The water jump proved to be a critical obstacle at the 2016 Rio Olympics. In multiple rounds, seasoned horse-and-rider pairs, with countless water jumps already under their belts, incurred faults, with either a foot inside the tape or an unfortunate refusal.
The most heartbreaking of incidents occurred when Australia’s Scott Keach went over the head of his mount, Fedor, when the horse stopped in front of the water in the Second Individual Qualifier/Team Round 1 on Tuesday, August 16. In a daze, Keach rose to his feet then unbuttoned and removed his jacket.
Meanwhile, Fedor’s bridle had slid over his ears as Keach’s groom Jamie Alnwick quickly rushed into the ring to collect the horse. Ringmaster Pedro Cebulka hurried over with the spare halter that he kept at the ingate. In a moment, Keach was walking out of the arena as Alnwick trailed behind with Fedor in hand.
Spectators, whether there in person or watching on television, ranged in emotions from perplexed to incensed. Why would Keach leave behind his partner? His response: he was in shock and in pain.
“I’ve been in a fair bit of pain; I had an accident earlier in the year,” Keach said. “I was in a fair bit of pain when I was riding, and I was on a good pain killer [administered by the official medical staff at the Olympics].
“I’ve had damage to my pelvis, which can make it hard to ride and medicate for [the pain management]. I was stunned that my horse had stopped at the water. Jamie caught the horse and nodded to me, and I took that as a sign to get out of the ring. I wasn’t sure how quickly I could walk out. I don’t even remember removing my jacket—it’s pure habit that I did unconsciously. So [walking out] was a combination of a few things.”
Although Keach was not seriously injured in the fall at the Olympics, he won’t be able to ride again for at least another month to heal from the compounding health issues.
“I don’t condone leaving the ring without your horse,” he added. “If one of my pupils did it, I would be the first to say something about it. I didn’t mean to set a bad example as a role model and I accept that and understand now it didn’t look good. But anyone who has seen my program has seen firsthand that the welfare of horse is always the priority.”