Fair Hill Part 3: The Thing We’re All Talking About

And then of course, there was this:

fence 21
fence 12
fence 10

I was standing by fence 21 on XC day with some friends when ML went by with RF Scandalous. Even though I was several strides back on the landing side of the fence, I could see the red-tinged mouth from at least a few strides before take-off. My first thought was “What brand sells red-mouthed bits?”. For real, that was my first, utterly ridiculous thought, because I just couldn’t believe it would actually happen again, especially in front of my own eyes. Then as she got closer my mouth just gaped open and I said “Holy shit. Oh my god.”. As she galloped away I turned and looked at my friend and asked her if she saw it too. There was a lot of red, and it was very obvious even at speed and even from many strides away.

My friend Michelle had her camera so we immediately pulled up the pictures she had taken so we could verify what we’d seen. There was no doubt about the presence of blood, and a lot of it.


Here is where I should back up a bit and explain why Michelle was even there with me at Fair Hill in the first place. She’s a lifelong h/j rider, and her breeding program is jumper-oriented. But she’s seen how much fun I’ve had with eventing, and she’s excited about my upcoming eventer baby. She has been considering possibly refocusing part of her breeding program to eventers, and even considering investing in a syndicate on an upper level horse. I have, of course, encouraged these things, because I love this sport and think she would love it too. Fair Hill was supposed to be a “come see how awesome this is and leave feeling inspired” kind of thing. A bloody horse galloping by us on XC, not getting pulled up at any point over the 10 minute course to be checked, and the horse in question ending up winning the event… let’s just say inspired was not one of the feelings she had when she left. Eventing needs people like her, and incidents like this only serve to drive them away.

Aside from the majority of the general public and a very select few upper level pros (much respect to Sara for having the integrity to speak up), this has been handled with mostly silence and avoidance. At what point will we stop defending this? The saying goes: once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern. But apparently four different times (Boekelo 2015, Fair Hill 2015, Galway 2015, and now Fair Hill 2016) on three different horses within a one year time period is not enough. How many times is too many? By the time you’re done piling on all the different eyewitness accounts of the series of events that allegedly happened that day, it raises a whole lot of eyebrows. I said it last year and I’ll say it again – we’ve really got to revisit the wording of the FEI eventing blood rules so that this can’t happen, much less repeatedly. I don’t really think that zero tolerance is the best answer, but surely we can do better than a rule that allows four incidences in one year with no consequence. Something isn’t working.


I used up most of my rage last year at the first two instances and all of the fallout that came after I posted about it. Now I’m just left feeling demoralized, defeated, and disappointed. Disappointed that it happened again, disappointed that this rider and her team not only seem to expect it but have figured out how to get away with it, disappointed in the fact that how it was handled is technically within the FEI rules as they’re written, disappointed in the governing bodies that seem more interested in defending it than stopping it, and disappointed in the image that this gives to the sport that I love.

I’m also embarrassed… truly and deeply embarrassed for my sport, and the fact that this performance garnered someone a National 3* Championship title. The media can’t even post any pics or videos of the winning horse from XC day because it’s mouth and chin are covered in blood. As an American eventer, I am absolutely mortified by that. It’s shameful, and it’s disgraceful. It’s an image I don’t think we can afford to project. Let’s be clear: no one has won here, especially not the sport of eventing.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow (with the actual fun stuff from Fair Hill) because that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

47 thoughts on “Fair Hill Part 3: The Thing We’re All Talking About

  1. I also witnessed this at Fair Hill. I noticed that in all of my photos from XC day, the horses seemed to be enthusiastic about their jobs and appeared to be in tip-top shape. Not the case with ML’s mount. I didn’t see much enthusiasm in their performance, and especially not in these photos. Does that look like the face of an event horse that enjoys what they do? It’s a downright shame that these amazing horses are the ones that suffer the most from this negligence on our part as their caretakers. We’re supposed to be making steps forward in eventing, and then people like ML are rewarded for their cruelty. We should be ashamed, but evidently we’re not because this is still allowed to happen. It gives eventers a bad rep when in reality they’re some of the best horsemen we’ve got. It’s time for changes to be made with this system.


  2. The fact that the media won’t post pictures, but officials found “nothing amiss” is just another indicator that something fishy is going on. Like you, I’ve said so much on this already that I don’t really have much more to say that I already haven’t….but IMO there’s a coverup involved and it shady AF.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We saw Scandelous through the coffin complex from a distance and my friend’s immediate observation was, “That is a horse with a lot of heart!”

    I am discouraged that we are still talking about this a year later, the same exact situation unfolding under the same circumstances at the same event. And I’m discouraged by what seems like tacit acceptance shown by the FEI’s apparent unwillingness to clarify the rules.


  4. You know how I feel about this… I know you don’t want to be leading the supposed witch hunt but hopefully you won’t mind that I’m
    Putting the link to the petition I started in this comment. We have a serious problem in the sport if this kind of horsemanship is going to be the norm and none of our officials will even talk about the fact that there is a problem…

    Maybe some of your readers will be interested in signing as well.



    1. People who characterize showing concern for a horse’s welfare as a “witch hunt” are part of the problem. That is not what’s happening. The rules can be changed to prevent this. Hopefully a lot of people agree and will sign.


          1. I signed it Hillary! I stopped even looking at Eventing Connect after they first labeled Amanda as a witch hunter. Especially as it wasn’t the first time they’d been inappropriate (they used to have a column about the worst dressed at jogs, nothing like bullying to increase readership)


          1. In all my years riding multiple disciplines and even playing polo (fast, hard and a lot of bit) have I ever had a horse bleed. a rub on the cheek from a pinch yes, but foaming blood red mouth( nope). It takes a lot of force to make a horse bleed. clearly something is VERY amiss in ML barn. It is ridiculous that dressage riders are disqualified immediately upon blood being discovered/ seen but not eventing. Though I will say the same politics apply in FEI dressage. One of the US horses did have blood during the run up to Rio while showing in Europe. Nobody did anything. I don’t get it. There is blood or there isn’t. This is pretty straightforward. In addition the grooms should not be the first one to the horse upon completion of XC. It should be like dressage. Soon as horse comes out of the ring a white gloved delegate is checking bit, flanks and for ear plugs. jmo.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for going back in to the trenches on this one. It needs to be said and acknowledged, the rules are shite. I don’t care if the bloody mouth is in jumpers, dressage, eventing, reining, vaulting, barrels, or if it is with George Morris, Marilyn Little, Jesus, the Beatles, Fred Astaire. It is just not right no matter how you look at it.

    It is not fair to the horses or riders. I’m sure those who have been DQ for less feel a total wtf moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fred Astaire had far too much class for a thing like this… 😉 But yes I’ve seen a lot of other riders who were eliminated for much less that are now standing here going “UHHHH…..”. Leaving these kind of decisions up to someone’s opinion or discretion is a) a really uncomfortable position for that person to be in, especially when the potential fallout includes a team that is backed by the KOC/DOC machine, b) cannot possibly be fair, even in the best attempts. It’s gotta be a very clear, hard and fast rule. Honestly, I’d be ok even if it said something like “blood spotted on the mouth or sides will be pulled up and examined immediately, at which point officials will determine if the horse is fit to continue. The rider will be issued a yellow card for each instance of confirmed blood in the mouth/on the spur area.”.

      If she’d been immediately pulled up and the horse examined (before the grooms could wipe away the worst of the evidence) no one would be this pissed right now. If she’d been issued a yellow card, no one would even be talking about it anymore.


  6. i dont really understand why the rules that ALREADY EXIST at the FEI cant be followed. she should have been pulled up on course, as that is already the rule, checked, and then if it was all fine allowed to continue.

    it really annoyed me they ended up winning. the horse is fantastic so i’m not really surprised.


  7. I can’t believe she still has any clients!
    I’ve never even *heard* of anyone at any of our dressage, jumping, schools league or eventing shows having blood in the horse’s mouth – never seen it in my life, not even while training, not even with horses pulling away and getting their feet in the reins.
    I ride an iron grey mare with a little weird chestnut-coloured birthmark on her cheekbone, right where the noseband sits. At one little local show even after a good test, where the judge could clearly see that I had quiet hands, the judge nearly pulled me for having blood on my horse. She actually had to come over and move the noseband so she could see it was just a birthmark before she would let me finish. I was nothing but impressed and pleased with her caution! And this was a random First level test at a local show nobody cares about! So how is this upper level rider having blood gush out of her horse’s mouth at national championships… and getting away with it?!


  8. I’ve thought about writing on this topic, but I hate getting attacked by eventing harpies and I don’t event so whatever.


    You don’t have to know about eventing or the FEI or the rulebook or even about horses to know that it’s not ok to have blood running down your animal. Sally bleeding-heart-dog-lover who’s never seen a horse in real life can tell you that the horse wasn’t bleeding with joy. I don’t understand why people are defending this woman. At all. At best, she’s a black mark on an already-harried sport. When the top riders close ranks and say “oh it happens to everyone and this is just a witch hunt”, all I can think is 1) I don’t recall seeing Jung or Fox Pitt or Nicholson or Toddy running around bloodied ever and 2) if this really is as normal as they say it is, the whole institution needs to go up in flames. Yesterday.


    1. Agreed. I understand why other top pros are very hesitant to speak out (especially if they ever have any Team aspirations) but damn. At some point someone has to have the balls to stand up and say that something is wrong here, otherwise eventually there won’t be a sport left to defend.


  9. What I can’t get over is that she came back out on RF Demeter with a giant black shadow roll UNDER the horse’s face, covering any visibility of the mouth. I mean come on. If that’s not shady and ridiculous, then I don’t know what is. I’m still just so angry. I would want to know immediately if Bacon had a tinge of blood anywhere. I was upset because she has a tiny rub off her face from her bit, she we changed the set up.


  10. Crazy. Can you comment on her riding? Is she rough with her hands? The bit appears to be milder than her typical bitting choices. Aside from the obvious blood, what was your in person impression of her riding?


    1. I think if you spend some time watching her videos you can get a general impression of her riding style. She’s a very good rider overall, fast and bold, and she stays fast and bold by waiting much longer to balance a horse for a fence than some people do. Sometimes it results in a lot of last-minute yanking on a strong horse.


      1. Makes sense. I’ll check out some videos. It’s sad and mystifying to me. I’ve ridden for years and never seen blood on a horse’s mouth.


  11. As I’m sure you know, in dressage, you get checked with WHITE GLOVES the moment you come out of the ring. Nobody else is allowed to touch your horse before the steward does. Your horse’s mouth is wiped, your spurs and their sides are wiped, and your whip gets measured, pretty much every ride. And if you have a SPECK of blood, you’re out.

    Is it fair? Maybe not (see Steffan Peters’ elimination). But I would far, FAR rather be eliminated, or even see top riders eliminated, than have blood be acceptable in any amount.

    I sincerely hope USEA/USEF/FEI changes their rules on this one.


    1. I would far rather see some mildly-unfair and disappointing disqualifications (eg Steffan Peters, or the time McClain Ward got a weird “hypersensitivity” test) in favor of horse welfare than have animals running around bleeding.


    1. Her nosebands pretty much always look like that. The pics from dressage and XC are similar, just a flash, not a drop. Makes you wonder if that’s causing them to bite their cheeks or something while they’re galloping/jumping XC.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Holy crap. That is an insanely tight noseband. I’ve never used or seen a drop used in person, so maybe that disqualifies me from this discourse. But … that doesn’t look right.


  12. Well your blog summed it up pretty well the feelings I have over this. Sadness, disappointment, disgust, defeated… The fact that they can’t post pictures because of the blood soaked mouth in the media but said media is still defending her is sad and pathetic, but if you go on social media, you see multiple posts of different eye witnesses from many different vantage points of the massive amount of blood. I hope her sponsors take note and dump her b/c obviously our governing bodies do not give a flying f**k about a horse’s welfare, they just care about if you win. #BloodyMary – I am putting that on any and all post about her on any social media going forward.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. In my opinion, the people that work with her/for her to help disguise, hide and accept this behavior as the norm as just as guilty…..


  14. Four times in one year is what bothers me.
    I thought it was fantastic that a show jumper decided to come to the eventing world when she started out(so no sour grapes about a showjumper beating us at our sport for me:) ). I thought wow that might encourage other to try jumping outside the ring. I want everybody to come eventing.
    As an Eventer who has only competed up to prelim so far, I cannot say I know better than those UL riders, I do know However,that great rider’s like Nicholson, Fox-Pitt, Jung or Todd don’t have this bloody mouth issue.
    Why she does I am not sure. This last incident she seems to be riding is a Pelham with a Sharon Camarillo Power Curb Chain a rather common bit I think the curb not so much.
    I think we should have mandatory stops (No matter who is in the tack. That means Joe blow from Idaho or William Fox-Pitt) and Inspection if something is spotted on the xc. or a rule the Steward inspects the horse before anybody else can touch it. Maybe tack check at the end of XC before grooms etc can touch the horse?
    A yellow card warning system idea I also like. Too many yellow cards and you have to prove why you should be to allow to compete in the future?
    I love this sport Eventing. I am sad that bad things like this are what we now getting noticed for rather than good sportsmanship, Horsemanship,bravery and looking out for each other.

    Oh and Sending get better Fast vibes to your Pony at the SPA ! 🙂 from Canada (no Snow yet 🙂 )

    Ps. yesterday there was an announcement of a long format event happing next summer In Ont Canada. I been wanting to try one since you told how much you enjoyed it. !!!!


    1. What I don’t understand is why at some events the stewarding is clearly so much more onto it than others – maybe they don’t feel the need to get really serious until four star level, when the world media is properly involved? Because you’re totally right that the sport’s greats have never had blood in the mouth issues – there’s one very interesting incident I can recall though. Jock Paget’s top horse Clifton Promise (pre-retirement) was pulled up on course at a four star for blood in the mouth. He was well known for habitually letting his tongue flop around as he ran (a consistent behaviour not apparently related to bitting or riding, just one of those horsey quirks) and on this occasion was found to have bitten his tongue and inflicted a minor injury. Paget was cleared to continue the course.

      This all sounds fantastic to me. Stewards spotted a minor amount of blood (nothing like the amount shown on ML’s horse in these photos) and IMMEDIATELY pulled a rider up on a four star course. When the injury was found to be minor and not inflicted by harsh riding, he was allowed to continue. So if the blood rule can work at the top level when a steward spots only a tiny amount of blood and reacts entirely appropriately, what on earth is the excuse for letting this horse continue unchecked with blood streaming out of its mouth?

      In saying that I wouldn’t want to be a steward – I suspect they’re usually under-trained volunteers who have an awful lot of responsibility resting on their shoulders and who are under some pressure not to interrupt the day’s running. But something has got to change if blood in this degree was missed or ignored.


  15. I am so disgusted by this that I can’t even collect my thoughts. On what planet is it acceptable to be galloping on course with blood freely flowing from your horse’s mouth? On this planet, you say??? Surely that’s not true…EXCEPT IT IS.


  16. Having met and disliked RF Demeter’s owners, I can only guess RF Scandalous’s owners are equally as unconcerned with their horse’s well-being as opposed to Little’s ability to win. Maybe sponsors will drop her though. Looking at her website, I don’t actually see any brands I care about so I don’t need to boycott anything.


  17. I thought I could not possibly dislike this person any more than I already did, but guess what – 4th time is NOT the charm. Black freakin’ towels? Seriously? She PLANS ON making her horse’s mouths bleed and PLANS ON the officials letting her run right past them, blood flying in the air? There’s no other explanation. And there’s simply NO EXCUSE, either. As for the officials, stop her damn ass on the course. Just do it. Either that, or have a vet standing at the finish line, who grabs the horse by the bridle and doesn’t let anyone else near it. Period. Vet takes note of the nose band, the curb chain, and most definitely the blood that EVERYONE SAW. Why on earth is this still happening?


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