“I’m obviously absolutely devastated,” Dujardin said in a statement from the championships, in Rotterdam, Netherlands. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. The health and welfare of my horses is always my No. 1 priority, but of course I accept the decision.”
Roly Owers, MRCVS, CEO of World Horse Welfare, in Norfolk, U.K, supports the FEI in eliminating Dujardin. “This is unfortunate for the British team, but that’s the reality of the sport,” he told The Horse. “Responsible horse sport requires regulation, and it requires regulation being enforced. I haven’t seen the horse, but even if it’s only a superficial wound, blood is blood, and damage has been done. What’s important is that the FEI have taken clear, quick, and appropriate action and that Charlotte has accepted that.”
The presence of blood doesn’t necessarily suggest the horse was intentionally mistreated and is more likely to be the result of an accident, said Natalie Waran, PhD, equitation science fellow and professor of One Welfare at Eastern Institute of Technology, in Napier, New Zealand. But this kind of injury could also indicate that the leg aids were not as light as they should have been.
“It might be a very small wound, but if the aid was strong enough to break the skin, then that’s a problem,” said Waran. “Assuming that Charlotte usually aims to ride with extremely light aids, then this could be a one-off incident in which she had to perhaps give a bit stronger of an aid than she normally would, or maybe the horse shied at something and jumped into the spur.”
With a good understanding and application of the principles of learning theory, the use of spurs might even one day become obsolete, Waran further explained. “The spur is ‘part of the uniform’ required for competing in dressage at the top level, the idea being that they allow riders to give very precise cues with a steady leg,” she said. “But perhaps in a few years, as equitation science advances, we will realize that that isn’t really necessary, and we can give precise, consistent, and light cues without a metal point. And maybe then, wearing spurs at advanced levels won’t be mandatory any longer.”
Horses must be free of blood over the entire body and in the mouth at all FEI events at all levels, before, during, and after a dressage test. Since 2012 the FEI has dropped all exceptions, which previously applied to the highest-level events.
Dujardin’s disqualification eliminates her from the European Championships. Her personal record-beating dressage score of 81.91% at the championships was removed from the total British Dressage team score, dropping the team’s placing from silver to fourth.
Mount St. John Freestyle, a 10-year-old Hanoverian, and Dujardin have previously competed in FEI events 14 times, winning 12 of those. The mare is ranked No. 40 among FEI dressage horses worldwide.