Olympic Equestrian Community Struggles With #MeToo Reckoning
Businessweek + Equality

What Happened at the Stables

As prominent equestrians are banned for sexual abuse and even arrested, some traditionalists are taking aim at the Olympic watchdog created to protect young athletes.

“I feel like people are looking at me,” Maggie Kehring whispers to her mother as they walk across a dirt track at Desert International Horse Park in Thermal, Calif. The braided manes of the show horses, the chic white breeches of the riders, and the sweaty glasses of flavored iced tea belie the tension in the air. It’s early November, and Kehring, a 19-year-old equestrian who’s represented the U.S. in international competition, is making her first appearance at a West Coast show since the arrest of her coach, Rich Fellers, five months earlier. She’d accused Fellers, a former Olympic rider, of sexual abuse, claiming he groomed her into a relationship while she was training at his show jumping stable near Portland, Ore.

Maggie Kehring and her mother, Carrie, with horse Agano at Desert International Horse Park in Thermal, California.
Maggie Kehring and her mother, Carrie, at Desert International Horse Park in Thermal, Calif. Photographer: Molly Peters for Bloomberg Businessweek

Kehring’s mother, Carrie, tries to assure her daughter that no one is looking, but she sees the side-eyed glances, too. Most people in the U.S. equestrian community remember where they were when Fellers and his chestnut stallion, Flexible, won the 2012 World Cup finals in the Netherlands. The U.S. had endured a quarter-century drought at the competition, and Flexible was regarded as too fiery for anyone else to ride. Kehring was 9 years old at the time, watching mesmerized at her home in Woodside, Calif. Two years later, she was in the stands in Sacramento when Fellers won a World Cup qualifier. Fans lined up to get his autograph, and Kehring remembers thinking: “That’s who I need to ride with to get to the top of the sport.”

Soon she was riding a horse bought from Fellers’s stable by her father, an executive at Oracle Corp. By 15, she was living on her own in a small apartment near Fellers’s barn, training daily, sharing meals with his family, and traveling to horse shows as a rising star on the U.S. junior circuit. That was her world until December 2019, when she got a call from Fellers, who was then 60. She was 16. He told her he was falling in love with her. “You’re not a little girl anymore, Maggie,” she remembers him saying. “I’m crazy about you.” She was too shocked to speak. She’d never even had a boyfriend. “I put the phone down and was filled with fear,” she says. “I knew I couldn’t leave that barn. He was supposed to be the one to help me get to the Olympics.”

Rich Fellers and Flexible at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Rich Fellers and Flexible at the 2012 Olympics in London. Photographer: Harry E. Walker/MCT/Sipa USA

Over the next few months, Kehring says, Fellers told her that she was like a goddess to him, that he’d never been in love like this before. During dinners with his wife and children, she recalls, he would sit beside her and place his hand on her thigh under the table. She started noticing that changes to their itinerary for shows left them spending more time alone together while traveling. The first time he kissed her, she says, she felt as though it was happening to her, rather than with her. Just after her 17th birthday, they had sex. Kehring started to feel as though she, too, was falling in love.

Everything ended in June 2020, at a horse show in Michigan, when Fellers’s wife, Shelley, caught them together while they were all sharing an Airbnb. Kehring locked herself in her bedroom. “You kissed my husband! How could you?” she remembers Shelley yelling at her through the door. She was told she had to leave Fellers’s stable immediately. “I cried nonstop that whole week,” Kehring says. Carrie flew in to support her daughter, winding up in screaming arguments with Fellers that others at the horse show could hear.

Word eventually got around that Kehring and her four horses hadn’t returned to Fellers’s stable. She posted videos of herself sobbing on TikTok, along with photos of her and Fellers. The public nature of the events led more than a dozen people to report Fellers to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an independent entity established by Congress in 2017 to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct in Olympic sports and levy sanctions based on its findings. Created in response to revelations that athletes had been sexually abused for decades by USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, the center can look into harassment, abuse, and any sexual relationship between a coach and a student under the age of 20. But it couldn’t take action in Kehring’s case without her consent, and she didn’t trust SafeSport.

In recent years, SafeSport has banned some of the U.S.’s top horsemen for sexual misconduct. The decisions have torn the rich and powerful equestrian community apart, with many people choosing to stand by their heroes and challenging the center’s processes. They accuse SafeSport of conducting witch hunts and labeling coaches guilty until proven innocent.

Through the end of 2021, 47 of the 1,275 sanctions the center had handed down and publicized on its disciplinary database had been against members of the U.S. Equestrian Federation. By comparison, members of the U.S. Tennis Association, which is eight times as big, have received 35 SafeSport sanctions. Hall of Fame equestrians have seen their names removed from trophies and stadiums, their livelihoods lost. In response, their supporters have started petitions that have garnered thousands of signatures, raised millions to lobby Congress to limit the center’s power, and filed a lawsuit (since dismissed) against the federation saying that SafeSport hadn’t given accused parties the chance to defend themselves before they were stripped of membership.

Other Olympic communities have criticized SafeSport, but none is as riven with conflict as equestrians. Talk to people in show jumping, and it quickly becomes clear how deep the antagonisms run. There’s outrage at SafeSport rulings, and outrage at the outrage. Everyone agrees that children need to be protected, but they don’t agree on how SafeSport is going about it. Some praise the center for highlighting sexual misconduct in the sport, which they say has a sordid history of protecting abusers; others think it’s being weaponized.

Kehring had internalized the criticisms. She recalls Fellers talking to her about SafeSport and saying it “doesn’t teach you what to do if you catch feelings for your students.” When things ended between them, she ignored the center’s calls and spiraled into depression. “I remember looking out the window of a hotel, looking at the concrete below me, thinking, ‘I understand why people kill themselves now,’ ” she says.

It took her six months to come to terms with what had happened—and to conclude that she’d been coerced into a sexual relationship even after saying no multiple times. Only then could she return SafeSport’s calls. The center acted immediately, temporarily suspending Fellers and adding him to its public sanctions list. SafeSport also referred the accusations against him to police in Oregon, where the age of consent is 18, and last June he was arrested on four counts of second-degree sexual abuse. Fellers pleaded not guilty, and a trial date is expected to be set in April. After the arrest, SafeSport banned him for life from competitive equestrian sports; he didn’t seek arbitration. He declined to comment for this story, saying in a text message: “I trust you can understand my situation.” His lawyers didn’t respond to phone calls and messages.

Kehring in the warm-up ring at Desert International Horse Park. Video: Quicktake Originals

After Fellers was suspended, Kehring became the latest flashpoint in the fight over SafeSport. On social media she was accused of seducing him to further her career and called a spoiled brat. “If you want to train and ride at a higher level, put your big girl panties on,” one woman wrote to her on Facebook. Another likened Kehring to an accuser from the Salem witch trials.

Kehring says she doesn’t understand where the hate comes from or why some in the community don’t believe her. She’s recalling the onslaught while sitting in her riding breeches at a ranch near the show grounds in Thermal, horses grazing in a paddock behind her. She isn’t riding in the show, still too nervous to compete there. Two years earlier she’d won ribbons at the event with Fellers by her side.

Everyone at the show seems to know someone who’s dealt with SafeSport. The wife of a recently banned trainer is there, as is his accuser. A former Olympian temporarily suspended and then removed from the disciplinary list is there alongside a rider whose case was rejected for lack of evidence.

“Is that the one that slept with Rich Fellers?” someone asks outside a show jumping ring where Kehring’s younger sister is competing. Kehring’s mother, admiring a rider clearing 5‑foot fences, gasps. “Oh, God, that’s Chris Fellers,” she says, identifying him as Fellers’s son. Kehring does her best to avoid confrontation with anyone, but when she bumps into one of Fellers’s clients in a soap shop, a woman who’d kept her horses at his stable even after the ban, she ends up in a screaming match about SafeSport.

The response from some in the equestrian community in support of a suspected perpetrator reminds Mike Reck, a lawyer who’s represented sexual abuse survivors in SafeSport cases, of how the Catholic Church responded to its abuse scandal 20 years ago. “This is a very insular, almost snobbish community,” Reck says. “And it does not like to watch its heroes fall.”

The American equestrian industry encompasses more than 2,000 annual horse shows. Many offer multimillion-dollar prize pools and are sponsored by the likes of Rolex, Veuve Clicquot, and Hermès. Top barns operate like a traveling circus, moving riders, grooms, and animals from show to show. With prohibitively high expenses for horses, stabling, training, travel, and equipment—the price of a bespoke saddle alone can run as high as $8,000—it’s frequently the children of billionaires, rock stars, and royalty who collect the prize ribbons. The families of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Bruce Springsteen, and Michael Bloomberg, whose daughters are among the top show jumpers in the U.S., own riding estates near Wellington, Fla., home to the country’s most prestigious winter show. (Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, which owns Bloomberg Businessweek.)

The equestrian community was long accustomed to operating with little oversight save for strict rules about animal cruelty, and many members built successful businesses based on that understanding. Trainers don’t need licenses and can clear hefty commissions on handshake deals for fabulously expensive show horses. They also frequently put students to work in exchange for free lessons. The absence of formal oversight extends to elite junior riders, most of whom are girls. Parents sometimes send their teenage daughters to horse shows all but unsupervised, with a credit card and a 1,200-pound animal. Young riders also often attend school remotely, and some live on the property of their trainers, who at the top level are typically men. Trainers control everything from which horses riders use to which shows they compete in, and they can also influence the politics surrounding national team selections. The unfettered access to young athletes and extreme power differential can lay the foundation for predatory behavior.

Before SafeSport, inappropriate relationships between young riders and their older, often married trainers were a well-known secret. “This was a normalized state of affairs,” says Carley Sparks, editor-in-chief of the news site Horse Network. When Sparks was 19, she says, two of her friends confided in her that they’d had sexual relationships with their trainers when they were 16. “My response at the time was, ‘That’s messed up.’ Not like, ‘We need to report this to the police.’ This was just something we gossiped about at horse shows,” she says.

For decades, sexual misconduct complaints were sent to each Olympic sport’s national governing body, which in turn reported to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. This system sometimes led to cover-ups of allegations against prominent figures. The Olympic establishment had an incentive to keep these cases quiet, because publicity could lead to fewer medals and jeopardize its only funding source: sponsorships. But with the revelations, starting in 2016, that Nassar had molested more than 150 gymnasts—for which he was ultimately sentenced to 175 years in prison—the status quo was no longer an option.

Disciplinary Sanctions Issued by SafeSport, as of October 2021

The equestrian federation has 85,000 members, fewer than the other sporting associations listed

Source: SafeSport

With trust in the Olympic committee at a crisis point, Congress passed the Safe Sport Authorization Act in 2017. The law was designed to regain that trust, designating SafeSport as the watchdog authority for amateur athletes and giving it the power to write its own rules. The center soon opened its doors in a no-frills office building in Denver, with $2.5 million in annual funding, six employees, and 300 reports of sexual misconduct to assess.

SafeSport’s mission was to end abuse in sports. The center was given sole jurisdiction over sexual misconduct allegations in sports and the discretion to take over any complaint about physical or emotional misconduct. It vowed to protect victims’ identities by not releasing any details about their allegations and offered a path to justice outside the courts, regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred. To achieve those aims, SafeSport decided it wouldn’t be bound by a statute of limitations and adopted rules similar to those established under Title IX, a section of a 1972 law designed to curtail gender discrimination at colleges. It incorporated a preponderance-of-evidence standard, which weighs whether something is more likely true than not, rather than the standard for the criminal justice system, in which prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction.

Once a complaint is filed, SafeSport interviews witnesses and gathers evidence, then sends the case file to a legal team and a review committee, which determine if a violation has occurred and whether disciplinary action is necessary. The center has the power to issue written warnings, put coaches on probation, suspend them from their jobs, or ban them for life. In cases where it deems the safety of young athletes to be immediately at risk, it temporarily bans alleged violators and lists them on its public disciplinary database before the investigation is complete, reasoning that protecting potential victims is more important than the risk of a wrongful accusation. Individuals in other cases are sent information about the allegations against them and interviewed by investigators. If sanctioned, they’re informed by email at the same time their name is added to the public database. Those who want to challenge a ruling have 10 days to seek an arbitration hearing before an independent judge and must pay $5,200 to do so.

SafeSport has also created rules to counter sexual, physical, and emotional abuse in all 50 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic sporting organizations and among their 13 million members. Everyone over the age of 18 who works with youth must now take annual online training courses. They’re also no longer allowed to be alone with students or to send them private text messages, and they’ve all been deemed mandatory reporters, legally obligating them to report incidents involving sexual misconduct with minors.

These new rules didn’t sit well with some in the U.S. Equestrian Federation, which had never required its members to take any form of training or dictated how they run their stables. The organization’s president, Tom O’Mara, says it supports SafeSport, but he’s aware that many members don’t. “Equestrians are passionate,” O’Mara says. “People don’t like regulation or regulatory authorities, period.”

For a while, backlash against SafeSport from the equestrian community was restricted to grumbling about the training courses and jokes about who would appear next on the “naughty list.” That changed in June 2019 with the death of Rob Gage, a show judge and three-time World Cup Grand Prix rider.

Earlier that year, SafeSport had banned Gage for life over accusations dating to the mid-1980s, when he was in his 30s and working as an assistant trainer at the Seahorse Riding Club in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif. The woman who made the complaint, who asked not to be identified to protect her safety, says she told the center that Gage had sexually abused her and four of her friends who rode at the club when they were 14 and 15.

Two of the other riders, Monique Hansen and a second woman who requested anonymity, say SafeSport contacted them and they verified the account. All three remember telling the center that Gage befriended their parents and got their permission to escort the girls to horse shows. When they arrived at their hotel, he would request rooms with interconnecting doors and encourage them to have threesomes with him or give him oral sex. Gage told them there’s a protein in sperm that helps cure teen acne, the women say. He gave some of them necklaces with the initials “SG,” for Secret Girlfriend. “He said we would get married when I was 18 and have kids and a barn and ride in the Olympics together,” Hansen recalls. “He said we would be this super equestrian couple, and I fell for it.”

Hillary Ridland
Ridland Photographer: Molly Peters for Bloomberg Businessweek

Hillary Ridland, who trained with Gage at a different stable in the early ’80s, says she believes she was one of his first victims. She remembers being 13 the first time Gage raped her. Her parents had given him permission to take her to a horse show, and the night before the competition he asked her to come to his hotel room to watch television. “He didn’t wear a condom,” she says. “I hadn’t even hit puberty yet.”

Ridland, who’s now a Grand Prix champion and married to the head coach of the U.S. Olympic show jumping team, says she remembers being impressed by the thoroughness of SafeSport’s investigation and adds that she regrets not calling Gage to urge him to take responsibility for what he’d done. Instead, when SafeSport banned Gage, he denied the allegations and sought arbitration. The day before his scheduled hearing, he killed himself in his stable.

The news broke while Ridland was hosting a horse show in California. “Everybody was talking about it,” she recalls. The absence of public information about the accusations led to speculation, some of which found its way back to Ridland. People were saying Gage’s ban was based on a single consensual relationship with a student, 40 years earlier. “Our company was producing this show, and I was trying to get through my day, and I’m dealing with the fact that somebody had just killed themselves because I spoke up,” she says. “I felt like I needed to let people ask me questions.”

Ridland wrote a post on Facebook, identifying herself as one of Gage’s victims. She said she’d be willing to discuss the case in the VIP tent later that week. Five of the women who’d come forward, including Hansen and Ridland’s sister, joined her. “It was hard for people to hear,” Ridland says. Some cried. “A lot of people loved and cared for Rob and appreciated what he gave to the horse industry.”

Gage’s death splintered the community. Those who hadn’t believed he deserved to be banned voiced their anger online and in calls to SafeSport. Some said the center and the women who’d reported him had blood on their hands. The woman who made the initial complaint says she found out Gage had died when she received a text that read, “Hope you are happy.”

Ju'Riese Colón
Colón Photographer: Eli Imadali for Bloomberg Businessweek

The week after Gage’s death, Ju’Riese Colón was appointed chief executive officer of SafeSport. Now 43, she’d spent her career working in child safety, most of it at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Never, Colón says, before starting at SafeSport, had she encountered so much animosity. She remembers receiving a call in her first weeks from a mother who was angry that her daughter’s riding coach had been banned for sexual misconduct and wanted him reinstated.

“I found it mind-blowing,” Colón says. “You have a mother who I’m sure loves her daughter very much and wants nothing but the best for her child, but at the same time was willing to put her child at risk with someone who shouldn’t have been around kids, who had done some pretty terrible things, because she wanted her child to win.” She soon learned how complex these issues could be in elite sporting communities, where they’re shaped by a drive to be the best and to win at all costs. There’s also money at stake. Relocating horses out of a stable shut down by a SafeSport violation is expensive, and a trainer’s tarnished reputation can depress the horses’ value.

George Morris
Morris Source: Split Seconds/Alamy Stock Photo

Even after experiencing the backlash that followed Gage’s death, Colón was unprepared for the outright revolt that came a month later, when SafeSport issued a lifetime ban against George Morris. A longtime trainer and a silver medalist at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Morris is widely considered the most influential man in the sport. His sexual proclivities are also renowned—in his 2016 autobiography, Unrelenting, he boasts of having had casual sex with 10,000 partners “and counting” and writes that he frequented Manhattan bars that “catered to younger, available men and their admirers of a more advanced age.” At 81, Morris was being suspended for allegations of sexual misconduct involving two teenagers in the early ’70s.

Within 48 hours of Morris’s ban, a Facebook group called “I Stand With George” had swelled to 4,200 members. Angry emails flooded SafeSport’s inbox, demanding his reinstatement. He sought arbitration, but the ban was upheld. One of the alleged victims, Jonathan Soresi, then filed a civil lawsuit against Morris, claiming the trainer had offered him the chance to ride prized horses in exchange for sex when he was a minor. On social media and in online forums, Morris’s supporters have tried to discredit Soresi, who was also banned by SafeSport because of a 2007 criminal conviction for possessing child pornography. A spokesperson for Kasowitz Benson Torres, the law firm representing Morris, says he “denies that he engaged in any improper conduct.”

In the wake of Morris’s ban, Diane Carney, a show judge and longtime friend who once donated $10,000 to establish a trophy in his honor, reached out to influential equestrians to help her challenge SafeSport. The organization they created, Athletes for Equity in Sport, started in October 2019, with Carney as president. The equestrians also founded an organization to provide free advice and mental health support to those navigating SafeSport proceedings. Its president is Susie Schoellkopf, owner of a horse that’s a four-time winner of the George H. Morris Perpetual Trophy, the prize endowed by Carney. (It’s no longer awarded.) Carney’s group has raised more than $2.5 million and hired a team of lobbyists, who’ve held more than two dozen meetings with members of Congress and their staff. “We are citizens and sports people who understand that accusation is not conviction,” Carney says. “The abuse and weaponizing of the SafeSport process is a major topic. People are tired of having their rights taken away.”

Much of the criticism from equestrians concerns the secretive nature of SafeSport’s procedures and whether it should grant the same protections as the criminal justice system. Accused individuals and their lawyers argue that everyone who’s being investigated should have the opportunity to privately defend against allegations before a sanction is made public. Even some lawyers who’ve represented accusers say they’re concerned SafeSport is overreaching.

“We’ve got cases that are 40 years old, with single complainants making accusations that are impossible to prove, and people are getting permanently banned,” says Russell Prince, a lawyer who’s represented Kehring as well as people accused in SafeSport cases. “Were we doing enough before? No. But I think we are overcorrecting our course to a degree that’s become laughable.” A few critics have pointed out that schools have been successfully sued over Title IX, the model for many of SafeSport’s practices, with millions of dollars awarded to plaintiffs who said they were treated unfairly, including being denied due process.

Although SafeSport’s decisions don’t have legal force, its critics say that the financial and reputational consequences of a ban can be worse than a criminal conviction. “I’ve had countless clients who would have easily chosen jail over the stain of being found to have committed a SafeSport violation,” says attorney Paul Greene, who’s represented respondents in SafeSport hearings.

On the other side of the debate are equestrians such as children’s book author and longtime rider Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, who supports the center. Bradley called out Carney’s close relationship with Morris, writing in a blog post: “He’s guilty, Diane. And you look like an enabler supporting a pedophile.” (Carney says: “That is a most unfortunate perspective on AES and its mission. It is as inaccurate as it is misguided.”)

Another SafeSport supporter is Carrie Kehring, Maggie’s mother. She’s defended the center on podcasts, tried to dispel myths about its investigative process in blog posts, and raised $400,000 for We Ride Together, a campaign she started to support athletes who’ve survived sexual abuse. “When Maggie came forward, all the hate was just absurd,” Carrie says. “She was a junior in high school, and if it had been her math teacher, no one would have even questioned if he should be allowed to teach again.”

The campaign features video testimonials from survivors who tell their stories and encourage others to break their silence. Some of the videos have resulted in SafeSport sanctions, which in turn have prompted accusations that the campaign is being weaponized, much like SafeSport. In one clip, a rider named Kendall Bourgeois accused an unnamed ex-trainer of sexual misconduct about a decade earlier, when she was 16. The trainer was Jeff Campf, a prominent Oregon equestrian who runs a stable 5 miles down the road from Fellers’s and who already had a SafeSport case open against him. Within weeks of the video’s release, the center had temporarily suspended Campf. Bourgeois, who has a show jumping stable in Oregon herself, is now on the board of We Ride Together. She and Campf’s wife were at the show in Thermal in November, studiously avoiding each other. Campf and his wife didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Three other trainers in Thermal—Nicole Norris, Lisé Quintero Gregory, and Rachel Fields, who trains Maggie Kehring’s sister—say they’ve struggled with the questions raised by SafeSport’s rules forbidding them from being alone with a student and requiring them to report inappropriate behavior. Are they legally obliged to report things they don’t have evidence of? What happens if someone makes a wrongful accusation against them or their husbands?

Maggie Kehring rides her mother Carrie’s horse Agano at Desert International Horse Park.
Kehring on her mother’s horse Agano. Photographer: Molly Peters for Bloomberg Businessweek

“Do I think SafeSport needs to exist? Absolutely,” Fields says. “The question is how it exists and how it’s run, because right now this is the judge, jury, and executioner.” Athletes from other sports, including taekwondo, figure skating, and gymnastics, have criticized SafeSport from the other side: for taking too long to investigate cases, requiring too much evidence from victims, and being too close to the Olympic establishment.

Colón traces the tension between the center and the various athletic communities to a lack of information about what SafeSport is, how it conducts investigations, and how it makes decisions. She says that its investigators include retired FBI, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and sex-crimes detectives, and that they average 15 years of experience. She adds that the system is thorough, that accused parties are granted due process, and that fears about witch hunts are unfounded. “What I’d love to see this community be angry about,” she says, “is what happened, that it happened for so long and went unnoticed, and that nobody ever stood up and said, ‘This is wrong.’ ”

SafeSport now receives hundreds of reports a month for all Olympic sports and has a staff of 30 investigators and an annual budget of $20 million, eight times the figure when it began. Of the more than 1,200 sanctions it handed out through the end of last year, only 75 individuals have requested arbitration, and only 25 of those cases resulted in a decision being modified or reversed. Colón says the center is working to increase transparency by holding public sessions and providing information in social media kits and monthly newsletters. She also met with Diane Carney’s group to hear their complaints in December. A spokesman for SafeSport says the conversation was “nonproductive.”

Carney declined to comment on the meeting, but behind the scenes her group’s lobbying efforts have led to increased pressure on SafeSport. In January 2021, Congress created a commission to investigate whether the reforms sparked by the gymnastics scandal have been working. It was supposed to complete a review in 270 days, but a year on, it has yet to even be funded. A spokesperson for Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, who helped create the commission, says that’s because Congress hasn’t approved a final appropriations bill for 2022. But a person close to the matter who asked not to be named discussing confidential negotiations says there’s another reason for the delay: Members of Congress are fighting over whether the commission should get the money it needs to investigate SafeSport.

DiAnn Langer, the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s head coach for youth show jumping, understands why some continue to defend horsemen who’ve been accused of sexual misconduct. Olympic-level trainers are held up as godlike figures because “they are few and far between,” she says. Langer has spoken publicly herself about being raped at the age of 13 by a trainer whom she’s declined to name, but she’s friends with people on both sides of the fight. “When a few of our big heroes went down, it was loud and it was furious,” she says. “No one could believe it. They were big heroes, and that’s hard for an industry.”

Anne Kursinski and Eros at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
Anne Kursinski and Eros at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Photographer: Tannen Maury/AP Photo

Another influential equestrian, Anne Kursinski, the equestrian federation’s head coach of show jumping development and a two-time Olympic silver medalist, feels the same internal conflict. She says she was raped at the age of 11 by her trainer, Jimmy Williams, who died in 1993, before allegations about him became public. “The effect that it has on the rest of your life and the people around you, it’s awful,” Kursinski says. “I grew up with the shame and guilt and secrets and hiding.”

A few years before Williams died, Kursinski confronted him at his barn in California as part of her recovery process. “I said: ‘Why did you have sex with me when I was 11? Why did you do that?’ ” she recalls. “He went round in circles until, finally, he said: ‘I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt you.’ ”

After leaving Williams’s stable, Kursinski trained with Morris, who helped her reach the Olympic podium. “I’m very thankful for everything I learned from Jimmy and George,” she says. “I get what they did for the sport, and I don’t want to take away the horsemanship. They were geniuses, like Michael Jackson was a genius. But he also had a problem.” —With Parker Purifoy

(Updates with addition of Colón's age in 34th paragraph. An earlier version corrected story to include Robert Gage as a three-time World Cup Grand Prix rider in 26th paragraph.)

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