France, October 2016: The Irishman Kevin Thornton, on the edge of an international equestrian competition, at a certain point forces his horse Flogas Sunset Cruise to do two laps of the track at a wild gallop while he whips him brutally.
According to witness accounts, Thornton intended to punish the animal that way, perhaps for a refusal or whatever. The horse, exhausted at the end of the race, collapses and begins to gasp, until losing his life.
In subsequent proceedings - sport and penal - it is shown, thanks to the witnesses, that the horse had suffered a heart attack due to excessive physical effort and probably also for the panic while he was running, suffering sound lashes.
The French court, which has already issued an arrest warrant against him in 2018 (not executed because Thornton resides in Switzerland), recently sentenced him to a year of imprisonment with suspension of his sentence and 5 years of interdiction to compete in France.
The sport justice (the court of the FEI International Equestrian Federation) had imposed (on the 6th June 2017) a ridiculous suspension for four months, plus a fine of 5,000 Swiss francs.
That’s why Kevin Thornton, convicted for causing the death of his horse, continues to compete as if nothing has happened.
Therefore at the stroke of four months, on 12th October of that year Thornton returned to the saddle, playing since then as many as 438 competitions, distributed as follows, - 265 in Belgium, 12 in Denmark, 53 in Spain, 23 in Italy, 21 in the Netherlands, 46 in Portugal and 18 in Slovakia.
Since then he has mounted 24 different horses. His last competition was on last November the 15th, in Belgium.
Flogas Sunset Cruise was only 10 years old and Thornton had competed with him 5 times before that fateful 10th October 2016.
Why did Thornton only get four months disqualification and a small fine?
Reading the reasons submitted for the sentence, we understand why the penalty was so mild and Thornton is still in plain sight in the international rankings: the FEI had written in the sentence that "the horse had been whipped repeatedly, substantially and excessively and clearly more than the three times asserted by Thornton, but not recognizing in this the cause of death of the horse. In truth, entrenched behind the fact that the autopsy had failed to confirm the cause of death, the FEI court concluded that it "was not called into question and therefore had no means of deciding on Thornton’s responsibility for the tragic death of the horse".
But one of the veterinarians declared that the autopsy was done very late (5 days after the event) with a good part of the organs already in autolysis and therefore preventing concrete evidence to show that the autopsy was reliable.
We reported some of the many eyewitness testimonies (shown below), apparently largely ignored by the FEI which, in essence, has washed its hands:
"The horse was dripping with sweat, his nostrils dilated, his eyes wide open. Several people tried to stop him verbally, without success. The horse finally stopped, began to wobble and collapsed to the ground."
"I saw Kevin Thornton leaving at a gallop, making a full lap of the big track... The horse was completely exhausted and Kevin whipped him and hit him with spurs. Arriving at the entrance, the horse stopped, began to wobble and collapsed.”
"I confirm that I saw Kevin Thornton galloping his horse into the arena for a long time, using the whip repeatedly to keep him from stopping. The horse, exhausted, collapsed and died in front of several people who were trying to stop Thornton without success."
"I saw Kevin Thornton running for multiple laps in full gallop on his grey horse, using the whip many times. The horse seemed exhausted and every time it slowed down, Thornton doubled the shots".
Photos and source:
SOURCE: EIF database