Round the Clock Monitoring on Doping at Aachen CHIO

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Prof. Leo Jeffcoat of Britain, FEI veterinary delegate working with thermographic imaging at Aachen. © 2009 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Prof. Leo Jeffcoat of Britain, FEI veterinary delegate, working with thermographic imaging at Aachen. © 2009 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

AACHEN, Germany, July 3–The toughest horse drug monitoring program ever devised has been watching over the 500 horses competing at the 2009 World Equestrian Festival CHIO at Aachen.

The pioneering program that includes the use of thermographic cameras that can detect any externally applied drugs, was implemented in support of stern new measures announced by the German Equestrian Federation (FN) and the German Olympic Equestrian Committee.

Those measures came about as a result of the controversy swirling around the German 2008 Olympic jumping team and, on the eve of the opening of this, the most prestigious German horse show, the stunning suspension of dressage superstar Isabell Werth for use of a banned substance.

U.S. jumping team vet Dr. Timothy Ober. © 2009 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
U.S. jumping team vet Dr. Timothy Ober. © 2009 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

U.S. Jumping Team Veterinarian Timothy R. Ober and German Jumping Team Vet Jan-Hein Swagemakers are spearheading a drive by treating vets to pursue collaborative efforts with the International Equestrian Federation for proper and ethical medical treatment of horses that compete at the highest levels of the sport.

About 20 veterinarian from national teams–central to the treatment and maintenance of high performance horses–met at Aachen to draft a proposal to submit to the FEI.

The measures taken at Aachen include testing of about 60–double the number tested in 2008–of almost 500 competition horses for the 10 days of the world’s premier horse show that attracts up to 400,000 spectators and operates on a budget of €10.3 million (US$14.4 million).

The program has had a dramatic and immediate impact on riders.

German dressage team riders admitted that the controversy swirling around Isabell Werth’s positive drug test that led to her not being able to compete at Aachen where she has been the dominant presence for several years was distracting to the point it affected their performance during the prestigious Nations Cup. The Netherlands beat Germany in the event for only the second time in 32 years.

A used syringe found in the coat pocket of a top Irish rider at a German national show just days before Aachen led to the rider withdrawing his entries. Several other riders in dressage, jumping and eventing admitted they withdrew horses that had already been entered if they had been on medication so as to avoid the risk of  a positive drug test.

“The FN has our full support in its battle against doping in the equestrian sport,” said Frank Kemperman, Chairman of the Aachen-Laurensberger Rennverein e.V. (ALRV) that organizes the CHIO.

Frank Kemperman biking around the 55-acre show grounds that he manages. © 2009 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Frank Kemperman biking around the 55-acre show grounds that he manages. © 2009 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The world’s top riders and horses compete in dressage, eventing, jumping, driving and vaulting with several nations–Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Ireland, Sweden, Great Britain and the U.S.A.–fielding teams in what amounts to the cream of the sport.

Kemperman showed off the on-site measures to fight against doping and forbidden medications and that have been expanded extensively.

This year 42 stewards, experienced and with top qualifications, are in action — an average of one steward for every 11 horses. The stewards carry out supervisory and control functions during the event. They are responsible for insuring compliance with the FEI “Code of Conduct” which defines general rules of conduct for protection of the horses. The stewards are primarily stationed at the warm-up arenas and in the stable area. They have extensive powers of authority regarding horse inspections.

The entire stable area is monitored around the clock by stewards supported at night by the “Horse-Watch-Service.” The service is unique to Aachen. Nineteen CHIO vets will also carry out control and supervisory functions parallel to their veterinary activities.

Doping samples have been taken from the top three placed horses as well as a from a horse picked at random for all competitions that are relevant for the world ranking lists, in addition to the normal doping samples. Statistically that means every third show-jumper was tested by the end of the show. Taking all five CHIO disciplines into account, this means that every eighth horse in Aachen was tested. All inspections were carried out by the independent doping inspector of the Medication Control Program to guarantee maximum quality and also the non-appealability of the samples.

One blind sample, the so-called “A” sample, is sent to a laboratory in France–the same lab that has become famous for testing samples from cycling’s Tour de France–and the results should be available before the end of July. The “B” sample is retained and, if the “A” sample is positive can be requested by the rider to also be tested. If the “B” sample is not positive, no action is taken against the rider.

Thermographic cameras were used to determine the surface temperature of horses’ skin down to 1/100th of a degree so the cameras can detect any possible externally applied influences.

After eight days of competition and before any laboratory tests were available, organizers said that no cases had occurred to lead to any disciplinary action.