Published on 22 December 2023 at 18:11

Like many horse lovers, including myself decades ago, we bought the ‘happy athletes’ lie and looked up to the high-ranking professionals in the sport.

So did famous Dutch model and my friend Lonneke Engel.  She therefore placed her horse U2, in the - what she thought - to be the loving care, of Academy Bartels. U2 was to be educated for competition, while Lonneke worked in the US.

Lonneke asked about her horse U2 all the time and visited when she could.
3,5 years had passed and Lonneke went and picked U2 up. Alas, immediately she noticed he was not well. The once happy vibrant horses was just a shadow of his former self.
She discovered through veterinary examination that U2’s mouth and jaw were severely damaged, he had spur marks and wounds, and was in very bad shape, both physically as well as mentally. At Academy Bartels, no one cared to give Lonneke an explanation as to why and how this happened.

I myself, in over two decades of being an equine rehab trainer can attest to the fact that many FEI prospects, ‘leave the backdoor’ of these high-end stables, very much in the same condition.
They have become physical and mental wracks, that need an enormous amount of rehabilitation, to be at least somewhat comfortable again.
These horses suffer lifelong damage from the so called ‘happy athlete’ treatment.
I did not know what else to do, then to educate people in a ‘horse first’ approach and how to recognize when horse are actually suffering, instead of being the ‘Happy Athlete’ they are portrayed to be by the (equine) press and the governing bodies such as the FEI.
Once you see it, you cannot unsee it.
It is my hope that enough people will stop supporting competition rider with horses who are suffering. Empty stadiums, shall end the heavy sponsorship and with no large sums of money to be gained, there is no point in forcing and abusing horses, is there?

But Lonneke, she did what all horse caring people with the same experience should have done:
She took legal action!
Weirdly enough, the MSM turned against her. They never interviewed her, never asked for the evidence she presented. No, instead they attacked her and choose Bartels’ side, without question.
Why would that be?
Many fans of Bartels attacked her online. No one ever bothered to ask her what happened to U2 and why she was spending all this energy, time, and money, if not for good reason. No one bothered to ask her how U2 was doing. Lonneke had to endure a long journey of vitriol and bad press, constantly, for almost a decade!
TkThe first judge took the same approach, completely ignoring the evidence.

But warrior Lonneke never gave up!
She appealed.

Finally, after 9 years, she was vindicated, that indeed U2 suffered lifelong injury, due to the way he was handled and trained at Bartels.
Three judges had taken part of the evidence in accord, all though they did wanted to hear any witnesses or appraiser, which is not in accordance with the law. Therefore, Lonneke was not compensated for the huge financial loss she suffered. Nevertheless, she is satisfied with the ruling, as now, she has legal proof that U2 suffered his injuries at the hands of so called professional and widely celebrated equestrian sport establishments and trainers.

So why do it? And why is it important?

It is important because this is the first court case which delivers legal proof, that a horse in the presumed best high end equestrian sport care, has suffered lifelong damage, as a result of that care and that the so-called training establishment, dismissed as nothing abnormal.
This now opens the possibility to other equine victims and their humans to go to court and present their evidence in the same manner.
However, that is not all, what is even more important, is that Lonneke was able to present her case at the Dutch House of Representatives. Member Dion Graus has taken the evidence from U2’s court case as cause, to open up an investigation into harmful practices and training aids, used on sport horses. This means that the Dutch government is now investigating animal welfare, or rather the lack there off within professional and amateur equestrian sports.
This can mean that in the future, animal welfare laws will be applied to Equestrian sport and horse training. Cases like that of U2 can then be brought to the DA and perpetrators such as Academy Bartels can be formerly charged with animal cruelty. I will keep you posted on this.

The Netherlands is not the only country where things are stirring!
This is why I follow up closely on the Helgstrand case. When the undercover video that is made at Helgstrand’s will be allowed as evidence in court. That establishment too, can be charged with many cases of animal cruelty. The first judge ruled that the undercover footage may be uses for showing on television. Helgstrand appealed. Hopefully the next judge will again rule in favour of the undercover journalist.
Furthermore, Blue Horse, is sizing down notably and Viegaard Stutteri has gone bankrupt. During the curator raid, many dead equine bodies were dug up from the grounds. What horrors have gone on here? Sadly, the remaining horses are sold off as commodities, and exactly this has got to change. Horses are not commodities, they are living, breathing beings with intelligence and self-awareness. They form close family bond, and they can suffer both mentally as physically. Investigation such as are going on within the Dutch Government can change this!

I hereby call everyone who has witnessed any forms of cruelty and has evidence as such, to file a police report. If enough of us start doing this, things will start to change.
Let us all take action and no longer allow our beloved, innocent horses to be abused and damaged. We owe it to them! They have serviced us with their lives for thousands of years.

You are not alone, we are legion and we are the #yellowhorserevolution
I let Lonneke tell the rest of her story via the link below.
Please drop her social media a visit and thank her for her relentless fight for U2 and for all the horses in the future!


*Article by Josepha Guillaume*
#josephaguillaume #lonnekeengel #U2


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