British Nations Cup show jumper James Smith has been suspended by the FEI and his national governing bodies after photographs showed him jumping a horse which was allegedly being “rapped”.

The photographs have been shared by a French Facebook page, pegasedaily, and were taken in Valencia, Spain, during the mediterannean “Sunshine Tour” where Smith was competing up to last Friday.

His groom, identified as Nikki Park, is seen holding a long narrow pole or cane in the direction of a horse’s hindlegs as it schools over a practice fence. Questions are inevitably being asked why yet again incidents of alleged rule-breaking at a show were not dealt with on site by officials, but instead are brought to light by a member of the public. However the position of the sun suggests the photos could have been taken covertly very early in the morning or late in the evening, when supervisory stewards were not in place.

Park has been “blocked” by British Showjumping (BS) while an investigation is underway to stop her renewing her membership. BS is the national governing body under the umbrella of the British Equestrian Federation. It says: “British Showjumping is liaising closely with the British Equestrian Federation and the FEI regarding the Athlete James Smith who has been immediately suspended as of 16 March 2024, following equine welfare concerns relating to photos that appear to have been taken at a recent FEI Event.

“The FEI have also provisionally suspended the athlete. This suspension prohibits him from entering and/or competing or training Athletes/Horses at any FEI Events, or any national events until further notice while the images and circumstances of the incident are being investigated.

“The training methods depicted in the images have no place in our sport, are against our regulations and will not be tolerated. Horse welfare is the highest priority for British Showjumping, the BEF and the FEI, and we will continue to work closely together to ensure our Rules and Regulations concerning equine welfare and wellbeing are both respected and enforced.”

A man sitting on a horse.

James Smith competing in Valencia with Nautical Wind. (Moura Tours Instagram)

Scottish-born Smith, 31, is a three-time medal winner at European pony jumping championships and has represented Britain twice at Nations Cups. He has not offered any comment and his Facebook page has been de-activated.

Rapping or “poling” is expressly banned under both FEI General Regulations and FEI Jumping Regulations and goes as far as prohibiting any kind of touching or interference of the horses’s legs during a jumping effort, whether manually or mechanically.

Until May 2022 the practice known as “touchieren” was allowed under German national rules. This involved a so-called more sensitive touching of the legs by an assistant using a pole of up to 3cm diameter and was even justified under the old German national rules as a “correction” to horses that had become “sloppy.” However, following the recommendations of a working group the practice was banned in Germany to align it with FEI rules.

Pressure is mounting on equestrian sports, particularly in France as the Paris Olympic Games draw near. Last week a news team from the French broadcaster 2Oh ran a critical item about hyperflexion in dressage, sending cameras to the CDI at Lier in Belgium, though the report also mentioned issues in show jumping. Former Olympian Frederic Cottier alleged that “pinch boots” that encourage a horse to raise his hindlegs higher over a fence are still in widespread use in jumping, despite being banned by the FEI.