Use the COVID-19 downtime to level up on your anti-doping knowledge

BY LISA LAZARUS / MORGAN SPORTS LAW

The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down. No one is sure when normal service will resume and you may not be able to see or ride your horse for some time. Whilst being unable to improve your skills in the saddle is frustrating, why not use the downtime to put yourself in the best possible position for next season? Familiarizing yourself with the FEI Anti-Doping rules now will stand you in good stead in the long-run – and put you on the right side of the rules when competitions open up again. 

Even if you are not an FEI-level rider, it is worth getting to grips with these rules as they are designed to guarantee integrity in our sport and protect the health of you and your horse. 

What are the FEI Anti-Doping Rules?

The FEI, as the governing body for equestrian sport across the world, sets rules that all riders participating in competitions at an international level must comply with. There are separate Anti-Doping Rules for human athletes and for horses – and these are adapted from the World Anti-Doping Code, which harmonizes anti-doping efforts across all sports and nations. 

All international level riders – and their horses – are eligible for anti-doping testing, both in and out of competition. The Anti-Doping Rules contain Prohibited Lists, which set out all of the substances which athletes and horses will be tested for. The Equine Prohibited List separates the substances into two categories: ‘Controlled Medications’, which generally have a legitimate veterinary purpose, so are permitted out of competition time and ‘Banned Substances’, which are never allowed. To help you navigate the Prohibited Lists, the FEI have developed an app called ‘FEI Clean Sport’, which you should download to your mobile phone.

What are the consequences if you test positive for a banned substance?

If you, or your horse, test positive for a banned substance ‘in competition’, all results obtained at that competition will automatically be disqualified and your horse will automatically be suspended for 2 months.  You as rider are considered the “Person Responsible” for the horse and will be deemed ineligible for competition for 2 years unless you can prove how the substance came into the horse’s system AND why you are not at fault for that occurrence. The horse owner and trainer may also be held additionally responsible and face suspension and fines, but it will not be instead of you, rather in addition to you.  

It is therefore vital that you are familiar with the rules and make every effort to comply with them.

What are the key rules athletes should be aware of? 

  1. Banned Substances

Some of the substances on the Prohibited Lists are well known to be banned in sport, such as anabolic steroids which are banned for both horses and humans as they increase muscle mass and can improve athletic performance. However, other substances on the list may take you by surprise. For instance, did you know that caffeine – the stimulant many of us rely on every day for a pick-me-up – is on the Equine Prohibited List? Thankfully it is not currently banned for human athletes, so you don’t need to give up your daily coffee just yet!

Another substance which you may not expect to see on the Equine Prohibited List is ractopamine. This is a feed additive which is commonly found in pig feed in countries such as the US and Mexico, but is illegal in most parts of the world. There have been cases where horse feed has been found to contain ractopamine, even though it was not declared on the ingredient list.

Generally, you should familiarize yourself with the categories of substances on the Prohibited Lists, and, if you are subject to the FEI rules, check all medications, supplements and treatments against the lists before you take them or give them to your horse. Always check with an expert if you are unsure. This leads us onto our next point: what to do if you or your horse must take a banned substance.

  1. TUEs

We know by now that horses and human athletes must not ingest banned substances. But what if you, the athlete, need to take a prohibited substance, or undergo a prohibited treatment, to help with a legitimate illness or medical condition? Your doctor may even prescribe you a drug that is on the Prohibited List. For example, legitimately prescribed anti-depressants and medication for controlling ADHD have been found to contain prohibited substances. Well, the FEI has a framework in place to deal with this scenario. Under the Anti-Doping Rules for human athletes, you must obtain a Therapeutic Use Exemption (“TUE”) before you take banned drugs or undergo prohibited treatment methods. This normally involves completing a form, providing evidence supporting your need for the medication and sending it to your federation for approval. If you find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance of requiring urgent medical treatment using a prohibited substance, you can apply for the expedited, emergency procedure for TUEs. 

Similarly, if your horse must take a controlled medication as part of legitimate therapeutic treatment, you must apply for a Veterinary Form (previously called an Equine TUE) before the treatment is given to the horse. Veterinary Forms are not available for banned substances or banned methods of course – only for Controlled Medication substances.

If you are found to have taken a prohibited substance and do not have a valid TUE in place at the time, you will likely be charged with a rule violation, even if you are able to provide a valid reason after-the-fact. The same applies if your horse is found to have ingested a controlled medication without a valid Veterinary Form. Therefore, always be aware of any drugs you are taking and always seek expert advice with regard to medicines, TUEs and Veterinary Forms. 

  1. Cross-contamination

Once you know which substances are prohibited and are vigilant about anything that you and your horse intentionally ingest, you may feel you have done everything you can to prevent a rule violation. However, there is one more important aspect to be careful about: cross-contamination.

Despite your best efforts, you are not 100% able to control what your horse comes into contact with. Unforeseeable cross-contamination is surprisingly common. For this reason, you must put in place measures to reduce the risk of cross-contamination and to ensure a thorough investigation can be conducted if a positive test occurs. Some ideas to implement post-lockdown:

  1. Use a reputable supplier of hay, feed and supplements. Horses have previously tested positive because their feed was contaminated in the manufacturing plant, or their supplements inadvertently contained unlisted ingredients. If you can, keep samples of anything you give to your horse for testing in case of a positive finding.
  2. Store horse feed and supplements securely and away from everything else, such as human food, cleaning chemicals and pest-control supplies, as these could inadvertently contaminate your horse’s feed. All medication should be kept separate from feed for the same reason.
  3. Keep your stalls clean! Always clean stables thoroughly, especially when away at competitions. Do not let ANYONE urinate in the stalls as horses can easily have human medications enter their system through urine contaminated hay.  
  4. Maintain good personal hygiene, wash your hands regularly and wear gloves when administering medication to horses. Make sure the people you work with do the same. Remember that medication can remain on hands and be passed topically to horses through skin contact. 

The FEI has shown flexibility when assessing cases where the athlete proved that the substance came from a contaminated product, and that they could not have reasonably known about it. However, it is important to be able to evidence your efforts to reduce the risk of cross-contamination – and aid a thorough investigation if a violation occurs.

The FEI Anti-Doping Rules can be intimidating, but it is very important that you comply with them. Once you have familiarized yourself with the rules and the list of banned substances for humans and horses, you can identify key ways to avoid violating the rules. Remember to be vigilant about anything you put in your body, or that you feed to your horse. Apply for TUEs and Veterinary Forms if necessary – and take precautions to minimize the risk of cross-contamination at your stables. 

This is an incredibly a difficult time for everyone. We would all rather be outdoors with our horses, but whilst that’s not an option, use the downtime to educate yourself on this crucial aspect of fair and safe competition. 


Lisa Lazarus, former FEI General Counsel, is Head of Equestrian Services at Morgan Sports Law which represents athletes.  She can be reached at lisa.lazarus@morgansl.com.