It’s Not About the Whip: FEI Suspension, Fine for USA’s Michael Morrissey for Excessive Whip Use

The Artemision Jockey, National Archeological Museum, Athens, Greece, circa 150 B.C.; ?photo by Sarah Murray. The perfectly balanced African boy jockey once held a whip in his right hand. The statue was lost for almost 2000 years, found in pieces in the sea in the 1930s, and only recently reconstructed. The whip was left to the imagination. This is one of the oldest surviving bronze statues from antiquity.

Note: For background on this article, please watch the video and read the report on The Jurga Report from April 13, 2010. The video has now been viewed more than 60,000 times on YouTube.

The FEI also announced on Friday that its 90-day suspension was retroactive to the date of the USEF suspension. Morrissey can actually start competing again less than a month from the FEI’s decision. Much has been written about this case by people with more insight than I have into possible reasons why this case was handled, not handled, or mishandled as it was, on both sides of the Atlantic. Until Friday, I was of the opinion that this story was not so much about Michael Morrissey and his whip as it was about the ground jury that didn’t act when it should have. I also wondered why the audience didn’t boo Morrissey right out of the arena. The members of the ground jury were reprimanded by the FEI, but were not punished. To the FEI’s credit, it has published the Tribunal’s five-page report on the Internet. In that transcript, you can read Morrissey’s self-defense for his repeated whipping of the horse, including: “…that the Horse showed no signs of distress or injury when leaving the arena.” The horse wasn’t hurt when it left the arena? Perhaps that is true, but Morrissey whipped something more than his poor horse that night in Wellington. He whipped the reputation of the horse show world. It made a Triple Crown of embarrassing horsemanship that started back with eventing’s Amy Tryon spurring on the injured Le Samurai in order to get across the finish line at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2007, only to be followed by the blue-tongue rollkur dressage video from Europe in 2009 and now Morrissey’s whipping outburst in front of an audience in Wellington. In each case, the public was shocked and called for justice in the name of the horses. In each case, the rider rode on–in Amy Tryon’s case, even to represent her country in the Olympics the following year. Morrissey’s lack of a defense other than to say he didn’t hurt the horse is like the defense of a child who knocks over a vase of flowers on a mahogany table. The mark on the table is unmistakable. “But the vase didn’t break,” the child will insist, ignoring the stain and the ruined tabletop. I was reminded of Ellen DeGeneres’ p.r. nightmare with the shelter puppy she gave away, breaking her adoption contract. Somehow, she turned that lemon into lemonade. Every time I go to the post office, I see her face on the poster for the new animal shelter postage stamps. She turned the situation around and became the hero of shelter dogs. Morrissey, like Tryon before him, had a chance to be a hero but he never faced the American public and explained himself or offered what he would do to make the situation or himself better for the experience. The scars show up on the public’s perception of what horse show people are like and how they treat their animals. The scars probably show on the public’s somewhat tepid purchase of World Equestrian Games tickets. The scars are on all of us who are trying to make the horse world better, and are eternally stuck with the Le Samurai tragedy, blue tongue dressage and now Morrissey’s whip to explain away, if not apologize for, in the face of the public’s growing skepticism for equestrian “sport”.

The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the world governing body of horse sports,? announced on Friday that it has imposed a suspension and fine on US rider Michael Morrissey following an investigation begun only when a public outcry rose over the repeated whipping of his horse during the US Equestrian Federation’s World Equestrian Games selection trial for show jumping this winter in Florida. The FEI’s announcement comes on the heels of a quietly-imposed USEF suspension and fine on the rider that began in May.

The full text of the FEI’s decision on Morrisseyis available for download on the FEI web site.

by Fran Jurga | 12 July 2010 | The Jurga Report at
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