Kocher Claimed It Was A Clicker: Details Emerge In FEI Electrified Spurs Decision

Jun 16, 2021 - 7:21 AM

U.S. show jumper Andy Kocher tried unsuccessfully to convince a Fédération Equestre Internationale Tribunal that a device shown in his hand in scores of photos was a standard clicker for clicker-training horses rather than the trigger for electrified spurs.

His defense, plus other details about the case that led to his recent 10-year suspension by the FEI, became public when the Tribunal released its full reasoned decision on June 10. The Tribunal in April had released a shorter “operative decision,” which found Kocher in violation of horse abuse, breach of the FEI Code of Conduct, competition manipulation and incorrect behavior, and outlined his fines and suspension but did not include details of the case. Kocher was given 21 days to appeal the decision.

Kocher, the reasoned decision shows, maintained throughout the proceedings that he did not own or use electric spurs. He said the device seen in his hand was used for positive-reinforcement clicker training, and that what appeared to be an electric wire running up his sleeve actually was a tether he attached to the clicker so that he wouldn’t drop it.

He presented no witnesses nor physical evidence to back up his assertions. However, none of the five witnesses that testified against him ever saw him with a clicker or heard him talk about clicker-training methods, but all saw him at various times with a box-and-wire contraption used to electrify his spurs.

Kocher also argued that if he had been using such a device it “defied logic that FEI officials did not discover the use of such electric devices or electrical tape over a significant period of time, when [he] had taken place in over 1,200 FEI competitions.”

Out of “more than 1,000” photos submitted, the FEI’s Equestrian Community Integrity Unit examined 81 from eight international and various national competitions and identified a trigger button in 73 of them. (In several photos, a cable running up Kocher’s arm—which he later argued was a leash for a handheld clicker—was visible).

The Tribunal also considered several videos, including one that showed the electric device and how it was used, and another showing a pair of old boots that allegedly belonged to Kocher and were kept by one of the witnesses when he replaced them. They “showed small holes visible on the inside of the Boots where the cables would allegedly run through, and the position of the holes matched the place where the spurs would need to be positioned,” according to the Tribunal’s written decision.

The Tribunal also heard testimony from the five witnesses. Their names were not included in the final report for fear of retaliation.

Reported By Former Business Partner

The main witness in the case, identified as Witness C in the full reasoned decision, was a former business partner of Kocher’s who also had a “close personal relationship” with him before those relationships soured.

She was the person who initially reported Kocher to the FEI in May 2020 for using electrified spurs, and later recorded one of the chief pieces of video evidence used in the case, which showed a shock device and explained how it worked. All parties acknowledged that she and Kocher have lawsuits pending in several states regarding their erstwhile horse sales business.

She testified that she moved her horses to Kocher’s stables in April 2018. In August 2019 she noticed electrical equipment in his car, and when she asked Kocher about it, he “said that he did not use these anymore, but he made them for other people and sold them.”

But, she testified, by early 2020, “it was a daily routine and [Kocher] was very open about kitting out with the Electric Shock Device.”

“She clarified that the first time she learnt about the use of an Electric Shock Device on her horses by [Kocher], she requested for their use to be prohibited as she saw the use of these devices as cruel and not something she wanted her horses subjected to as they seemed frightened,” the decision read.

She pointed to Kocher’s behavior “after his numerous in-competition falls,” testifying he would always refuse to take off his jacket or be examined by medical personnel, saying instead that he had to be by himself to “call his mother” or pull himself together after the fall.

“Witness C was questioned about the effect of the Electric Shock Device on the horses she owned and reported that it caused and has left a lot of anxiety and behavioural problems in the horses, as it is a form of coercive training in addition to cheating,” the decision read.

Both Kocher and the witness acknowledged their acrimonious parting. Kocher testified that she reported him maliciously, “hired” the other witnesses to “collude” against him and provided them assistance to coordinate their stories and evidence, which she denied. The Tribunal acknowledged their now-acrimonious relationship as well:

“…[I]t was apparent that numerous issues were and are ongoing between her and [Kocher] in terms of the breakdown of their personal and business relationship, the outstanding contracts, sales of horses etc. which are not relevant for the matters to be adjudicated at these Tribunal proceedings,” the decision read. “The Tribunal also noted these matters are ongoing in courts elsewhere and are not pertinent to determine the Device case.”

Employees: He Made Us Use Them

Witness A, a former employee of Kocher’s and an international show jumping competitor, testified she saw Kocher go into a horse’s stall in the FEI stabling at the Split Rock CSI2* (Kentucky) in May 2019 and saw him attaching the device prior to competing that day.

“Whilst having a discussion with [Kocher] after the round assessing their performance and what went wrong, [Kocher] said he also had the same problems, but the Electric Shock Device made up the distance and hence the difference in the results,” she testified, according to the Tribunal’s decision. “She said they were all instructed by [Kocher] to use the Electric Shock Device and by virtue of her employment she felt compelled to do so.”

Kocher gave her a device, which she was instructed to use in training and competition, and she told the Tribunal that she refused to use it in competition. She testified she saw Kocher use it on over a dozen horses, and that he always used it in training before competing with them.

“The benefit of triggering the device was to provide an immediate acceleration in between obstacles or within an A-B or A-B-C combination in order to avoid having a rail down resulting in penalty points, to prevent a hesitant or nervous horse to stop in front of an obstacle … and to force a tired horse to continue in a certain pace when normally a horse would start slowing down or be more ‘flat,'” according to the reasoned decision.

Witness B, another former employee, testified he used the electric shock device, provided by Kocher, once while riding a horse in training.

“… [H]e was instructed by [Kocher] to wear the Electric Shock Device in early January 2019, and felt compelled to do so, however after using the Electric Shock Device, he never used them again due to the electric shock and fright he felt on his own body which highlighted how frightened a horse must feel from the use of these devices,” according to the decision.

The same witness testified that he once fetched a bag for Kocher containing “a rectangular device with four wires inside and a black circular button on top. He emphasized that it did not look like a phone charger as it had electrical tape covering half of it and a button attached to one of the wires.”

Kocher then took the bag into the restroom with him before getting on his first horse before the competition.

Several weeks before the FEI hearing, Kocher threatened him, the man testified: “…[H]e received a phone call from [Kocher] who said that it would be a lot easier for him if he withdrew his statement and following which he would not share images of the witness,” the decision stated, “he was unsure as to what images [Kocher] was referring to.”

In Kocher’s testimony, he claimed both former employees—but not he—had used electrified spurs. He recalled Witness B possibly referring to them as “rockets” in a text message.

“[Kocher] informed the witness he did not want an Electric Shock Device to be used on his horses or have these around his horses,” the decision read. “He furthered that he did not report this abuse i.e., the use of the ‘rockets’ to [U.S. Equestrian Federation] or FEI at the time but rather terminated the employment of the witness as he was only concerned with the care of his horses and that was all that mattered at the time.”

Kocher ‘Very Open’ About Device

Witness D, a freelance groom who worked with Kocher, described seeing the trigger to the electric shock device in Kocher’s hand on multiple occasions. She also noted that Kocher would wear sweaters in very warm weather, which made it look like he was hiding something.

“She stated that a number of horses that were usually very calm, showed very high levels of stress when [Kocher] was riding them,” the decision read. “The horses would ‘rear up’, ‘shiver’ and ‘bolt’ often. She did not understand why this was the case as [he] did not use a whip or excessively use his spurs on the horses and there were no marks from the rubbing of spurs.”

She described seeing the device in greater detail at a later date and testified that Kocher “at this stage was very open in front of his colleagues when wearing the Electric Shock Device.”

Witness E, a longtime acquaintance of Kocher’s, said that Kocher was using the electrified spurs as far back as 2013 or 2014. Kocher showed him how the device worked at a show in Mason City, Iowa, in one of those years, he said, explaining the way he put the wires through holes in his riding boots and always wore a jacket to hide the battery and the cord.

“He concluded that this encounter should have been reported when it first happened and was given all these details of the Electric Shock Device in person,” according to the decision. “It was not until the story of this case broke in 2020 when he was horrified to realise that [Kocher] was still using the Electric Shock Device to compete at the highest levels of the sport and perhaps when representing the United States.”

Kocher, in his own testimony, said he does not know Witness E at all and questioned why he would have shown the man any device or been working on it in a barn aisle, as Witness E testified.

Tribunal Convinced Of Abuse

The Tribunal ruled Kocher used an electrical shock device that included a modified electrical power bank attached to both a trigger mechanism and an electrical cord with exposed cable endings, which connected to his spurs. Kocher presumably held and pressed the trigger in his hand to deliver an electrical shock to the spurs while riding. FEI attorneys contended Kocher used the device in competitions as well as training, repeatedly and on numerous horses, for years dating back to 2013-2014.

In reaching its decision, the Tribunal said the witnesses’ “individual direct evidence was convincing, and cumulatively was compelling.” In contrast, it noted Kocher and his attorneys had repeatedly asked for extensions and delays yet had not provided “any convincing evidence that the device was a clicker. None of the witnesses saw a clicker used by [Kocher] in training or competition and no physical or photographic evidence was presented to corroborate [Kocher’s] assertions of its use.”

The Tribunal also called it “surprising” that Kocher, who requested multiple delays throughout the FEI proceedings, had not called a single witness to refute the testimony of those speaking for the FEI.

Attorneys for the FEI argued that Kocher’s case was different from any previous horse-abuse case it had handled as it dealt with “preplanned, deliberate, intentional, methodical and continued abuse of horses” over seven to eight years. The FEI’s attorneys also told the Tribunal that Kocher previously had been convicted of stealing animals and allegedly killing one.

History Of Animal Abuse ‘Relevant’

In 2002, Kocher was sentenced to six months prison and four years’ probation after pleading guilty to felony theft of two ponies and a goat, the latter of which he and an accomplice killed, the FEI legal team stated.

The Tribunal said it factored that past behavior into its deliberations.

“[Kocher] and an accomplice killed the goat by smothering the animal. The Tribunal considers that the particular circumstances of the cruel death of the goat i.e., by suffocation, is relevant to take into account when examining [Kocher’s] past behaviour in particular towards animals and especially relevant for the nature of these disciplinary proceedings involving abuse of horses,” the decision stated.

The FEI’s attorneys asked the Tribunal to impose a minimum five-year suspension on Kocher. The Tribunal, citing Kocher’s persistence in denials, which it found to be unconvincing, and his total lack of remorse, elected to give him a 10-year suspension.

“The Tribunal finds that [Kocher’s] actions based on the evidence provided throughout these proceedings demonstrate to the comfortable satisfaction of the Hearing Panel the prolonged use of the Electric Spurs by [Kocher] and additionally, that [Kocher’s] use was deliberate, methodical, repetitive and on numerous horses, both in competition and training,” the decision read.

“It is in fact an example not only of horse abuse but also of gross cheating over a lengthy period; to the great detriment of the reputation of the sport, [Kocher]’s owners and the other riders in his competitions, not to mention the criminality in some jurisdictions,” the report continued. “[Kocher’s] conduct during the hearing, including flat denials and consequently a total lack of remorse, only makes matters worse.”

Read the full reasoned decision of the FEI Tribunal here.

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