Operation X Documentary Causes Cascade of Anger, Indignation, Disapproval

Thu, 11/23/2023 - 00:13

The first episode of the highly anticipated undercover documentary "Operation X: Secrets of the Horse Billionaire" has been aired by the Danish commercial tv station TV2 on Wednesday evening 22 November 2023. It has caused a cascade of anger, indignation and disapproval and has led to an expected social media uproar.

Helgstrand tried preventing the broadcast via two court procedures as he disapproved of the undercover method, but lost in both instances.

TV2 has shared several short video clips of the documentary on two pages on its website: clips 1 - clips 2

St. Georg Summarizes

German equestrian magazine St. Georg was the first to publish a detailed summary of episode one, already at 16h00 before the official TV airtime. 

According to St. Georg the first part shows undercover footage of grooms taking care of and concealing traces of the horses' training: There are open spur wounds on the horse Devolution and whip marks on the horse Floss Dance. Undercover groom Rebekka learns that her fellow grooms cover up the spur marks with shoe polish when customers come and hide whip marks by blanketing horses. 

Horse being lunged, nose tied to chest
(Photo © TV2)
In a later section of the documentary horses are being shown, all ridden in draw reins. Some horses are spurred so hard that they jump into the reins, one rears, another crashes into the kickboard, another resists by going into rein-back. Several horses are ridden in a very tight frame, behind the vertical and pulled from left to right. One rider violently spurs the horse and kicks it with the heels for a few seconds. A horse is lunged with his nose tied so short to his chest andm ade to trot on a circle smaller than 10 m.

In another stable scene, a conversation takes place between Rebekka and another groom about the wounds in the mouth of horse Natural Spring. Rebekah asks her colleague whether she noticed the wounds. She says yes and explains that she has the horse all the time and that she puts ointment on it every day. This is the case with almost all horses. She also says: “Bonjour and Darwin bleed often. Devolution bleeds every now and then. Natural Spring bleeds all the time." The groom also says she spoke to the rider and told him he had to stop "doing it." He understood “some” of it. “Naxos bleeds all the time too. (…) I'm slowly getting used to him being harsh with the horses." It's not entirely clear who "he" is. Andreas Helgstrand is not seen riding in the undercover footage.

At the end Rebekka confronts Helgstrand with her story about the wounds and draw reins. Read what Helgstrand responded here

Read the full article here.


An avalanche of reactions flooded social media as soon as the documentary finished.

Several of Helgstrand's business partners took to SoMe to officially state that they disapprove of what has been shown despite having worked intimately with the sales yard for years. 

Andreas Helgstrand deleted his Facebook account, his official website www.helgstrand-dressage.com was down for a period of time but back online later in the evening.

Reaction: Danish Riding Instructor Association/DR-IF

The board of the Danish Riding Instructor Association held a meeting tonight and issued a statement. 

(Photo © TV2)
"The Danish Riding Instructor Association (DR-IF) looks with deep concern at the systematic violent riding that has been documented in the two Operation X broadcasts, and which appears to have taken place at Helgstrand Dressage. We wish to emphasize our commitment to promoting responsible and respectful handling of horses, as well as maintaining high standards of professional correctness within the equestrian sport."

DR-IF concluded that, "As a direct consequence of these serious violations, the board of the Danish Riding Instructor Association has decided to propose to the general meeting whether the parties involved should be excluded from the association. We believe this step is necessary to maintain the integrity of our organization and signal our unwavering commitment to animal welfare and ethical riding."

Read full statement here

Reaction: Danish Animal Welfare Reports Helgstrand to the Police

screen shot documentary
(Photo © TV2)
Dyrenes Beskyttelse, the Danish animal welfare society like RSPCA, has has reported Helgstrand Dressage, Andreas Helgstrand and the involved riders to the police for mistreatment of horses after seeing Operation X.

"At Dyrenes Beskytselse we are appalled by the documentary. The hidden recordings show that the horses at Helgstrand Dressage have been systematically treated in a way that is deeply worrying and goes against basic principles of responsible training and animal welfare. We believe that it has character of animal cruelty," says Yvonne Johansen, head of animal protection at Dyrenes Beskyttelse and veterinarian specializing in horses."

Full statement here.

Helgstrand Acknowledges Issues

At 20h00, at the time when the documentary aired, Helgstrand made a statement on Facebook.

(Photo © TV2)
"What we see in TV 2's footage makes a big impression on us. It is not okay. It is poor riding and treatment of horses that we do not want to see at Helgstrand Dressage. It does not live up to our guidelines and values, and it is not representative of our culture. We need to correct this. We can see that there has been a shift in our values, and it is our responsibility as leaders to ensure that our training and treatment of horses are done in the best possible way. We can see in the programs that this has not happened. We can and must do better."

Helgstrand further stated, "We can see that some of our training equipment has been used incorrectly in the recordings. It should guide and correct the horse, but it should never be used as punishment. We would like to make it clear that rollkur and excessive use of whip or draw reins are not accepted by us. The same applies to covering spur marks with colored cream. Therefore, we have made it clear that no form of colored cream is accepted by us. We acknowledge that our horses may occasionally have sores in the mouth. This can be from biting themselves in the mouth or the tongue or grinding their teeth. That said, no horse should be ridden with sores that require care and rest. We have since introduced a thorough check of our horses every 14 days, where our stable managers assess the physical and mental condition of the horses.

Read full statement here

Related Links
TV2 Wins Appeal in Operation X Court Case Filed by Helgstrand
Operation X Scheduled to be Aired, Pending Appeal Court Decision
Danish Equestrian World in Turmoil as Ethics of National Federation Are Questioned
Aalborg Court Denies Helgstrand's Request for Injunction Against Operation X
Helgstrand and Operation X Meet in Aalborg Court
Helgstrand Files Injunction and Presses Charges with Police Against TV2
Helgstrand Issues Pre-Emptive Statement on Danish Documentary with Undercover Footage
Rollkur Debate Flares Up Again in Denmark
Patrik Kittel Exonerated by FEI in Blue Tongue Scandal