April 30. 2009
ABU DHABI - Better management could reduce the risk of competition horses testing positive for banned substances, according to an Emirates Equestrian Federation (EEF) official.
Alison Abrahams, a consultant to the EEF and a Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI)-accredited showjumping and endurance judge, said that until FEI rules differentiating between medication and substances used for cynical doping were refined, rigorous care was essential in stables.
Four of the FEI's 14 ongoing doping cases involve UAE nationals.
"There must be a lot of emphasis on education and the importance of strict controls in stables," said Ms Abrahams, who in 1996 became the first woman to win an endurance race in the UAE, and who is a world governing body steward.
"A lot of people are training horses here for different disciplines and they all want to do the right thing, but unless you know what is going on in your stable to the smallest detail, there could be risks."
Horse doping, which has long cast a shadow over international equestrianism, reared its head in the UAE recently when four endurance horses failed drugs tests.
Their riders, who are identified as the "person responsible": under FEI rules, have been banned from competing in FEI-affiliated events pending tribunal hearings.
Vijay Morrthy, head of endurance riding at the Emirates Equestrian Federation, admitted the use of banned substances in UAE equestrian sport was a problem. But given the hands-off management style of most riders in the country, he seriously doubted they knowingly administered such drugs.
"The rider may have some moral responsibility, but I don’t think he knows about these things," he said. "Given the stringency of the testing, no rider or any experienced person would ever dream of doing such a thing and getting away with it.
"These things are absolutely inadvertent, and we need to make sure nothing like this happens again."
At the Beijing Olympics six showjumpers tested positive, four of them on the same day for the same pain reliever, while last week 21 polo ponies, worth an estimated Dh8.1 million, died in Florida after being administered poorly-measured supplements before a match.
While some doping incidents are attempts to enhance performance, the FEI's first vice president, Sven Holmberg, said most cases were medical infringements.
"Out of 2,800 tests per year, we only have one per cent that are positive and that includes the relatively large number of positive tests we have seen in the Middle East. Of the positive tests, 90 per cent are medical violations," Mr Holmberg said recently.
He added that the FEI was working with the World Anti-Doping Agency to clarify the issues of doping and veterinary science in the rulebook.
Ms Abrahams believes positive tests could be reduced with better understanding of how medication is metabolised and stricter controls over administration.
"There are issues with doping versus medication in every country," she said. "It's easy to see how mistakes can be made when horses are all living together and sharing the same feed, but it is essential that if one horse is medicated in a yard, that others do not inadvertently receive the same medication."
Ms Abrahams said the issue of stable management was discussed at the recent season-ending meeting of the EEF, which was held to allow everyone involved to comment on the season and issues affecting horse sport.
"The veterinarian, Dr Jim Bryant, gave a great speech on how to medicate your horse and how to be as thorough and careful as possible in the administration of medicine," she said.
"It’s very easy to lose track when horses are living together, and that’s when you can get into trouble."
* With additional reporting by Hugh Naylor