Wendy Schaeffer v Equestrian Australia
The Appellant, Ms Wendy Schaeffer, is an experienced horse rider, administrator, coach and judge and is a member of the Respondent, Equestrian Australia (EA). Following a complaint made after an event in November 2021, an EA Disciplinary Tribunal found that Ms Schaeffer was in breach of the EA Disciplinary By-Laws and was guilty of ‘cruel practice’ for attempting to kick the head of the horse she was riding at that event. She was suspended for 3 months and required to pay a fine.
Ms Schaeffer lodged an appeal with the EA Appeal Board seeking to have the EA Tribunal Determination quashed and the sanctions dismissed. The parties agreed instead that the appeal could be brought to the NST and it was heard in the NST’s Appeal Division before a Panel of three NST members. Following some misunderstanding as to how the appeal would proceed before the NST, the Panel determined that it would proceed as a re-hearing with only new evidence being admitted if appropriate. The evidence before the EA Tribunal was before the NST Panel, but witnesses were not required to give evidence again. Due to exceptional circumstances, the NST Panel admitted new evidence from a witness who was not called before the EA Tribunal.
The NST Panel ultimately considered four (4) Grounds of Appeal. The first Ground alleged in effect that the complaint was invalid and that EA should not have actioned it, and the second alleged that EA should have taken further steps to investigate the complaint before issuing the charge against the Appellant. The NST Panel was not persuaded that these Grounds had any merit. The remaining Grounds alleged that the EA Tribunal had insufficient evidence to conclude as it did, and that the finding against Ms Schaeffer was not supported by the evidence. In this regard, the NST Panel found that the Disciplinary Tribunal had erred in preferring the evidence of two particular witnesses to that of the Appellant and of one other witness, and that that was confirmed by the new evidence. Accordingly the Appeal was allowed, with the charges laid against the Appellant dismissed and the sanctions imposed by the EA Tribunal discharged.