The pentathlon drama involving Annika Schleu has caused a great outrage worldwide. Now pentathlete Matthias Sandten commented on the problems of pentathlon and equestrian sport itself.
A seemingly frightened and reluctant horse, a desperate rider who burst into tears, and a coach who did anything but calm the situation when she told Schleu to “Hit it”. These were the scenes that went viral in August of this year.
A wave of hatred followed accompanied by numerous complaints from animal rights activists against Annika Schleu and her coach Kim Raisner. Eventually, Schleu deleted her Instagram account, as the shitstorm became simply too unpredictable. Dressage legend Isabell Werth also commented on the incident. She said: “This has nothing to do with riding“.
Statement of Matthias Sandten
Pentathlete Matthias Sandten sees one main problem with riding in the pentathlon and that problem is time. In the past, only one competition a day was held in the pentathlon. The athletes had five days in total for all disciplines. In recent years, however, the dynamics of the sport have intensified and the schedule has become increasingly tighter. At the Olympic Games in Tokyo, all competitions were completed in one day, and also in just five hours for the first time.
The “case of Annika Schleu”
This enormous time crunch was the undoing of Annika Schleu and the horse Saint Boy, according to Sandten. It was very clear that the horse was still traumatized by the previous rider. Sandten explains that it could have gone differently if the pair had been given more time to get to know each other. However, Sandten also states that the veterinarian could have had the horse switched. The pentathlete suspects that the veterinarian also did not want to delay the tight schedule any further or simply did not see the necessity.
“The horse is the weakest link”
Overall, Sandten states: “The horse is the weakest link” (in the modern pentathlon). Since the success of the other competitions depends solely on the performance of the athletes themselves, the horse is the weakest or most unpredictable link in this chain, according to Sandten. Especially the time pressure and the short preparation time of just 20 minutes are an issue when working with these animals.
In addition, many of the horses experience the situation in the stadium as pure stress. Most of them are not used to flashing lights, the loud noise and a large stadium. Matthias Sandten advocates holding pentathlon the day before the rest of the competition. Then it is usually more calm and less hustle and bustle. “The most dicey situations have always occurred at Olympic Games, because the horses are not used to this situation,” says Sandten.
Riding = pain stimuli?
However, Matthias Sandten also sees a problem with equestrian sports in general. He explained that spurs, crop and also the curb in professional sport always emit pain stimuli in order to make the horse compliant. While the intensity always depends on the person riding, especially in amateur riding, light guidance is not really a given. For Sandten it is clear: “basically, riding is about overcoming or perhaps breaking the will of the horse. That must be known as the basis of a discussion, says the athlete.