Emotions ran high--or should I say low?--today at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park outside Lexington, Kentucky. What should have been a beautiful day for the finals of the Team Dressage Grand Prix, aka Nations Cup, turned cold and a little uncertain when one of the great stars and a leading contender for an individual medal was disqualified.
And not just disqualified, but stopped in the midst of performing her test in front of the audience.
Adelinde Cornelissen of The Netherlands was the third rider for her country; her country was in the lead and she would be followed by superstar Moorlands Totilas, ridden by Edward Gal. Her score was hovering around 80 on the scoreboard when the ground jury represented interrupted her and asked her to halt after she had completed her reinback.
Asked about it later, the rider said that she thought she might have been performing the wrong test.
As it turned out, the horse had bitten the very tip of his tongue during warmup. During the performance, a small amount of blood mixed with his saliva and was noticed by the Ground Jury. It is their obligation to halt a rider if this observation is made. Subsequent examination by the Dutch veterinarian showed a very minor injury; the bleeding had stopped completely by the time the horse was back in the stabling area.
Ground jury member Stephen Clarke commented that having to deliver the news to Cornelissen that she must half "the worst moment of my career."
"She was so gracious," continued Clarke. "She took it like a real professional."
The FEI press release on the situation offered offered this explanation: Dr Wojtek Markowski (POL), the competition's Technical Delegate, explained that the rules dictate a horse must be removed from competition in a case such as this. "The rule is clear, and it is written to protect the welfare of the horse: blood coming from the mouth is contrary to the welfare of the horse and the horse must be eliminated for veterinary reasons" he explained.
Dr. Markowski added that the FEI rule does not specify what amount of blood must be present; elimination is automatic if blood is visible in the horse's mouth. There was no suggestion that any abuse of the horse had occurred.
Cornelissen said that Dr. Jan Greve, the Dutch team's veterinarian, examined the horse immediately after he returned to the stable. "There was a tiny spot on the tip of his tongue. It had stopped bleeding on the way back to the stable," she said.
Jerich Parzival was receiving scores of 80 percent when he was eliminated. Cornelissen added, "I am very disappointed. The horse was doing amazing at that moment. I am very happy that there is nothing seriously wrong with him."
Sjef Janssen, the Dutch team chef d'equipe, said, "We are very disappointed, but we understand the rule and accept the decision."
Sadly, the disqualification also eliminates Parzival from any other competition at the Games. He will not be able to compete in the Dressage Freestyle, which is his forte. Many believed him to be a top contender for a medal.
The Dutch team still managed to win the team gold medal, breaking the long traditional domination of Germany in team dressage competition. The joy was mixed with confusion, as a star moved to the sidelines for the rest of the Games.
The situation was the second stroke of bad luck for the Dutch dressage team. Over the weekend, Exquis Nadine, the mare ridden by Hans Peter Minderhoud, fell on the pavement outside her stable. However, she was not injured, although she was watched closely for any signs of pain.