Horses in the Headlines

Dressage Shooting Shines a Harsh Spotlight On the Already Embattled SafeSport

©CBS New York

In a case that seems tailor-made for its own, ripped-from-the-headlines TV special, the equestrian community made mainstream news again last week for the very worst of reasons.

On Wednesday, August 7, amateur rider and USDF bronze medalist Lauren Kanarek, 39, was allegedly shot twice in the chest by her coach of two years. The perpetrator: well-known Olympic dressage rider and trainer, Michael Barisone, 54.

The incident, which took place at Barisone’s Hawthorne Hill Farm in Long Valley, New Jersey, is reported to have occurred over a landlord-tenant dispute, as well as charges Kanarek filed against Barisone with Child Protective Services and the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

Here’s What We Know  

  • According to a statement released by Kanarek’s family on August 14 and reported in Chronicle of the Horse, the rider remains in serious condition at the Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey following multiple procedures to treat her gunshot wounds, though she is reported to be both conscious and communicating. Kanarek’s fiancé, Robert Goodwin, came to her defense during the attack, injuring his right hand while trying to disarm Barisone. Goodwin also required surgery and is currently recovering.
  • After a brief conversation between Kanarek and Barisone at the residence that Kanarek and Goodwin shared on the farm, Barisone allegedly fired multiple shots at Kanarek using a pink and black 9mm Ruger handgun. It was later found underneath Barisone, who was pinned by Goodwin when police arrived at the house just after 2 pm on Wednesday. Kanarek reportedly made the 911 call herself, telling police that she’d been shot twice by Barisone.
  • Barisone has been charged with two counts of attempted murder and unlawful possession of a weapon and is being held without bail at the Morris County Jail following a ruling last week. According to court statements by his lawyer, Jeffrey Simms, and reported by NBC New York, Barisone was being threatened by the victims—who were living on the property rent-free in exchange for training—and called police himself multiple times in the week leading up to the incident. Simms said the training agreement had ended, but that Kanarek was refusing to vacate the premises.
  • If convicted on all counts, Barisone faces up to 80 years in jail. According to widespread reports, Barisone stated, “I’ve had a good life,” multiple times during his arrest, a fact that Superior Court Judge Stephen Taylor referenced during the bail hearing as evidence that Barisone still poses a danger to himself and others.
  • Moments before the event occurred, Kanarek and Goodwin called Child Protective Services to file what Simms is calling a “bogus” complaint against Barisone, who they said was abusing his two kids, who also live at the farm. Kanarek had reportedly also filed a complaint against Barisone with the U.S. Center for SafeSport in the weeks prior.
  • Barisone had been previously added to the interim SafeSport suspension list for misconduct in late September, 2018, but was later removed. As of August 9, 2019, Barisone has been once again added to the suspension list, this time on the grounds of criminal disposition.
  • In the days leading up to the shooting, Kanarek posted multiple warnings on her Facebook page, stating that she feared for her safety due to an ongoing dispute with an unnamed party. Among them was this, well-publicized post:
©Lauren Kanared Facebook Page

What Does This Mean for SafeSport?

Though arguably the most dramatic case in the equestrian community involving the U.S. Center for SafeSport in the last year, it is far from the first to garner mainstream attention. Last week, controversy erupted following a lifetime ban issued against 81-year-old George H. Morris for sexual misconduct against a minor during the years of 1968–1972. Back in June, three-time World Cup Finals rider and popular coach Robert Gage committed suicide following his own lifetime ban, issued in February.

In the wake of these highly publicized cases and others, social media has become the battleground for advocates on both sides of the SafeSport line: those that feel the organization goes too far and lacks due process, and those that feel it’s all coming too little, too late, or doesn’t go far enough.

As this latest Kanarek/Barisone case develops, what’s uncovered is likely to sway the argument one step further in either one direction or the other.

Did the system fail to act quickly enough and lack the ability to protect Kanarek after she had the courage to come forward against Barisone with her complaint? Or were her allegations meant to be a strategic step against Barisone, as his lawyer contends, in a conflict based primarily in a landlord/tenant dispute? What kind of impact will either finding have on the credibility of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, itself? Only time will tell.