Equestrian bodies have condemned modern pentathlon and sought to distance horse sport from the modern pentathlon after ugly scenes in the show jumping phase of the women’s event at Tokyo on Friday (August 6).

Gold medal contender Annika Schleu sobbed after her horse Saint Boy napped badly and initially refused to go near a fence. The 2018 world silver medallist beat Saint Boy with her stick multiple times, as instructed from the ringside by German coach Kim Raisner. Raisner has since been given a black card ‒ modern pentathlon’s most serious field of play sanction ‒ and ordered to leave the Olympic venue. Raisner was heard live back in Germany urging her rider to “really hit it, hit” and Raisner herself struck the horse on the flanks with her fist.

Schleu had a 24-second lead before the show jumping, the penultimate discipline, but plummeted to 31st and was ineligible to start the final laser run.






The incident has gone viral, drawing criticism for varying reasons. Equestrians have roundly condemned the rider and coach’s abusive behaviour and the generally poor riding skills evident in this phase, which was widely televised at these Games. The German equestrian federation described horses and riders as “well out of their depth” over a course designed by Olaf Petersen. A petition asking the international modern pentathlon federation (UIPM) to address horse welfare had by Saturday morning attracted nearly 6,000 signatures on change.org.

Conversely, non-equestrians have sympathised with Schleu and criticised the “lottery” element of riding a strange horse ‒ the norm in modern pentathlon ‒ and the organiser’s use of “rogue” horses.

Athletes have only 20 minutes to bond with an unfamiliar horse and Schleu was in tears even as she entered the arena. Saint Boy had already bucked and napped with another athlete. It has emerged that Schleu could have selected another horse but stuck with Saint Boy. He was not included in the horse pool for the men’s event on Saturday.

UIPM acknowledged the public’s concerns stating: “The UIPM Executive Board (EB) has given a black card to the Germany team coach Kim Raisner, disqualifying her from the remainder of Tokyo 2020. The EB reviewed video footage that showed Ms Raisner appearing to strike the horse Saint Boy, ridden by Annika Schleu, with her fist during the riding discipline of the women’s modern pentathlon competition.

“Her actions were deemed to be in violation of the UIPM competition rules, which are applied to all recognised modern pentathlon competitions including the Olympic Games. The EB decision was made today at the Tokyo Stadium before the resumption of the men’s modern pentathlon competition.” UIPM will make a further statement once the men’s event is over.

The head of the German Olympic Committee, Alfons Hoermann, has demanded urgent rule changes regarding animal welfare ‒ very little on this topic is included in the UIPM 176-page rule book. He said: “We also consider that an urgent review of the incident is necessary, especially in terms of animal protection….rules must change in such a way so that rider and horse are protected. The focus must be on the welfare of the animals and the fair competition for athletes.”

Isabell Werth, fresh from dressage medal successes, was contacted by German news agencies who reported her as saying the jumping phase of modern pentathlon is not something she recognises as elite equestrianism.

Similar opinions were given by the German equestrian federation (FN) whose statement (originally in German) reads: “As a professional association for equestrian sports, we adopt a critical view of the riding in the Modern Pentathlon. According to our understanding of equestrianism, it is the partnership between the rider and the horse that counts and not to consider the horse as a piece of sports equipment. The pictures we have seen have demonstrated that several riders and horses were clearly well out of their depth.

“From our point of view, the rules of this sport have to be designed and applied in a way that protects both rider and horse. There is obviously an urgent need for action in the Modern Pentathlon. The World Federation for Modern Pentathlon [UIPM] is responsible for the rules and regulations. The FN and FEI are not involved in this in any way.”

The World Bitless Association is among welfare campaigners also demanding change. A spokesman said, “The modern pentathlon at Tokyo 2020 Olympics which showcased the abuse of horses on live TV is out of step with the science on horse welfare and modern acceptance of horses in competition. The WBA requests that the equestrian element of the pentathlon is either removed or completely overhauled on equine welfare grounds.”

Like equestrianism, modern pentathlon has undergone radical change to remain in the Olympic Games. In Paris 2024 all five phases will have to be completed within 90 minutes, which would appear to give even less time for horse familiarisation. Modern pentathlon’s random horse allocation is at variance with moves in recent years to reduce the riding of “strange” horses on the day in FEI events, on welfare grounds.