-- This editorial was first published in the Eurodressage Newsletter of 3 February 2024
I always try my best to send a newsletter on a weekly basis, but this time I couldn't muster the energy. I believe these mailings need to be something special by including a personal blog summarising my week. The past seven days my brain power and energy were sucked dry by time spent superintending social media.
I watched the World Cup qualifier in Amsterdam and was equally astounded by the mega high points the number one got just like a huge group on socials. The winning horse got 88% but showed a frame that was incorrect with a hollow back, tense mouth, nose behind the vertical and too hand-held overall. I got particularly ticked off by the amount of points she got for the halt. The one at entry was disobedient with the horse reversing (judge at C still thought that was a 5) and the end halt was not square (8s and 9s).
I was reflecting on what to write because the message the judges were sending with such scores are doing a disservice to the sport. Once more I felt obliged in my position as editor of Eurodressage to hammer in that harmony and training over the back should weigh more than expression and flashiness. But social media exploded and in all the ruckus such a message would get lost. An outburst of anger, indignation, and hate rolled over Facebook with accusations flying and personal attacks on the rider, which were distasteful and useless. Within 24 hours the tone of the debate had turned into wrath of biblical proportions. I had nothing to contribute to that noise and didn't write an article except infusing the FEI press release with one ironic statement.
Then Eurodressage posted a report of the Isabell Werth masterclass which was held at Helgstrand USA in Wellington. As soon as we saw the clinic advertised two weeks ago, we couldn't believe our eyes that the Queen of Dressage publicly endorsed Helgstrand in the wake of Operation X, the undercover documentary which exposed alleged systemic horse abuse in his barn. But then again, are we surprised? Werth has a barn full of Helgstrand horses and recently added the splendid Queenparks Wendy to her ranks. I wanted a reporter there as a witness and sent my trusty Carmen Franco, who does an excellent job extracting the educational essence out of clinics. The fact that she's a personal fan of Werth's riding proved to be problematic in the end, at least to the angry social media mob.
The SoMe Mob attacked the article like hyenas jumping a carcass. I got accused of "wrecking my own credibility", "supporting horse abuse", "turning a blind eye" (with all related Operation X articles linked in the piece) and "getting paid by Helgstrand". For them there is no middle road: I have two choices in my professional life - be a pawn in the Helgstrand army or a crusador in the Animal Liberation Front. If I don't boycot Helgstrand entirely I am personally responsible for maintaining the status quo.
After 170 comments, of which I probably deleted the 20 worst ones, I had enough and switched off the comments' section. That was a Catch-22: you then get accused of siding with the enemy, but you leave them on you create a platform for the most vile, polarised discussion, a mediaval stage for tarring and feathering the prey of the moment.
The energy-draining week ended with a whiplash, literally and figuratively. Olympian Cesar Parra got provisionally suspended by the FEI for alleged animal abuse after more then 70 media files spread on the internet depicting "disturbing and abhorrent images and videos in relation to his training techniques," as the FEI stated. I posted the news and closed the commentary on social media. Monitoring a third mosh pit in one week would turn me into a drained Gelfling.
Fortunately there is light in the darkness. I will head to Florida on Tuesday for some sunshine, social time with friends I care deeply for and hopefully great horse sport.
-- Astrid Appels
Gelfling drained from its life essence - Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal (1982)