The German equestrian federation (FN) has reported an unknown rider to the police in an attempt to obtain potentially damaging footage of illegal poling (rapping), which TV station RTL is threatening to broadcast.

The FN does not know which rider is involved, but has taken this unusual legal step to force the release of the video in the light of RTL’s non cooperation. The FN is meanwhile setting up an expert commission to review training practices and consider what is “socially acceptable.”

RTL alleges it could be a repeat of the Paul Schockemöhle scandal of 1990, when covertly shot photographs of Schockemohle poling a horse were revealed by major news organisation Stern. In German, this practice ‒ striking a horse’s legs as it jumps a training fence to encourage it to lift them higher ‒ is known as barring. Under FEI rules it is known as rapping and is prohibited.

RTL has allegedly declined multiple requests to provide the video to the equestrian governing body. All the FN has seen is an extract of a few seconds, with the rider pixelated and so unidentifiable.

The FN has posted an interview with the FN’s secretary general Soenke Lauterbach on its website. Lauterbach says that RTL asked the FN questions about poling some time ago, to which it responded in detail, only later learning RTL had been in possession of a video since the summer of 2020. A transmission date has not been announced by RTL.

Lauterbach says the material might show behavior violating the Animal Welfare Act. The FN’s best option was to file a complaint with the police against “unknown persons” so that the FN can meet “its responsibility for animal welfare in equestrian sport.”

“We are left in the dark about what exactly can be seen in the video material and in what overall context the contribution will appear,” said Lauterbach. “It cannot be that this material will remain locked up any longer and that things may even continue to be done to horses that harm them.”

After the Schockemöhle scandal, FN national rules were revised as part of the “Potsdam resolution” on equestrian attitudes towards horses. Light “touching” is still allowed, using for instance a light bamboo pole, but striking the horse’s legs with a wooden pole or other device is banned.

Lauterbach says that, that 30 years on, the controversial method is due for a further review “on the basis of current scientific findings and with a view to social acceptance and to adapt our guidelines and regulations, if necessary. It became clear to us in connection with the request from RTL that permissible training methods also offer potential for abuse, for example if they are used on horses that are too young or not knowledgeable.” A newly formed commission will report by the end of 2021.