The Fédération Equestre Internationale Tribunal has imposed a three-year suspension on Brazilian dressage rider Leandro Aparecido da Silva after finding him guilty of horse abuse. In addition, the Tribunal fined him CHF 5,000, about $5,500, plus costs of CHF 2,000.
The 45-year-old dressage rider represented Brazil at the 2008 Hong Kong Olympics, 2018 Tryon World Equestrian Games (North Carolina) and three times in the Pan American Games—most recently earning team bronze in 2019 in Lima, Peru.
Last summer, a video circulated of da Silva riding his daughter’s small pony Pirulito at his Adonai stud farm. He claimed he was giving the pony a “technical correction” after the pony disobeyed and bit his daughter. The video shows da Silva repeatedly jabbing the pony in the mouth and pulling on the reins, inverting the pony’s neck.
The FEI Tribunal report included expert testimony from FEI Veterinary Director Dr. Göran Akerström on the size difference between rider and pony. His testimony indicated the pony was carrying an estimated 34% of his body weight when da Silva was on him, far beyond a veterinary recommendation that horses carry no more than 15% of their own body weight for longer rides.
“[This] must be considered as an extreme overload that would cause unnecessary discomfort, even for a short period of time,” the Tribunal’s report stated. “The effect of the overload is, moreover, exacerbated by the very aggressive riding, the high position of the pony’s head, as well as the rider jabbing the pony’s mouth with the bit.”
A second video was posted showing da Silva’s 20-year-old son, who is not named in the FEI report, riding Pirulito. In this video, his son forces the pony to jump a fence and it suffers a rotational fall. In the background, an unidentified bystander laughs, which the FEI Tribunal members noted raised concerns on whether this practice was commonplace.
In September, the Brazilian Equestrian Sport Tribunal issued a ruling stating that since the incident took place out of competition, the organization had no jurisdiction. As a result, the FEI opened separate disciplinary proceedings for the alleged breaching of Article 142 in the FEI General Regulations, which prohibits horse abuse.
The FEI Tribunal found that da Silva went beyond “unnecessary discomfort” and instead caused “excessive discomfort” to Pirulito.
“The fact that this incident happened at the respondent’s stud farm, in a private context, is another aggravating circumstance in the Tribunal’s view,” the report stated. “While, to a certain extent, some behaviour may be understood in competition—but not accepted, obviously—for possible success, this is not the case here. There was no reason justifying the respondent’s actions. Furthermore, the fact that his family is involved in this apparent behaviour of filming, laughing and also riding the pony (as the respondent admitted for the incident captured in the second video), is also of great concern to the Tribunal.”
The facts of the case moved it into the “top-end” category of horse abuse and resulted in the Tribunal issuing the 30-month suspension for violating Article 142.1, plus a six-month suspension for violating the FEI Code of Conduct for the Welfare of the Horse, for a three-year total suspension.
The decision may be appealed at the Court of Arbitration for Sport within the next 21 days. The rider has not publicly stated if he plans to do so.
Read the entire FEI Tribunal report here.