Good Stable Procedures Can Help Avoid Legal Problems

Photo © Anouska Haantjes

BY LISA LAZARUS

In my six years as FEI General Counsel, overseeing all of the FEI’s anti-doping cases, I was frequently asked one question: “If you could give only one piece of advice to riders about equine anti-doping cases, what would it be?” In my opinion, there is one very important answer to that question: Develop and implement good procedures in your stables.

Most riders know that essentially the same anti-doping rules that apply to human athletes also apply to horses in equestrian sports. The Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations mirror the World Anti-Doping Code and the rules can be unforgiving. They are unforgiving in order to protect the integrity of sport. That is something we all want. The problem, however, is that it is not as easy to monitor what goes into a horse’s system as it is to monitor what an athlete puts in his own body.

Photo © Lilly Johnson

This means that riders can often find themselves defending an anti-doping violation while being completely unaware as to how their horse came to test positive in the first place. In these situations, riders often respond, quite honestly, that they would never dope their horse and that the substance detected in their horse’s system is not just useless but would actually harm performance.

What I have found myself explaining to riders, and their lawyers, repeatedly over the years is that none of that helps when it comes to the principle of strict liability, which underpins the anti-doping rules. Moreover, in the anti-doping regime, the “innocent until proven guilty” principle is reversed so that you are essentially “guilty until proven innocent.”

The most important thing every rider needs to establish to prove their “innocence” is how the substance came into the horse’s system. It is not good enough to say, “I have no idea,” “I wasn’t cheating” or “it was not intentional.” Those types of defenses, alone, won’t get you very far in an anti-doping case. BUT if you have strong and consistent procedures in your barn that are religiously followed by a competent staff, it is far easier to investigate what went wrong (and, more importantly, to avoid a violation altogether).

Photo © Anouska Haantjes

Some examples of excellent stable procedures I have seen over the years are: (1) stabling competition horses separately to avoid exposing them to treatments given to non-competition horses; (2) designating only a fixed number of senior people to handle feed and ensuring separate and frequently cleaned feed buckets for each horse; (3) firm policy on only permitting veterinarians to administer Controlled Medications between competition; (4) familiarizing all staff working with horses with the FEI Prohibited List; and (5) using white boards to clearly communicate if there is something important for staff to be aware of relating to horse care.

These are just some examples, but I strongly urge having some procedures like these as they will not only show the FEI that you are committed to respecting the anti-doping rules but they will also help you identify where something might have gone wrong. This is critical for every rider to protect their horses against an inadvertent anti-doping violation.

Lisa Lazarus, former FEI General Counsel, is Head of Equestrian Services at Morgan Sports Law which represents athletes. She can be reached at [email protected]