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April 17, 2010

Statement From USEF Show Jumping Team Veterinarian Tim Ober Regarding Sapphire’s Disqualification In The Rolex/FEI World Cup Final

The U.S. Equestrian Federation called a press conference this morning with an unlikely star: McLain Ward's disqualified Rolex/FEI World Cup mount Sapphire. While she declined to comment on the FEI's decision to disqualify her from competition following two thermography and clinical exams last night, Ward (holding Sapphire), George Morris (in green) and Dr. Tim Ober all expressed frustration and anger that the FEI made the decision in reaction to what they described as a complete lack of clinical evidence.

In response to the disqualification of Sapphire, McLain Ward’s mount in the Rolex/FEI Show Jumping World Cup Final in Geneva, Switzerland, following a thermography and clinical exam yesterday April 16, the U.S. Equestrian Federation team veterinarian Tim Ober issued the following statement during a press conference:

“Good afternoon. My name is Dr. Timothy Ober and I am the veterinarian for the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Show Jumping Team.  We’re here today on behalf of the United States Equestrian Federation to respond to the FEI’s decision to disqualify Sapphire, McLain Ward’s entry in this year’s World Cup Finals. He was currently leading the competition. The FEI has indicated that Sapphire is being disqualified for what they allege is hypersensitivity of the left foreleg.

Here are the facts: Sapphire’s performance over the last two days is not unusual in any way. In fact she has produced the same result, two clear rounds, that she produced in last year’s World Cup Finals. The FEI’s own press release acknowledges that Sapphire was determined fit to compete last night, based on examination including thermography and a clinical exam, prior to entering the ring.

The horse was examined second time, after the class, with the same clinical findings. At this point the horse was determined unfit to compete and disqualified. The FEI has produced no authenticated, objective or qualitative tests to substantiate their claim, and declined to conduct any normal NCP control, including swabbing, last night, despite McLain’s request that they do so immediately. In fact, thermography testing on both occasions, both tests, indicated no abnormality.

This decision was made in haste, and in an irreversible way. In my opinion this decision was incorrect, subjective, and unsubstantiated. Having known Sapphire for several years, the horse is in excellent, normal form, and is fit to compete.”

George Morris and Ward were also on hand to plead their case in favor of reinstating Sapphire.

"This is a very dangerous direction for the sport to go in, when the horse is in perfectly good shape and perfectly healthy," said Ward, who lay first heading into the final two rounds of competition. "They clearly said there was nothing maliciiously dne to hypersensitize the horse. They refused to have the horse fully inspected—she was never even jogged. This decision is absolutely shocking. It's persecution with no just cause."

Morris, on hand to observe and lend a hand to U.S. riders during the individual championship, was equally appalled at the decision, which he deemed arbitrary and hasty.

"I feel very far from home and you can interpret that as you will," he said. "I feel that when I leave America and come across here, and I've never felt that way in the '50s, '60s or '70s.  I started to feel it in the '80s. I feel a very long way from home when I am here and I'm very sad to say that."

A video of the press conference can be seen here...