GERMAN Olympic gold medallist Ludger Beerbaum has strongly denied equine welfare accusations made against him by German television broadcaster RTL.
A programme broadcast on Tuesday, January 11th, included footage of a rider said to be Beerbaum at his Riesenbeck stable, allegedly showing what the report described as the practice of “parallel bars” or “bars”, similar to rapping, which is illegal in Germany and illegal under FEI rules. RTL said the programme was a result of two years of research by an investigative journalist.
“The RTL Extra report is demonstrably false, defamatory and libellous in numerous points. Of course, we will take legal action against it. It is unacceptable that it was secretly filmed on my private property,” Ludger Beerbaum said in a statement released on Wednesday.
“Regarding the accusations against me and my team, the welfare of the horses is my and my team’s top priority. Only a horse that is treated appropriately, professionally cared for and fed, trained and managed, can deliver sporting performance. The horses are our capital, which we take care of day in and day out,” he added.
Beerbaum said the practice shown in the video is not that of ‘rapping’ but instead is the permitted method of ‘touching’.
“The scenes in the riding arena shown in the report have nothing to do with the illegal practice of ‘rapping’. Instead, experienced and most routine professionals applied the permitted method of touching. The tool seen in the video met the German Equestrian Federation’s specifications for permissible touching: no longer than three meters, weighing no more than two kilograms.
“The fact that the alleged two-year ‘research’ was only able to reveal four scenes showing the touching of a horse makes it clear that even the permitted training method is only very rarely used here and is not part of the daily work,” said Beerbaum.
According to the German Federation’s guidelines, touching is a professional sensitising of the horse through targeted touching of the horse’s legs during the jumping process. This stimulates a horse which has become sloppy to increase its attention and coordination again. The pole must comply with certain parameters and if held by an individual, they must be very experienced.
The German Federation (FN) set up a commission in January 2021 to “deal with training methods in equestrian sport and in particular with the topic of touching”, according to a statement released on Wednesday.
In the statement, the FN explained how it was first approached by the RTL editorial team in July 2020 with a request regarding the use of methods that could potentially violate animal welfare in equestrian sports. In February 2021, the federation asked for video material to be made available to them and when it did not happen, they reported the “possible violation of the Animal Welfare Act to the NRW police so that the authorities can investigate the matter.
“In November 2021, the Münster public prosecutor’s office informed the FN that the investigations against unknown persons had been discontinued.”
FN Secretary General Soenke Lauterbach said: “As we expressed to RTL in 2020 and 2021, we take the allegations very seriously. This is precisely why we will carefully analyse the footage broadcast late Tuesday evening and then draw appropriate conclusions on how to proceed. In order to be able to make a serious assessment of the facts, the entire video and evidence material is required. We are therefore asking RTL again to make this fully available to us.
“Already now, regardless of the contribution shown, we can clearly say that the use of square bars and nubbed or spiked bar material is unacceptable and not in accordance with the principles of fair equestrian sport.”
The FEI released a statement on Wednesday which said: “The FEI is aware of the allegations made in the documentary broadcast on RTL in Germany on January 11th 2022 and is making enquiries regarding the matter. We are already in touch with the German National Federation and will continue to liaise closely with them in order to assess the appropriate course of action.
“The welfare of the horse is central to everything that the FEI stands for and we strongly condemn all training methods and practices that are contrary to horse welfare. The FEI has stringent rules in place to protect horse welfare which allow action to be taken both at FEI events and elsewhere. The FEI absolutely condemns any form of horse abuse and the training methods shown in RTL’s video footage are totally unacceptable from a horse welfare perspective and against FEI Regulations.”