When they told Tiffany Foster her horse was out of the competition, her Olympics over, she burst into tears. Her teammate Eric Lamaze wasn’t so much sad as he was angry.
In Lamaze’s steaming opinion, banning Foster’s horse, Victor, 20 minutes before the start of Sunday’s team equestrian event was “insane … a joke.” It was certainly devastating to Foster and the Canadian team’s hopes of winning a medal.
The International Equestrian Federation’s (FEI) decision banned Foster’s horse because of sensitivity in its front left hoof. Come Monday’s team event final at Greenwich Park, Canada will go with only three riders. Other nations will use four and get to drop their worst score. Canada will have to count what it gets from veterans Jill Henselwood, Ian Millar and Lamaze, the 2008 individual gold medalist. All three are pressure-treated but their horses are inexperienced.
“They have no idea of the collateral damage here to the sport in Canada, owners, the girl herself,” Millar said. “The potential for collateral damage is terrible. The idea was always give the benefit of the doubt to the athlete. In this case, it’s the opposite.”
With Foster out of the second qualifier on Sunday, Henselwood rode first in the pouring rain and had four faults. Lamaze had one time fault and Millar was clear, giving Canada a two-round total of 14 faults. That was good enough to get them into Monday’s eight-team final.
Four years ago, Canada won the silver medal, competing with only three riders as Mac Cone’s horse, Ole, was injured the day before competition.
“When we went to Beijing we were riding the red carpet,” said Henselwood, “The Canadians could do no wrong. Everything went our way. But here we ran into challenges. You just look around the corner and there’s something going on.”
Canada lost its gold medal horse, Hickstead, earlier this year when it died of a ruptured aorta.
On Sunday, the FEI’s veterinary commission examined Victor in his stall, using infrared imaging. They determined there was “an area of inflammation and sensitivity on the left forelimb just above the hoof. There is no accusation of malpractice but the horse has been deemed unfit to compete by the Games jury.
Torchy Millar, the Canadian chef d’équipe, was called to the barn where Victor was located and informed there was a problem. Millar asked the commission officials to take the horse out of its stall and walk it around for an added look.
“They said, ‘No, we don’t do that,’” Millar stated.
The officials then ruled the horse ineligible, effectively ending Foster’s Olympics. At first, the 28-year-old rider from Schomberg, Ont., was too upset to comment. She later said, “I understand why this rule is in place and why they look for hypersensitivity in horses, but I would never jeopardize the welfare of my horse. I feel bad for my team and I am disappointed that this is how my first Olympic Games will end.”
Others were more critical.
“This is like getting a scratch on your finger and the referee saying you’re unfit for competition. That’s the equivalent,” said Torchy Millar. “Every rule needs to be applied with a sense of balance, perspective and common sense. To me, and compatriots from other teams, this seems to lack any balance at all.”
Millar was asked if the horses of any other country were checked Sunday and replied: “I’d be interested to know if they did every team with thermography [imaging]. They certainly did our team.”
Ian Millar vowed the three remaining riders would do the best they could to make the podium for Foster: “We defied the odds the last time (in Beijing). We’ll see if we can defy them again.”
The Canadian team protested the FEI’s ban on Victor but was told the decision was “not appealable.”