US Jumping Team Vet Responds to FEI Disqualification of McLain Ward’s Sapphire, Top US Horse in World Cup Finals: ” This decision has been made in haste”

by Fran Jurga | 17 April 2010 | The Jurga Report at

Background: At the World Cup Finals in showjumping, being held in Geneva, Switzerland this week, FEI veterinary officials disqualified the leading showjumping horse in the United States. Sapphire, ridden by McLain Ward, was leading the competition at the time of the disqualification. Please read last night’s report for the FEI’s statement on Sapphire’s disqualification.

Sapphire is a 15-year-old Belgian Warmblood who has consistently led US showjumping team efforts in international events. She and her rider has earned two Olympic gold medals for the United States and a silver medal at the 2006 World Equestrian Games.

While the FEI alleges no wrongdoing on the part of McLain Ward at this time, the circumstances surrounding the horse’s disqualification are coming under scrutiny.

On Saturday afternoon, the following statement came in from the USEF office in Lexington, Kentucky regarding this event. Again, please read the FEI’s report for the sequence of events, then Dr. Ober’s statement will make more sense.

The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) held a press conference April 17, 2010 in Geneva and issued the following as part of a statement by US Team Veterinarian, Dr. Tim Ober (photo, left, courtesy of Hoofcare & Lameness Journal):

The FEI has indicated that Sapphire is being disqualified for what they allege is hypersensitivity of the left fore limb.

Here are the facts:

1. Sapphire’s performance over the last two days was not unusual in any way. In fact, she produced the same result – 2 clear rounds – in the last World Cup Final in 2009.

2. The FEI’s own Press Release acknowledges Sapphire was fit to compete last night based on an examination conducted prior to entering the ring.

3. The horse was examined a second time after the class with the same findings. At this point the horse was determined unfit to compete and disqualified. The FEI produced no authenticated, objective, qualitative test substantiating their claim and declined to conduct a normal MCP control including swabbing despite McLain’s request that they do so immediately. In fact, thermography testing on both occasions indicated no abnormality.

4. This decision has been made in haste and in an irreversible way. In my opinion this decision was incorrect, subjective and unsubstantiated. Having known Sapphire for several years – the horse is in normal form and is fit to compete.

More information will be posted on The Jurga Report as it becomes available.

Background from USEF (unedited): The Ground Jury of the 2010 Rolex/FEI World Cup Final in Geneva, Switzerland disqualified US jumping horse, Sapphire; in the early hours of April 17 (CEST) after her runner-up finish in the second leg of the competition with rider McLain Ward. The grounds for disqualification was hypersensitivity of the horse’s leg.

Sapphire was selected for hypersensitivity testing before she jumped in the class and according to the FEI Press Release: Following the examination, (FEI Veterinarian) Dr Farrington informed Dr Ober (US Show Jumping Team Veterinarian) and the two grooms that were present at the test that the horse was showing sensitivity in its left foreleg but that it was fit to compete at that time.

Sapphire jumped to second place in the class and to the overall lead in the competition and was retested following the completion of the class with both thermography and by clinical examination. Three veterinarians re-examined the horse (Dr Paul Farrington, Foreign Veterinary Delegate Dr Emile Welling (BEL) and Dr Markus Mueller (SUI)) and made the recommendation to the Ground Jury to disqualify her based on the fact that she was unfit to take any further part in the competition.

The FEI Press Release further stated that Dr Farrington made it very clear in his finding that there was no indication or evidence of any malpractice by McLain Ward or any member of the team.

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