Danish Associations and Former Team Trainer React on Social Licence to Operate Following Operation X

Thu, 11/23/2023 - 19:32

A few international dressage riders have posted reactions to the Operation X documentary and touched upon the social licence to operate and the future of equestrian sport. 

Danish team riders Carina Cassoe Kruth (who trains with Helgstrand) and Cathrine Dufour (who sells horses for Helgstrand) have both issued highly similar, redacted statements in Danish, echoing the words that others already made yesterday evening, condemning violence against horses and reflecting on one's own riding and relationship with horses.

The more interesting reactions of the day came from Danish (former) officials:

Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein: "We Must Take Responsibility"

Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein at the 2021 Europeans
Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, Denmark's former team trainer who was shown the door by the Danish equestrian federation as some Jutland based riders did not agree with her policies, posted on Instagram:

"We must take RESPONSIBILITY. Like many, I also watched OperationX yesterday. I am upset and saddened, distancing myself from the behavior towards animals and humans. But we all have a responsibility to look inward. This must never happen again, and we must take this seriously. Horses are amazing creatures that, with their nature, allow us to ride on their backs. Therefore, we also have the responsibility to protect their trust in us. We must become skilled at understanding how the horse’s body works and how to communicate with the horse on its terms! Violence or similar must never be used to force the horse into something it doesn’t understand or to diminish its worth. We have a responsibility."

Danish Warmblood Society Sits on the Fence

Also Danish warmblood society, who has worked very closely together with Helgstrand through stallions, foals, and breeding, has issued a statement. The DWB president Jan Pedersen, who has sold horse(s) through Helgstrand, however has decided to sit on the fence:

"Dansk Varmblod is actively involved in promoting correct and respectful riding and the presentation of mares and stallions at the association's awards and championships. Horse welfare is central to Danish Warmblood," was the opening statement.

Jan Pedersen, president of the Danish Warmblood society
Further into their press release, they added this, "the association showed a willingness to exclude riders who do not comply with the rules of the Danish Warmblood. Dansk Varmblod will of course follow the case closely. Helgstrand Dressage apparently has intentions to change their training methods and the culture on site, as they stated in the press release following the publication of the two broadcasts on TV2 Play. We naturally welcome that."

Danish Veterinarians' Association Calls for Self-Examination in Horse Industry

The Danish Veterinarians' Association (DDD) posted, "the documentary shows via hidden recordings how some horses are trained, which has given rise to severe concern and a strong call from the Danish Veterinary Association for self-examination in the horse industry. All players in the industry have a responsibility to ensure good horse welfare."

"The Danish Veterinary Association, which among other things represents Danish equine veterinarians, strongly distances itself from any form of riding where horses suffer physical or psychological harm, where equipment gives rise to wounds, and where incorrect use of aids causes discomfort to the horse under duress."

Ginnie Holmes Hørning, chairman of DDD's Working Group Horses, explained that, "in addition to obvious incorrect use of aids, there is also a need for self-examination in the horse industry about the methods used that compromise a horse's normal physiology," referring to rollkur.

Hørning stated, "as vets have an important role in articulating this and helping the industry to give the horse's welfare the highest priority. Our clear expectations are that the current attention from the public and the report from the Animal Ethics Council , which was issued earlier this year, will open up a positive development in the industry. Since the publication of the report, the horse industry has met regularly in the Horse Welfare Forum, where the issues raised are discussed.

Helgstrand Reacts to his Exclusion

This morning the Danish Equestrian Federation decided to exclude Andreas from the national team and all national team activities. 

Andreas Helgstrand in 2021
The rider, horse dealer, stallion owner, businessman and entrepreneur gave a first reaction to Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet

"I am sorry about the Danish Equestrian Federation's decision," Helgstrand told Ekstra Bladet. "I have always been proud to represent Denmark on the national team, which I did as recently as last weekend. I take my role in dressage very seriously. Helgstrand Dressage and I will now engage in constructive dialogue with the association about what we have learned from the documentary, how we have developed – and how we can get better together."

When asked about Danish Animal Welfare reporting him to the police, Helgstrand replied, "we are of course sorry about that, and Helgstrand Dressage is of course cooperating with the authorities in that matter. I would like to state that TV 2's recordings make a big impression on us. The way we train our horses is not right. This is bad and too hard riding, which does not live up to our guidelines and values ​​towards our horses."

Photos © Astrid Appels

Related Links
Danish Equestrian Federation Excludes Helgstrand from National Team and Team Activities
Operation X Documentary Causes Cascade of Anger, Indignation, Disapproval