the FEI and the Respondent, until 10 December 2020.
On 1 December 2020, Da Silva agreed to be suspended provisionally pending a decision of the Tribunal on his case. However, on 10 December 2020, he decided to refuse the FEI’s proposed sanctions, and requested that the case be submitted to the Tribunal for adjudication. Da Silva did not request an oral hearing since he is not fluent in English.
Request to Lower Fine
Da Silva decided to represent himself (“opted for self-defense”). He further indicated he lacked the financial means to hire a legal representative.
It is also for financial reasons that he requested that the fine be lowered, alleging receiving 925.00 Reais monthly, which equals 151,24 CHF (137 euro). The fine would thus equal, according to Da Silva, 16 months of the financial aid he receives from the Government. In support of his request, Da Silva indicated that the minimum salary of both countries (i.e. Switzerland and Brazil) should be compared: in Brazil, the minimum monthly salary is 1,045 Reais, which is roughly 177,58 CHF (160 euro). The fine in Swiss francs would therefore be around 25 times higher than in Reais.
Also, dressage – where Da Silva is active – has no prize money awards in Brazil, which makes it even more difficult to have a financially stable situation. The Respondent therefore concludes that those circumstances should be considered by the Tribunal when deciding the amount of the fine to be imposed on him.
Da Silva defended himself that the "correction" he applied to the pony was a "half-halt" and he claimed that the video showing the abuse "was misinterpreted by people who are unaware of the technique used."
The FEI Tribunal ruled on a CHF 5,000 and costs of CHF 2,000 as Da Silva did not submit any documents establishing his income or his financial situation. The mere reference to the minimum salary of Brazil in comparison to Switzerland is irrelevant without any supporting documents. During the proceedings, the FEI also requested the Respondent to submit any documents attesting his financial situation, which the Da Silva specifically refused to do.
The FEI considers that the following factors be taken into account when assessing the sanction to be imposed on Da Silva
- His offences were carried out deliberately
- The Respondent was riding a very small Pony, being an extreme overload for a Pony of such a size. Furthermore, he did so in a highly aggressive manner, jabbing the Pony’s mouth and pulling on the reins, and the Pony was rounded up and followed by a dog at the same time.
- The purpose of this riding was, in the FEI’s view, clearly to punish and/or cause fear to the allegedly misbehaving animal, which clearly amounts to an abusive training method
- A second video circulated on social media, where it can be seen that the same Pony is being ridden by the Respondent’s adult 20-years old son. At some point in this video, the son crashes into an obstacle because the Pony can barely jump the oversized obstacles with the weight of the rider on its back. As a consequence, the Pony suffered a dangerous, rotational fall and landed on its back. According to the FEI, an “unidentified by-stander” is laughing, and during the ride, the Pony is, once again, followed and rounded up by the dog. It is the FEI’s view that this video raises questions on whether the video, which is the object of the present proceedings, is truly a sole incident, or whether it was actually a common practice within the Respondent’s family. The FEI considers therefore that the video which gave rise to these proceedings is likely not to be a sole incident, which should also be taken into consideration for the sanctions to be imposed on the Respondent.
Following publication of the FEI Tribunal’s Final Decision, the parties have 21 days from the date of notification (19 April 2021) to appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The full text of the FEI Tribunal’s Final Decision on this case can be viewed here.
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