Andy Kocher was jubilant after he rode Carollo to the first five-star win of his career in the $500,000 Queen Elizabeth ATCO Cup on Saturday, July 6, at the Spruce Meadows tournament in Calgary, Alberta. But the following day, the 35-year-old rider entered the same horse in the ‘Reach for the Sun’ Derby, where the pair racked up 28 faults.
In the days following the event, a social media storm broke out as Roy Wilten, who had the horse in training before Kocher, and other horsemen accused Kocher of mistreating Carollo. Now a spokesperson for the Fédération Equestre Internationale has confirmed the governing body is getting involved.
“We are looking into this matter and, while we are waiting to receive the official reports from the Foreign Judge and the Foreign Veterinary Delegate, we have proactively contacted the Officials from the event,” read the FEI statement. “We are also in touch with the athlete’s National Federation.”
A U.S. Equestrian Federation official confirmed the organization had been contacted by the FEI.
“We are aware of the situation regarding Andy Kocher during the ‘Reach for the Sun’ Derby at the Spruce Meadows ‘North American’ Tournament CSI5* on Sunday, July 7,” read the USEF statement. “Andy should have made a different decision and pulled up; he has addressed this situation personally and recognizes his error in judgment. USEF is in communication with the FEI as this was an FEI event, and we are monitoring what action the FEI may take before we make any decisions.”
Kocher and the horse’s owners, Anton and Michele Marano, said they have not been contacted by anyone from USEF or the FEI as of July 16.
The FEI Code of Conduct for the Welfare of the Horse states: “Horses must be allowed [a] suitable rest period between training and competitions,” but there is no explicit rule regarding entering back-to-back five-star classes in as many days.
On July 8 Kocher addressed the derby round via Facebook. “Some great horse and rider combinations won both the QE II and the Spruce Meadows Derby in the same weekend, and Carollo and I gave it a try, but it was not to be,” he wrote. “Carollo had never jumped those kind of fences before, and in hindsight I should have pulled him up when I felt some anxiousness from him, but I always try to complete the course both to give a horse experience and as a sportsman.”
Kocher went on to apologize to the horse’s owners and said he’d had a veterinarian examine the 10-year-old Mecklenburg gelding. “All is well,” wrote Kocher. “He’ll get a well deserved rest now until his next competition, and I’m looking forward to what he can accomplish next.”
But Wilten, who had Carollo in his Stal Wilten program in the Netherlands for six years prior to Kocher taking over the ride in 2018, remains critical of Kocher’s decision to compete in the derby and finish the course.
“I watched the video, and it was very disturbing to see that with any horse, especially one of your own horses,” Wilten said.
There is a dispute between the Maranos and Wilten over the horse’s ownership. The Maranos say Wilten once owned a part of the horse but doesn’t anymore, while Wilten says he still owns a small share. Neither has a sales contract, and Carollo is registered with the USEF and FEI with Kocher as the owner.
Wilten said regardless of the current ownership dispute, he no longer wants to be paid out on any part he may own in the horse if Kocher continues to ride him. He posted a Facebook status on July 12 sharing the second half of Kocher’s round and a Snapchat clip of the horse in the barn before the class.
“So sad that some people don’t know when it’s enough and how to take good care of their horses after winning a big 5 * 1.60m at Spruce with 3 heavy rounds,” he wrote. “They should be your best friends. I am disgusted and so should everyone else. We should all be willing to stand up for our animals. We are their voice. Grow a pair and stand up and share this post so this does not happen again!!”
The post has been shared almost 3,000 times with almost 2,000 comments and reactions.
“I posted that because I was thinking about it and said enough is enough,” Wilten said. “I spoke with the Maranos, and they said he deserves a second chance, and I didn’t agree.”
“We didn’t know the horse had been entered in the derby, and we wouldn’t have wanted him to go in the derby had we known,” Michele said. “I think Andy made a bad judgment call; I think he made a mistake, and he’s apologized to us for it. But I don’t think social media is the place to go about having this discussion.”
The derby is often a high fault class—this year 10 pairs either retired or were eliminated, seven pairs had 20 faults or more, and half the class had 12 faults or more—but Kocher was one of only two riders who rode the same horse in that class and the Queen Elizabeth Cup.
“That class just didn’t go my way; it didn’t work for me. I had a vet look over the horse after the class, and he said he was completely healthy and sound,” Kocher said. “Many other people have jumped in both classes and done well, and if I had pulled it off people would have called me a genius, but I didn’t so now I’m an idiot.”
Michele questioned why there isn’t a rule against entering a horse in back-to-back classes. “I don’t know why the stewards didn’t step in after they saw my horse stumble down the bank and say, ‘Whoa, this isn’t your day. It’s time to pull up,’ ” Michele said. “Andy made a bad judgment call. He had just won the biggest class of his life the day before, and he was feeling on top of the world, and he made the wrong call. That’s where the FEI and the stewards needed to step in and pull him up when they saw it going badly.”
After Spruce Meadows Carollo shipped home to the Maranos’ farm near Chicago and is currently on a six-week break. Michele has been taking the opportunity to hack him.
“We trotted three whole laps around the arena yesterday; that was our ride,” Michele said with a laugh. “He’s trotting around with mom at home; he’s getting his massages and magna wave; he’s happy and healthy and looks beautiful, and people are out there saying he’s being abused. It’s just absurd.”
Wilten said he plans to write to the FEI and his national federation asking for rule changes limiting how many classes horses can enter in a given week.
“This isn’t just about Carollo,” Wilten said. “This is about all horses and changing the rules to protect all horses and make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”