Ellen and Jeremy Olson, well-known figures in US endurance, have each been suspended for 18 months by the FEI for forging a vet’s signature on horse passports.
The suspension is three times longer than the six months requested by the FEI legal department. FEI Tribunal member Martin Gibbs said six months was “too light” bearing in mind the Olsons’ failure to engage in FEI proceedings, and that they had also been charged in their home state of Iowa, where falsifying such records is a criminal offence.
Dr. Katie Weigman (now Merkes) reported the Olsons to the FEI after noticing something “fishy” in the passports. She said her signature had been forged several times, including after she had gone on maternity leave.
In the passport of Noslos Tuff Enough there were four falsified entries between October 2017 and November 2018, both for equine influenza only and other Diseases other than equine influenza. The passport of Shes High Maintenance had three falsified entries for equine influenza over the same period.
The signatures were accompanied by the River Valley Vet Services stamp, which Dr Merkes had loaned to the Olsons to update passports regarding bona fide vaccinations administered by Dr Merkes. The stamp was not returned.
The FEI legal department said: “All horses entering the FEI Stables Area and/or participating in FEI events must be vaccinated against influenza. Although vaccination cannot guarantee immunity, it was a mandatory biosecurity practice required by the FEI to reduce the risk of circulating virus at events.
“The implicit reason behind the forgery of vaccination entries was to enable the horse to compete in international competitions as all FEI passports are checked by the FEI Officials at the events to verify if the vaccinations requirements under the Veterinary Regulations have been fulfilled.
“Vaccinations were therefore falsified with the intent to deceive an FEI official to allow the horses to take part in international competitions. One might as well consider that not vaccinating a horse could potentially amount to maltreatment of a horse.”
Noslos Tuff Enuff went on to compete five times with the falsified vaccination record and Shes High Maintenance six times.
On February 14, 2020, Ellen Olson pleaded guilty in court in Iowa to the aggravated misdemeanour of tampering with records and identity theft, and received a 24-month deferred judgement. Jeremy Olson, who was a member of the US team at the 2014 World Equestrian Games, having been released on bail, failed to attend court and is subject to an outstanding State of Iowa arrest warrant.
The FEI Tribunal found that the Olsons’ actions were “fraud of any kind” within the meaning of Article 164.6.4 of the FEI General Regulations. One of the horses had also changed ownership. “While the Tribunal can only speculate in this regard, the new owner might have certainly also relied on the respective horse’s passport to confirm that the vaccination requirements had been fulfilled.”
Furthermore, “the Respondents have shown the Tribunal no remorse whatsoever for their actions, having failed to engage with these proceedings. Neither is the Tribunal aware that the Respondents tried to offer an apology to Dr Merkes. The Tribunal therefore decides that the Respondent’s non-participation in the proceedings should be considered as adverse interference.”
As well as being suspended through 25 September 2021, the Olsons were fined 3,000 Swiss francs each.