Thrills and Spills, Spurs and Maladies at Rio Olympics Show Jumping

It’s been an eventful initiation for the show jumpers at the Rio Olympics, with an unusually high number of disqualifications, controversies, team changes, and missed opportunities. These games are promising to be historic, even as the sport grapples with remaining relevant and desirable in the ever-changing landscape of the Olympic Games.

Rio Olympics course designer Guilherme Jorge has made no picnic courses in Rio. While there was a loaded number of flawless rounds on both the first and second days of competition — 24 perfect finishes on day one and 21 on day two, to be exact — there was also a shocking number of refusals and falls by horses caught up in striding issues, atmosphere, or whatever else courses through a combination in such a setting.


On day one, the #3 ranked rider in the world and Penelope Leprovost took a tumble from Flora De Mariposa after a freak nasty stumble as the mare landed after a fence. Penelope nearly saved in the saddle, then nearly landed on her feet before snapping her neck back in what must have left her with a nasty whiplash. Both appeared fit as fiddles on day two, however, putting in a clutch clear round for Team France to keep them in the medal hunt.

Scott Keach took a tumble on day two when his horse made a hard stop at the last moment in attempting the open water obstacle. Scott went head over heels and narrowly missed landing in the water, instead getting smashed against the front wall of the jump. He popped right up and appeared to be uninjured, albeit dejected.

He made a stir on social media when he proceeded to walk right by his mount and leave his groom to damage control.

If Ukraine hadn’t already made enough waves coming into the games, they made a bit more after Cassio Rivetti fell at the b element of the combination on the first day, and then was later eliminated for excessive use of the whip and spurs on day two.

Fortunately, there were no falls on the third day of competition during the Team Finals.

Refusals and Eliminations:

One day one, Bruno Passoro of Argentina, Nicola Philippaerts, Daisuke Fukushima, Jur Vrieling, and Ferenc Szentirmal were all eliminated for refusals.

On day two, Eduardo Alvarez Aznar (Spain) was eliminated for refusals in the triple combination, as was Jur Vrieling, who had already had problems on day one.

Great Britain’s John Whitaker had a refusal going into the triple combination, but managed to reset himself and Ornellaia to power through the triple on the second attempt and complete the course.


On day 1, Chinese Taipei’s Isheau Wong retired after one stop. The pair had been having a bit of a rough go when they put a foot in the water and then crashed through the first fence in a double combination near the end of the course.

Isheau told Horse and Pony Magazine earlier this week that the horse was probably not suited to the heights and spreads at Rio, but having qualified, she wanted to give it a go. “She is my only horse at the moment and I wish to continue my career. No matter what, I hoped that she would still keep going and I don’t want to break her heart, I don’t want to break her mentally.

“I have enjoyed my Olympic experience. It has been a unique experience and I hope I can make it again.”

At the Team Final, which also served as round three qualifications, Takeida Reiki and Bardolino were riding to qualify for the individual finals when they took a very long distance into a big fence, and suffered a bit of a crash. Knowing that the faults and time had already put her out of contention, Takeida opted to retire and live to fight another day.


By far the biggest controversy of the games has been an unusually high number of disqualifications due to excessive force – specifically the overuse of spurs and/or whips.

On day one, Belgian Nicola Philippaerts was disqualified for excessive use of spurs after refusing at 11b of the double combination – a spot which had been troubling riders all day. The horse was bleeding in the spur area.

Dutchman Jur Vrieling was first tripped up in the first combination at the a element, and then he too was caught up in the problems with the 11ab combination with a refusal and eliminated. Witnesses said that blood could be seen on the horse’s flank as he exited the arena, and Jur was later disqualified for excessive use of the whip.

A surprise to many, Jur was allowed to continue in the team portion of the games, though not as an individual. Belgium did not have a team at these games, so the same opportunity was not afforded to Nicola.

Day Two would result in further disqualifications, and again Cassio Rivetti made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Cassio and Fine Fleur Du Marais completed the second round with just a single rail, but it was determined that the mare bled from spur marks, and the combination were disqualified.

The second disqualification would be a huge disappointment to the home crowd, as Stephan de Freitas Barcha was found to have caused bleeding spur marks on his mount, Landpeter do Feroleto. Unlike Jur, Stephan was not allowed to continue in the competition; the reason given being that at the time of Jur’s DQ, scores weren’t being counted towards team totals, only towards order of go. Brazil appealed multiple times to the appropriate government bodies, but were repeatedly rejected.


The final day of team competition was mercifully free of disqualifications or falls, but there were a few notable withdrawals in the 11th hour.

Most notably was Beezie Madden of Team USA, who was to be the anchor ride for the team, but withdrew due a tendon injury sustained by Cortes ‘C’.

“We are heartbroken to announce that Cortes ‘C’ sustained a tendon injury in yesterday’s competition and will be unable to compete for Team USA today. We are confident that he will make a full recovery. While we had hoped to do everything we could to help the USA towards a medal today, Tiny’s [Cortes ‘C’] best interests must come first. We are so thankful to our teammates, sponsors, and most importantly, his owner, Abigail Wexner, for understanding that in this sport, sometimes winning means doing right by your best friend. We will be there today on the sidelines doing everything we can to support Kent, Lucy, and McLain.”

Elizabeth Madden USA

Beezie Madden and “Tiny”. PC: FEI Photo Catologue/Richard Juilliart

Also withdrawn overnight, Michael Whitaker’s Cassionato was pulled after a bout with colic. Reports indicate that the 11-year-old gray stallion was admitted to a clinic for colic symptoms, but has been steadily improving and is expected to make a full recovery without significant intervention.

The final overnight withdrawal from competition was Jur Vrieling, who it can be assumed decided not to try and work through their issues in the Rio Olympics show ring. It’s likely there will also be a full medical evaluation to rule out any larger issue at play.

Competition will continue for 35 riders in the individual final on Friday morning, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed this is the last report we’ll need on the subject of thrills, spills, and sickness.

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