Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add comments from Cian O’Connor announcing he has withdrawn Kilkenny from the team competition.
Blood started streaming out of both nostrils of Kilkenny, ridden by Ireland’s Cian O’Connor, about three-quarters into their round for the Tokyo Olympic show jumping individual final today. The pair finished the course as blood splattered onto the 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding’s (Cardento—MHS Pembrook Lady) gray chest. They jumped clean and notched just one time fault.
Fédération Equestre Internationale officials scan each horse after competition for blood on their flanks and mouth. The presence of any blood in those situations results in elimination. But an FEI spokesperson said that O’Connor was not in violation of the blood rule. He was not eliminated and finished in a tie for seventh place.
The blood was visible to those watching the livestream from the time the pair landed off of the water jump and got progressively more apparent. It is not known whether O’Connor could see it.
“Clearly, the images are distressing to see, but Cian O’Connor’s horse Kilkenny was immediately checked by veterinarians straight after the competition,” said an FEI spokesperson in a statement. “The vets established that this was a nosebleed (epistaxis) and, as a precaution, the horse has gone to the onsite Veterinary Clinic for a further examination.
“Under the FEI Jumping Rules, blood on the flanks or in the horse’s mouth results in elimination, however, equine epistaxis is not a cause for elimination.”
But nosebleeds to this degree need to be investigated, said a veterinary expert contacted by the Chronicle.
“He looks great; the vets have checked him over, and he seems fine. We’re allowed to continue to compete, but for me, his future is more important,” O’Connor said, adding that he will be watching the team competition from the ground, helping his Irish teammates. “We’ll be back to fight another day. I’m just happy he’s in such good shape, and he jumped so well in the qualifier and the final.”
Also in the individual final, Cinca 3, ridden by New Zealand’s Daniel Meech, was eliminated after blood was found on the horse’s left flank in the post-competition check.
“Elimination under this rule does not imply there was any intent to injure the horse, but the rules are in place to protect the welfare of all competing horses,” stated a press release from Tokyo 2020. “The New Zealand Equestrian Federation lodged a protest to contest the elimination, which was heard by the Ground Jury and ultimately dismissed.”
Earlier in the Tokyo Olympic Games, a judge rang the bell on Singapore dressage rider and Olympic first-timer Caroline Chew midway through her test when blood became visible on her horse Tribiani’s lip. She was eliminated and left the ring at a walk.
“The rules relating to blood on the horse are discipline specific due to the different requirements of each of the FEI disciplines,” said the FEI spokesperson. “Blood in the mouth under the FEI Dressage Rules results in elimination, although it was clearly established in the post-competition check that Melanie Chew’s horse Tribiani [ridden by Caroline Chew] had bitten its lip.”