'Difficult to recover': Ugly new fallout in Olympic horse 'disgrace'

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Pictured here, a distraught Annika Schleu at the Olympics after her horse Saint Boy refused to jump several times in competition.
Annika Schleu was distraught after her horse Saint Boy refused to jump several times in the show jumping section of the modern pentathlon. Pic: Getty

German modern pentathlete Annika Schleu has responded to the wave of backlash she's received in the wake of a controversial Olympic Games incident that saw her team coach banned for punching a horse.

The incident was labelled a "disgrace" by viewers and sparked global outrage, with American actor Kaley Cuoco even making a public offer on social media to buy the horse at the centre of the controversy.

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Schleu was leading the modern pentathlon before the show jumping section when she was riding the steed, Saint Boy, who refused to cooperate. 

The German, who finished fourth in the event at the 2016 Rio Olympics, was in tears riding around the course as her horse flatly refused to tackle any of the obstacles on course.

It prompted a furious response from German coach Kim Raisner, who was ultimately banned from the Games after footage emerged of her punching the horse and urging the rider to strike it harder.

Seen here, Germany's modern pentathlon coach Kim Raisner punches a horse at the Olympics.
Germany's modern pentathlon coach Kim Raisner (pictured right) won't take part in the men's modern pentathlon on Saturday after a controversial incident at the Olympics. (Image: Twitter)

Schleu was also accused by many critics of whipping Saint Boy too hard and digging her spurs into the horse, but the German has denied any wrongdoing.

Speaking after she was flooded with criticism on social media, the German athlete says the hatred has overshadowed her disappointment in missing out on an Olympic medal.

“I did not treat the horse extremely harshly. I had a crop with me that was checked beforehand. Exactly like the spurs. I am really not aware of any cruelty to animals," she told Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper.

“I started crying relatively quickly. I was so tense because I realised that the competition could be over before I even started riding. The seconds that passed then felt much longer to me. It was a hopeless, difficult situation for the horse and for me.”

Schleu admits that she could have acted calmer but the stress of the situation got the better of her.

Annika Schleu reveals social media backlash

The German revealed that she had to get off social media after finding the backlash against her “shocking in several ways”.

“Of course it does something to me. It doesn’t feel nice,” she said. 

“I did not expect this severe assessment from the outside.

“I’m almost ready to say that it is more important to me to cope with it mentally than to generate sponsors. I don’t want to have to expose myself to this hatred.”

“Once you’ve experienced something like me, it’s very difficult to recover from it.”

Schleu eventually finished well outside the medals in 31st place with Britain's Kate French winning the gold.

Competitors in the modern pentathlon draw their horses at random.

The German Animal Welfare Association criticised Schleu for having "roughly beaten the frightened and overtaxed the horse several times".

Raisner is accused of urging the athlete "to commit this act of cruelty to animals".

"Of course, an athlete fixated on Olympic gold is under enormous stress at that moment, but that is no excuse for cruelty to animals," said Thomas Schroeder, President of the association.

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