Irish rider Kevin Thornton is under investigation after a horse in his care, 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse Flogas Sunset Cruise, died at the GPA Jump Festival in Cagnes-sur-Mer France over the weekend.

Allegations of excessive whipping have been circulating, prompting organizers to circulate a document to riders and potential witnesses stating: “I, the undersigned…certify having seen Kevin Thornton riding on the polytrack ring accompanied by another person on foot holding a dressage whip. These two people were beating the horse to make it gallop without stopping. Under this constraint, the horse collapsed and died in the ring.”

Thornton spoke to The Irish Field, and vehemently denied any wrongdoing. “I’m into horses all my life. There is no way I would ever whip a horse to death. I did not do that and I never would. I’m not that person.” Thornton adds, “I was also not riding this horse for three hours as is being said on social media. I was riding him for 15-20 minutes at most before he keeled over. I have other grey horses that people seem to be confused with because I was riding them earlier,” said Kevin.

The owner of Flogas, Vinnie Duffy, defended Thornton who took over the ride on Flogas just 5 months ago. “I chose him to ride the horse as I was trying to help him get going in a difficult business. He’s a young Irish man living in a foreign country trying to make a go of it. I was trying to help him. And up to that, he had had a great week at the show, very good results.”

“I would never condone any abuse of horses at all. I’m all about the horses, I hope to get some autopsy results on the horse and find out the facts of what happened to him. Until the full facts are known, people should not jump to conclusions. There is a lot of misinformation going around, I think it is terrible.”

Thornton admitted the horse could be “contrary” but had been competing well earlier in the week.

“I took Flogas up to the big gallop where a section was open to riders. He was in a normal bit, he acted up at the entrance, I hit him once or twice to get him moving forward. That was the first time he had ever been hit. He bolted off around the gallops. I tried to hold him and stay calm.

I hunted him on a bit when he slowed and threw the reins at him, turned him around and back towards the gate where a lad was waiting for me with a dressage stick. I normally only ever rode him with a dressage stick at home. He nearly jumped on top of the lad. We got down to the other arena. He was not breathing heavy or fast. He felt very weird under me, I got off and as I did so he keeled over. I took the saddle off him and shouted for a vet. I rang Vinnie and told him what was after happening.”

The FEI has released the following statement on the incident:

The FEI has launched a full investigation into the death of the horse Flogas Sunset Cruise (FEI ID 103KQ92), ridden by Kevin Thornton (IRL), which occurred at the Cagnes-sur-Mer racetrack in France on Monday 10 October.

We are in direct contact with the Cagnes-sur-Mer Organising Committee, which has filed a report on the incident with the police. A post mortem is scheduled to be carried out on the horse today.

The welfare of our equine athletes is our number one priority and, although this incident took place on a rest day between two international events, the FEI has rules in place that mean any horse welfare issues can be addressed, even if they happen outside the duration of an FEI event.

In order to protect the integrity of the investigation we will not give any further comment at this point in time.

The Irish Field

Article by Ashley Fairfield-Remeza