Horse Sport Ireland Investigation into Metal Bar Training Practices Concludes

Horse Sport Ireland’s high performance director of eventing and chef d’equipe of the Irish eventing squad Sally Corscadden has been under investigation after allegations of misconduct, prompted by the release of videos taken in training sessions. The videos, which were filmed on a mobile phone by an unnamed third party, appear to show the use of metal bars or aluminum strips atop jumps.

Now, we have the results of the inquiry, which Chief Justice Frank Clarke presided over, and which concluded in July. The results, which were released by HSI on September 20, state that the findings were “not truly to the effect that the metal bar training technique did not amount to rapping but rather that it was insufficiently clear that it did amount to rapping to justify a finding of a breach by Ms. Corscadden of her contractual obligations to HSI” — that is, that it was inconclusive whether the use of the training bar counted as rapping or not.

The substantive report goes on to state that “the definition of rapping is, for understandable reasons, expressed in general terms but with some specific non exhaustive examples given. The conclusion reached was that the metal bar training technique was not even closely connected with the specific examples given in the rules. Nor was the metal bar training method found to represent a reasonably clear variation on the specific methods identified so as to justify concluding that the general words were intended to cover a training method such as it. Having regard to the finding that a breach of the rules could only be held to exist where there was not significant doubt as to whether the rule applied to the activity concerned, it followed that it could not be said that Ms. Corscadden sanctioned a breach of the rapping rule in the course of training taking place under her control.” It continues on by saying “it is important to emphasise that the Substantive Report concluded that the evidence that the practice would cause unnecessary pain or discomfort to a horse was inconclusive.”

The main issue reported in the findings is stated as a breach of confidence between Corscadden and HSI — that is, that HSI should have been alerted by Corscadden to the continued use of the metal bar in training, especially as, during its use, another investigation into training methods was ongoing.

This is a second rapping investigation for Corscadden, who was cleared in an investigation last summer that was helmed by sports barrister Susan Ahern. That case began after an anonymous tip was sent to Sport Ireland, alerting them to the alleged use of these metal strips and bars, though Corscadden was ultimately cleared. It was following this decision that the newly released videos were sent, prompting this second inquiry.

Corscadden was again represented by Martin Hayden SC, who represented her during the initial inquiry, in which it was argued that the metal strips, though used in training, were angled away from the horses so as to create a noise, rather than any pain, when hit, encouraging a cleaner jump on the next attempt.

The substantive report says, “Ms. Corscadden was in breach of her contract of employment by not drawing the attention of HSI to the fact that the metal bar training practice was also in use, when an investigation into not entirely dissimilar training methods was in train.” This is considered by Mr. Justice Clarke “to have been a breach of her obligation of trust and confidence.” He continued that “the breach concerned was not at the most serious end of the type of breaches which might come within the scope of a failure to respect trust and confidence.”

HSI reached out to Clarke to preside over the case because, as the Irish Independent reports, “The former top judge is said to be ‘scrupulously fair’ and impossible to second guess.” The article continues: “The board was told if Clarke cleared Corscadden of rapping then the HSI can rely on his verdict and continue to employ her in the face of any third-party criticism. Equally, if he finds the allegation proven then there would be little risk of this being overturned.”

Clarke’s role was to decide whether this use of aluminum strips falls under the FEI’s rapping rules, found in article 243.1 of the Jumping rulebook, which read:

  1. The term “rapping” is construed to include all of the artificial techniques intended to induce the Horse to jump higher or more carefully in Competitions. It is not practical to list every possible means of rapping, but in general it consists of the Athlete and/or dismounted assistants, for whose behaviour the Athlete is responsible, either hitting the Horse’s legs manually with something (no matter with what or by whom) or deliberately causing the Horse to hit something itself, whether by building obstacles too large and/or too wide, setting false ground lines, placing trotting poles or the elements of a combination at a false distance, intentionally pulling or pushing the Horse into an obstacle or otherwise making it difficult or impossible for the Horse to negotiate the practice obstacle without hitting it.

Coach Andrew McLean, who holds a PhD in equine cognition and learning, was consulted in the case, providing input that in his opinion, the use of bars is likely to cause excessive pain and is an inhumane way to encourage a better jump from a horse and does, by his reckoning, constitute rapping.

Yogi Breisner has also been consulted, though he deemed the method “fair and understandable,” and continued, “absolutely nothing in the video evidence [would] suggest the use of a clearly visible aluminium/metal strip, not fixed in position but clearly loosely placed on top of the show jumping pole, falls any where within the definition of rapping”.

Corscadden’s case, which she submitted to HSI, explains that the organisation had hired a trainer whose longstanding, broadly used methods included a light metal rail on the top fencepost to generate a sound effect and focus the horse’s attention, and this, she says, was discussed with riders.

One of HSI’s former directors told the Independent, “I think she’s going to win. This was a light rail. It’s not barbed wire, thorny briars or iron bars filled with concrete — all of which we’ve heard about before. There was no sensation of pain here or any cruelty involved. This is going to cost €200,000 but there were many of us who believed we should’ve just called her in for a slap on the wrists. This is like doing 35kmh in a 30kmh zone.”

HSI itself told the paper that it “expressed grave concerns about alleged violations of FEI general regulations and FEI discipline rules in the context of high-performance training. HSI is committed to ensuring the welfare of horses is never subordinated to competitive or commercial interests. The welfare of horses is paramount, and HSI is committed to ensuring that all training methods comply with regulations and promote the well-being of all equines.”

Justice Clarke stated that he had “not been persuaded as to the merits of that case, [though] it does seem to me that it was an allegation which required to be investigated and for which there was a credible basis. HSI would have been open, potentially, to legitimate criticism if it simply ignored the matter.” His recommendation for sanction is a final written warning.

“All breaches of the duty of trust and confidence are necessarily serious matters and are particularly serious in the case of a senior and trusted employee, holding a most responsible role, such as Ms. Corscadden,” states the report. “There can be no doubt that trust and confidence in this case has been impaired but in my view not necessarily beyond repair. However, any further action on the part of Ms. Corscadden which might legitimately (and the test in this regard would again obviously be objective) lead to a further impairment of trust and confidence would make it almost certain that trust and confidence could not then be restored. In the circumstances it would be my recommendation that the appropriate sanction to be imposed would be a written final warning to the effect that any further material breach of the duty of trust and confidence could well result in dismissal.”

Corscadden has been temporarily suspended from her role while investigations are ongoing, with Dag Albert standing in in the interim. HSI has not yet revealed whether she will return to her former position.

The leaked videos, which were published by the Independent, can be viewed here.


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