Thursday, May. 23, 2024

Court Rules Danish TV Show Can Air Undercover Helgstrand Dressage Videos

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A Danish court today ruled that a documentary television program can air footage purported to show abusive training practices, secretly recorded at the main Helgstrand Dressage training and sales facility in that country. The ruling comes over objections from Helgstrand, which argued against the methods used to collect the videos. [Editor’s note: Helgstrand Dressage is owned by Global Equestrian Group, which also owns The Chronicle of the Horse.]

The ruling clears the way for the show, titled “Operation X: Secrets of the Horse Billionaire,” to air Wednesday, Nov. 22, on Danish national television station TV2. 

“For principled reasons, we chose to file a lawsuit against TV 2 for their choice of journalistic method, as we believe it should not be allowed to film our employees or our work with hidden cameras, just as we as a private company have the right to a private space. Unfortunately, the Western High Court approved TV 2’s methods today,” said Helgstrand Dressage in a written statement today, Nov. 17.  “We will not participate in the programs, as the case has had a legal course where, for principled reasons, we objected to the journalistic methods using hidden cameras. We do not think it is fair for our employees to be recorded with a hidden camera and publicly exposed before the media has even approached us with a request to film.”

Danish Olympian Andreas Helgstrand, shown here riding Jovian at the 2023 CHIO Aachen (Germany), is the founder of Helgstrand Dressage. Lisa Slade Photo

Operation X is a documentary TV series in which reporters go undercover in various industries to expose alleged crime and misdoings. In early 2023, a reporter from TV2 reportedly got a job as a groom at Helgstrand and recorded a month’s worth of secret videos inside the main sales and training barn in Uggerhalne, Denmark, before resigning.

In an August interview with Danish newspaper Nordjyske, a TV2 editor discussed the nature of the footage.

“According to Ketil Alstrup, editor at Operation X, they have recordings of conversations about horses with blood in their mouths from wounds that do not have time to heal, and streak marks from excessive use of the whip and spurs that are covered with shoe polish,” Nordjyske reported, according to an English translation of the article. “TV 2 also has footage from the riding hall, where there are several examples of Helgstrand Dressage using the training method rollkur, where the rider forces the horse to curl its neck.” 

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The use of rollkur is banned in Denmark.

In June, Andreas Helgstrand issued a statement condemning the TV2’s reporting methods as invasive and potentially illegal. Soon after, Helgstrand Dressage filed a request for an injunction to prevent TV2 from airing the footage its journalist had recorded. That request was denied by a district court in September, at which point Helgstrand appealed to the Western High Court in Aalborg (Denmark). The case was heard there Tuesday, Nov. 14, and the decision issued Friday.

In responding to the court’s decision, Helgstrand emphasized the company has undergone internal changes to focus on animal welfare and improve its processes and standards for horses and employees alike.

“As a market leader and one of the largest players in our field, we are committed to lead and set higher standards for the industry,” the Helgstrand statement said. “There has been recent criticism of the industry and us, and we have also listened to that criticism. We have thoroughly reviewed our work and implemented numerous measures and improvements to our business practices, animal welfare, and the working conditions of our employees. Several of these changes are now industry-leading.”

Helgstrand set out those changes on its website.

“There should be no doubt that it is absolutely crucial for us that our horses thrive, and we prioritize animal welfare above all else,” the statement continued. “Dressage as an industry is still evolving, and working with horses at the elite level demands a lot from both rider and horse. With that said, our horses cannot be world-class if we do not treat them as such. Therefore, animal welfare is a top priority at Helgstrand Dressage. We take this very seriously—both now and in the future.”

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