The Dundalk rider was at the centre of a social media wildfire that ignited last Monday when the stallion collapsed and died at the two-star GPA Festival show in Cagnes-sur-Mer in the south of France. In a short time, Thornton was being accused of brutally galloping the horse to death.
He subsequently rejected accusations he had ridden the horse for three hours, claiming “there is no way I would whip a horse to death”. He explained that people at the show were confused by the fact he had three grey horses [including Saper and Startschuss] and had ridden Flogas for “between 15 and 20 minutes”. He has said that he “hit him once or twice to get him moving forward” when he acted up.
Indicative of the confusion was that until Tuesday, those active on social media thought the deceased horse was Startschuss.
The autopsy is scheduled to take place in Lyon today, with respected German vet Dr Peter Cronau acting as Thornton’s witness.
Yesterday, the rider said he believed the results would prove he had not done anything wrong in his handling of the 10-year-old horse, which he jointly owns with Mayoman Vinny Duffy.
“I’m sure the autopsy will exonerate me of any wrongdoing. As far as we were concerned, the horse was healthy for sport, but there had to be an underlying issue with his health that we did not know about, for sure.”
The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) this week said it had launched a full investigation into the incident, adding that the show organisers had sent a file to the police, which it confirmed that was the case yesterday, though Thornton said:
“I’ve had not had any police contact, whatsoever, personally, nor has my owner, nor my lawyer.”
Thornton was not too happy with the show organisers, who issued a flyer encouraging witnesses to confirm they had seen Thornton and another, with a whip, gallop the horse to death.
In a statement, he said that: “[Initially] they seemed very sympathetic towards the situation. They said I was welcome to stay, but I wanted to leave, as I did not feel fit to ride after this tragedy.
“Five minutes after my departure with the other horses I read an online report from the show saying they had disqualified me from the show and asked me to leave.” This, he said, was “completely untrue”.
Speaking yesterday, he also said: “I offered to take part in a meeting with riders, grooms, in fact anybody, to stand before them to explain the facts, but the show organisers would not let me. I wanted to clear this matter up.”
The 28-year-old continued: “For me, the biggest loss has been the horse, a horse that I felt was going to be a top competitor.
“Obviously, my reputation has been dragged through the mud.
“It’s been so hurtful, and hopefully it will not affect my career. All my current owners, including Vinny Duffy, are totally behind me. Owners would not be like that unless they had confidence in me. It shows that I’m innocent.
“I’ve got letters in the post from people saying they are going to assault me .There have been threats on facebook, and terrible comments on youtube videos of other horses I have ridden. Such abuse can really affect your character, if you let it. I’m lucky to have strong, supportive people around me. I’m so thankful for that. I’ve received messages of support from top riders that I would know and also riders that I would not know so well.”
Horse Sport Ireland issued a statement this week saying it was “extremely concerned about reports of the alleged circumstances” leading to the death of the horse. It said it had contacted the French Equestrian Federation, and the rider, “to gather information on what happened”, adding “we will be continuing with this process”.
A HSI spokesperson yesterday said there was no update on this.