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Rio Olympics Horse Care: Jonathan Paget's Clifton Lush Withdrawn from Eventing

Stable accident prompts decision to allow horse to rest

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New Zealand eventing team member Jonathan Paget (above) trotted his horse Clifton Lush in today's horse inspection leading up to tomorrow's first day of eventing dressage. Later, the team announced the horse and rider had withdrawn from the competition.

Remember that time a sharp metal edge appeared out of nowhere in your barn and your horse was cut? The vet came and stitched him up. He was fine, but when the weekend came and it was time to go to the show, you decided at the last minute to stay home, and let him heal up. 

We’ve all been there. In spite of the best-laid plans, the safest barns, and horses covered in blankets, leg wraps and hoods, accidents still happen.

Now imagine that you’ve made the Olympic team. You’re thousands of miles from home. And in the flash of a second, your horse is cut.

Yes, he’s stitched up. His fitness isn’t affected. Should he be withdrawn? New Zealand team horse Clifton lush was presented this morning and passed the horse inspection. But in the best interest of the horse, the decision was made to put him back in his stall for the rest of the Games.

That’s what happened in Brazil this morning. New Zealand’s Jonathan Paget, the horse’s owners and team officials made the painful decision to withdraw a supremely fit team horse for a cut on his cheek. Clifton Lush is back in the barn.

This is the New Zealand-bred Thoroughbred that Paget rode to a sixth place finish at Badminton Horse Trials in England back in May; they were third there in 2015. This is the rider who finished tenth at the London 2012 Games, helping earn a Team Bronze for his country.

All of the New Zealand horses arrived in Rio healthy, sound and ready to compete, but earlier this week Clifton Lush cut his cheek on a pipe outside the stable that had somehow become exposed during the night, according to a team dispatch.

The cut required suturing and the vets have been happy with his progress. Under expert supervision, Clifton Lush has been kept in work all week and had been training well. The 17-year-old ex-racehorse is owned by Frances Stead and Lucy Allison.

However, despite the positive daily progress, it was decided that “the horse should be given further time to heal to make a full recovery”, according to the team’s official announcement.

“Obviously it is very disappointing for me and Clifton Lush’s owners but we’ve decided this is best for the horse,” said Paget. “It’s been a real team effort from the Rio 2016 Veterinary Hospital and our own vet Christiana Ober – they have all given Lush exceptional care and attention.”

Paget hasn’t had the best of times and the worst of times since the London Olympics. In spite of consistently outstanding results on the international stage, he was suspended from national and international eventing by the FEI in October 2013 in a strange violation event. Paget’s Olympic horse Clifton Promise tested positive for a banned substance. The rider maintained his innocence and, when his horse's B sample tested clean, was cleared of all wrongdoing 10 months later.

New Zealand and Paget certainly evaluated the choices before them. Any horse owner can weigh the "what if's" of this situation. The most stress on the horse would be the cross-country phase, still several days away. How much would the horse heal by then? Would the rubbing of the bridle or reins, or brushing against obstacles or tree branches affect the wound? What if the horse starts to rub his leg or a stall door with his face as the cut heals?

FEI “blood rules” for eventing are less demanding than in dressage, but would Olympic officials frown if something went wrong out on the course? And how does a horse with a known, if minor, injury fit into the picture of horse welfare perceptions? Surely these and many other “what if” questions floated in the air over the stables.

As a result, the Team announced that traveling reserve Tim Price will join his wife Jonelle, Sir Mark Todd and Clarke Johnstone as the fourth team member for New Zealand.

Price will start on the 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse Ringwood Sky Boy, who has had strong recent 4* form. The gelding is sired by the Irish-based Holsteiner Cougar II. THey were fourth at Luhmühlen this year and second at Burghley in 2015.

Equestrian Sports New Zealand high performance director Sarah Dalziell-Clout described Price, who is currently #4 on the FEI’s world ranking of event riders, and Ringwood Sky Boy as “an exciting and experienced combination”.

He will trail-blaze for the team, followed by Todd aboard Leonidas II, Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation and Jonelle Price aboard Faerie Dianimo.

“This is a very strong team who we are confident will do us all proud,” said Dalziell-Clout in the Team announcement.

All five New Zealand horses passed the first inspection this morning.

For Price, the switch is bitter-sweet.

“I am really proud to make the team, but it’s disappointing that it comes off the back of the misfortune of my team-mate Jock and his connections,” said Price in the team statement.

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Thanks to Diana Dobson, Team New Zealand, Getty Images, and the FEI for assistance with this article.