Warning: The following story contains images and details that some viewers might find disturbing
A champion horse trainer has been heavily criticised after a photo of him posing while sitting atop a dead horse was circulated online.
Three-time Grand National winning trainer Gordon Elliott faced intense scrutiny after the undated image, which showed him giving a peace sign to the camera, was shared on social media.
'AWFUL SCENE': Horse racing world in shock over 'horrific' moment
A day after it first surfaced, Elliott confirmed it was a legitimate image.
In a statement, the Irish trainer conceded that while the image did look bad, that there was context behind why he was sitting on the horse and seemingly gesturing for the camera.
"I was standing over the horse waiting to help with the removal of the body, in the course of which, to my memory I received a call and, without thinking, I sat down to take it," Elliot's statement read.
"Hearing a shout from one of my team, I gestured to wait until I was finished.
"Such background information may seem trivial at this time and will not allay the concerns of many people both within and outside the world of horse racing."
"I appreciate that an initial viewing of this photo suggests it is a callous and staged photo, but nothing could be further from the truth.
"At what was a sad time, which it is when any horse under my care passes away, my initial reaction was to get the body removed from where it was positioned."
WARNING: DISTRESSING IMAGES FOLLOW
Gordon Elliott vows to cooperate with investigation
Elliott said the horse had died after what was believed to be a heart attack while on gallops.
The publication of the photo has resulted in the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board launching an investigation into the 42-year-old, who apologised for the incident.
"To the racing community, to anyone who has worked with and loves horses and to anyone offended by this image I cannot apologise enough," he said.
"Horse welfare and the care and attention to detail involved is absolutely at the core of everything we do here and both myself and all of my team pride ourselves on those standards."
The IHRB said their investigation would move swiftly.
"The investigation is under way, and it will be dealt with as quickly as possible," a spokesman said.
Similarly, the British Horseracing Authority said they hoped the investigation would get to the bottom of the image.
"We hope the Irish authorities will quickly confirm how this shocking picture originated," they said.
"Respect for horses is a fundamental value of our sport, contrary to the impression in this picture.
"The IHRB have assured us that the investigation will be carried out as quickly as possible and that they will keep us informed as more information becomes available."
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