London Olympic Equestrian Sports Totally Drug Free for Horses, Humans

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For the first time in three Olympics, all three jumper teams on the medals podium on the day of competition remained as the top three with them and their horses testing drug-free. Teams of the Netherlands (silver), Great Britain (gold) and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (bronze). © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The Olympics in London were completely free of any horse or human doping that International Equestrian Federation (FEI) President Princess Haya hailed Thursday as the best ever Games for equestrian sport and testament to the success of the Clean Sport campaign launched after the drug-tainted Olympics in 2004 and 2008.

A veterinary team totaling more than 230 people conducted the most ever drug tests on horses–the top four plus horses selected at random by computer from each of the six medal events of which there were two each for dressage, eventing and jumping.

The four legs of every jumping horse–a total of 75 horses began the competition–were scanned by thermography for so-called hypersensivity regularly throughout the four days of competition. A single horse, Canada’s Victor ridden by Tiffany Foster, was disqualified because of a so-called positive result that the FEI went out of its way to emphasize was caused by a scratch on a leg and no illegal or questionable action.

The drug-free equestrian competition at the Games from July 28 through Aug. 10 in which 200 horses–50 for dressage and 75 each for eventing and jumping–competed were preceded by extensive voluntary and anonymous pre-Games screening.

While the FEI would not disclose how many horses took part in pre-event screening, one veterinarian from a nation with the maximum of teams and individuals in all three disciplines said that all 13 horses on its squad were tested with no positive results so the focus during the two weeks was solely on competition and maintaining fitness of the horses.

Drug tests at the 2004 Athens Olympics led to Germany being stripped of its jumping team gold and Ireland’s Cian O’Connor of individual gold while the 2008 Beijing Olympics were marked by disqualification of four jumper combinations, including one from Norway that stripped the team of its bronze, and one dressage combination that led to the U.S. being disqualified as a team.

Princess Haya warned after the 2008 Games that if horse sports did not clean up its act in both drug use and administration of dressage by the then judge-dominated sport, equestrianism could be in danger of being thrown out of the Olympics.

“The FEI had a really steep mountain to climb after Athens and Hong Kong,” Princess Haya said in a statement, “but we had a clean Youth Olympic Games, a clean FEI World Equestrian Games and now we’ve crowned it with a clean Olympic Games in London.

“We knew that fair play and clean sport was the only way to produce top sport in the Olympic equestrian events and we are very proud that we have achieved that goal.

“The fact that all human and equine samples came back negative demonstrates the success of the FEI Clean Sport campaign, which has resulted in a major reduction in the number of positives in the Olympic disciplines over the past two and a half years.

“We had a rigorous and comprehensive testing program in place. These were the most tested Games ever and we also tested for more substances than ever before. We worked hand in hand with the Horseracing Forensic Laboratory in Newmarket and thank them for the speed with which they processed all the Olympic samples so that we could maintain a level playing field throughout the Games.

“The equestrian community shouldn’t be thinking of this as a triumph; having a clean sport should be our normal day to day business, but now that we’ve had three major championships that were the most heavily tested ever and they were 100 per cent clean, we can hold our heads up high and say that, ‘yes, this is a victory.’ We haven’t reached this point by resting on our laurels, there’s always work to be done and I am incredibly proud of the FEI’s performance over the four years since Hong Kong.

“This has been a real team effort, which was kick-started by the recommendations of the Clean Sport Commission headed up by Professor Arne Ljungqvist and the Stevens Commission, led by Lord Stevens. The national federations and the athletes and their support teams, as well as the team at FEI headquarters have all played a major role in this success. Our community has really embraced the Clean Sport campaign.”

The veterinary team at London consisted of more than 230 people, including veterinarians, veterinary technicians and administrators, farriers, equine physical therapists and horse ambulance drivers.

Two FEI vets assisted by 13 technicians were assigned to anti-doping testing. Two FEI vets undertook the hypersensitivity testing.

An additional 63 vets were listed for teams.