Controversy Rocks the World Cup Finals as Leader Ward is Eliminated

´╗┐Controversy Rocks the World Cup Finals as Leader Ward is Eliminated

rider McLain Ward _ the leader after two days of the championship _ was disqualified because officials felt his horse was hypersensitive on her left front leg.

There was no explanation as to why Sapphire, who took the 34yearold Ward to Olympic team gold medals in 2004 and 2008, was selected for testing prior to Friday’s second segment of the meet in Geneva, Switzerland.

Thermography, which detects the presence of heat that can indicate a problem, was negative and the mare was allowed to jump. She placed second in the class, which put Ward first overall.

After the class, however, she was tested again and while the thermography was negative, she picked up her leg a few times when veterinarians repeatedly poked it.

Making the horse’s legs hypersensitive can encourage them not to hit rails because it stings, but the FEI (the international equestrian federation) took pains to state there was no indication or evidence of any malpractice by Ward or his team.”

Even so, the veterinarians inspecting Sapphire decreed they found a spot that was hypersensitive and she had to be disqualified. The horse was not jogged for soundness, nor was her leg swabbed to be tested for foreign substances, as Ward had requested.

“Having known Sapphire for several years the horse is in normal form and is fit to compete.”

The FEI’s president, Princess Haya of Jordan, commented,”I would like to emphasize that the rules and the protocols allow for disqualification at any stage on welfare grounds. We have a duty to care for our horses. If it is agreed that if a horse is in pain then it has to be eliminated.”

The statement was rather confusing, since Sapphire had jumped two clean rounds Friday and the thermography afterwards was negative. Also, questions were raised about why Sapphire was allowed to jump in the first place if veterinarians thought she had a problem.

The FEI was embarrassed by what happened at the 2008 Olympics when five show jumpers tested positive for the presence of capsaicin, a pepper that can cause an animal to be hypersensitive. Strict antidoping penalties have been implemented since, though debate continues on what medications should be allowed.

The lead in the Cup going into Sunday’ last two rounds has been taken over in Ward’s absence by Mario Deslauriers, who became an American citizen last year. He rides Urico, a Dutchbred who is also a contender for the WEG team. Deslauriers was the youngest person ever to win the World Cup finals in 1984, when he was 19 and riding for his native Canada.

There are some who wonder whether Ward may have been targeted in Geneva. In 1999, the New Yorker was found guilty of having bits of plastic in one of his horse’s front boots at the Aachen, Germany, horse show. That technique could have been used to prompt the animal to jump higher by making it painful to hit a rail. Ward denied it, but served a suspension and has had a clean record for more than a decade. Equestrian Federation’s predecessor organization _ a judgment that stands to this day _ for his involvement as a middleman in a wideranging scandal that involved killing horses for insurance money.

There is little hope that the World Cup decision can be reversed, since FEI rules say in these cases, the word of the ground jury is final. Some riders were agreeable to the concept of a boycott of today’s finals rounds to support Ward, but others weren’t, so that initiative seems unlikely to aid his cause.

Sapphire had an amazing record last year, taking a variety of landmark competitions and finishing a close second in the World Cup finals. She started out this season by winning the $500,000 finale of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival last month for the second year in a row. team at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky this fall, she was excused from the selection trials because her record demonstrated she had nothing to prove.

However, the World Cup was a special goal for Ward because he and the mare had never won an individual, as opposed to a team, international championship and he felt she deserved to have that on her resume.

Friday: Palermo Festival Finals WarmUp, 1555A Burnt Mills Rd., Pluckemin.

Saturday: Garden State Paint Horse Club Show, Gloucester County Dream Park, 400 Route 130 South, Logan Township (through next Sunday); West Milford Equestrian Center Show, 367 Union Valley Rd., Newfoundland; Diamond Creek Dressage Show, 39 Gulick Rd., Ringoes. sale); Delaware Valley Horsemen’s Association Hunter Show, DVHA Showgrounds, Route 604, Sergeantsville; Snowbird Acres Farm Show presented by CJL, Baymar Farms, 38 Harbor Rd., Morganville; Fidler Run Farm Dressage Series, 456 Fidler Rd., Woodbine; Suddenly Farm Dressage Show, 325 Main St., Lumberton; Oxbow Stables Dressage Show, Combined Test and Horse Trials, 39 Orts Rd., Hamburg.