Dutch rider Jur Vrieling definitely didn’t have the Olympic Games he was hoping for. He came to Rio with Zirocco Blue as part of a strong Dutch team, after having helped them earn gold in the 2015 European Championships (Germany). “Five years ago, I said this was going to be my horse for the Olympics. And I came here with the feeling that I might have a really good chance at a medal,” Vrieling said.
Then, in the first qualifying round on Aug. 14, Zirocco Blue, a 12-year-old Selle Français stallion, stopped twice at a combination, eliminating them. Vrieling hit the horse twice with his whip after the second stop. “It’s really disappointing. He’s never had problems before. One time in a jump-off, but that’s in a jump-off, not like this. I don’t know why. I wish the horse could speak,” Vrieling said.
Then, the even worse news—the ground jury changed Vrieling’s elimination to a disqualification. They determined that his whip marks on the gray’s side resulted in a violation of FEI rule 243.3.1, the “blood rule.”
FEI 243.3.1. dictates mandatory disqualification for: “Horses bleeding on the flank(s), in the mouth or nose or marks indicating excessive use of spurs or of the whip anywhere on the Horse (in minor cases of blood in the mouth, such as where a Horse appears to have bitten its tongue or lip, Officials may authorize the rinsing or wiping of the mouth and allow the rider Athlete to continue; any further evidence of blood in the mouth will result in Disqualification.”
“I did not disagree [with the disqualification],” Vrieling said. “After he stopped, I hit him in reaction. I regret it. It’s easy to say that, but I really do. I did wrong [when I hit him], and I will never do it in my life again. That I can promise.”
Though Vrieling was disqualified for the individual competition after that round, he still needed to jump for the Dutch team on Aug. 16. Veterinarians checked the stallion out after the first round and found no lameness or physical cause for the problem.
But disaster struck again as Zirocco Blue stopped twice again. “Today I did not take a whip. I just didn’t want to. It’s not going to fix it if he stops. He’s my best friend, and I want to keep him like that,” Vrieling said.
“If we’d done something different in the training, then I could live with it—I could say in my head, ‘Oh stupid, you shouldn’t have done this or that.’ But this has come totally out of nothing. For sure the horse has a reason, but I didn’t know why,” Vrieling said. “This horse has done so many good things for me. I respect my horse a lot, and I will try to get his confidence back.”
Mollie Bailey and Lindsay Berreth are on the ground in Rio de Janeiro for the Chronicle and will be reporting with all the news, fantastic photos and behind-the-scenes details, all posted on www.coth.com. Your go-to page for all things Olympic is http://www.chronofhorse.com/2016-Olympics.
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