After accusations of animal cruelty when several horses refused to jump in the last Olympics, the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) has decided to drop riding horses from the sport. It will now start a consultation process to identify a suitable replacement. It is understood this decision was made to preserve the status of this sport for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

The modern pentathlon is an Olympic sport made of five different events: one-touch épée fencing, 200m freestyle swimming, 15 jumps equestrian show jumping, and a final combined event of pistol shooting and 3,200m cross country running (laser-run). Although the sport will not change for the next Olympics in Paris in 2024, the riding event will now need to be replaced for the following games. Cycling is the most likely alternative. 

When German coach Kim Raisner was recorded punching the horse Saint-Boy during the riding section of the pentathlon at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the reputation of the sport was put into question. Saint Boy, ridden by Annika Schleu, refused to jump, and this is why it was attacked by the frustrated violent coach. The UIPM Disciplinary Panel found Raisner guilty of violating Rule 4.6.8, which states a “pentathlete or team is disqualified for rapping or beating a horse and all other cases of cruelty and/or ill-treatment of a horse.” She was sent home earlier, but the damage had already been done. Schleu, who was criticized for her violent use of the whip and spurs during the competition, was found not guilty of excessive use. This sport was created by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, to help cavalry riders develop the skills needed to survive behind enemy lines. It was inspired by the traditional pentathlon held during the ancient Olympics to help train Greek soldiers. Therefore, it seems it has been linked to some sort of “violence” from the very beginning. I don’t believe that in the future vegan world there will be any room for sports that glamorize war and violence, even with simulated versions of the original martial disciplines. Therefore, I expect the evolution of the pentathlon will not end with just removing the horses from the equation. But before that happens, the Olympic games should drop all equestrian sports, as animal rights organisations have been calling for some time. At least one has been dropped now.

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.