An Inside Peek at Clearing Adrienne Lyle & Horizon and Kaitlin Blythe & Don Principe of Doping Charges

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An exuberant Debbie McDonald as Laura Graves and Verdades complete their ride, with team coach Robert Dover and Elizabeth Juliano, a major supporter of American dressage at the Rio Olympic Games. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

May 9, 2017

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

When Elizabeth “Betsy” Juliano received a phone call from the United States Equestrian Federation at noon on April 5 it turned out to be  “one of the biggest shocks” of her life that one of her horses had tested positive for a prohibited substance and set her on what she calls an odyssey for justice.

In that same conversation she learned that not only had her Horizon that was ridden by U.S. Olympian Adrienne Lyle produced a positive result in an International Equestrian Federation (FEI) drug test but so had another horse, Don Principe competed by Under-25 rider Kaitlin Blythe for owner Maryanna Haymon.

Betsy admits it took her an hour to get over the shock, though she had dealt with the ups and downs of personally building a hugely successful litigation services business from scratch in Mayfield Heights, Ohio over the previous three decades. The firm dealt with similar issues but for humans. Betsy’s business acumen had provided her with the means at the age of 60 to become a major financial supporter of American high performance dressage. She also owns an equestrian center in Wellington, Florida.

“I knew immediately,” Betsy recalled in a conversation with dressage-news.com. “I’m very closely in tune with what goes on in our stable and I know that Adrienne is extremely careful. So I knew it couldn’t be anything that was done or not done as a result of negligence or error. I immediately suspected it was a feed contamination case. How strange is this, it falls into my line of work. I don’t deal with animal products but I deal with human products of all kinds.”

What she didn’t know until a few hours later was that Kaitlin Blythe, the 25-year-old head trainer at Maryanna Haymon’s Marydell Farm in Columbus, North Carolina was as much a stickler for natural feed. Both Horizon and Don Principe were on the same feed regimen.

Jessica Jo “JJ” Tate, for whom Kaitlin had been an assistant trainer, said she was so insistent on natural feed for her own horses that she ended up converting JJ’s entire barn.

Maryanna and her husband, although able to pay their share of the legal costs though it will bite into their show budget, said that like most people it would have been a “big problem” without the help of Betsy to find an attorney capable of handling the case.

Betsy’s contacts in the legal world led her to Samuel W. Silver, a Philadelphia lawyer with no direct experience dealing with the FEI or CAS but lots of knowledge of their procedures from litigating many doping cases before the USEF.

Betsy’s goal was unrealistic by some accounts–to get the case resolved in a month, by the deadline for the U.S. championships. The talented Horizon was qualified for small tour and the 18-year-old Don Principe was Kaitlin’s last chance in the Brentina Cup Under-25 as she is 25 years old and ages out of youth divisions this year.

Debbie McDonald (left) and Elizabeth Juliano appreciating a ride by Adrienne Lyle on Horizon. File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The provisional suspensions of the two horses were for 60 days, well past the championships and for the riders as long as two years.

She was undeterred by previous cases such as that of the Dominican Republic’s Yvonne Losos de Muñiz who spent months to get CAS to acknowledge the FEI erred in procedures for qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Games, or a British event rider who spent $300,000 over two years to clear her name in a case similar to that of the Americans.

Although Sam is reluctant to talk about the case, he participated in two preliminary hearings with the FEI.

He was successful in clearing the riders–the Persons Responsible in FEI parlance that are ultimately accountable for any wrongdoing.

With one case down, the Americans then ran headlong into an FEI policy that is inexplicable in that it is the opposite of legal procedures not only in the United States but much of the world.

Although the riders were cleared, the horses were not.

A positive drug test means automatic suspension of two months, no hearing, no matter the circumstances or evidence presented.

The Americans provided the FEI with extensive and expensive results of testing and research that supported their case.

Cargill, the manufacturer of the feed, worked with them very closely to determine how the horses tested positive for a banned substance even though the company knew this might result in a finding that one of their Progressive Nutrition products was the source.

The U.S. federation that often is criticized stepped up and not only provided support in many ways but let those who needed to know that the organization was behind the four women.

All to no avail. The FEI was unmoved.

An appeal was made to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Lausanne, Switzerland as is the FEI, to overturn the suspensions of the horses.

That was successful Monday, three days after the suspensions were lifted on the riders and right before the deadline for acceptance of entries for the championships.

“We won our appeal!!!” Betsy texted. “Amazing!!!”

To all intents and purposes, the case is over and the riders can compete without a cloud over them. Some months from now CAS will hold a hearing to dispose of the case.

Kaitlin’s immediate response was “ecstatic” before sitting down to write her biography for the championship program.

Adrienne, at 32 years of age and having competed on Wizard for the United States at the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 World Games, said she was “incredibly thankful for Betsy’s unwavering support and swift call to action in this matter. The whole situation would have been even more incredibly intimidating and confusing without her support and guidance. I feel so thankful to have her as an owner and to have such a great relationship where rider and owner support each other and work together in all matters concerning their horses.”

A statement from all four stated: “We know how deeply the USEF is committed to keeping our sport clean and free of drugs, and we applaud that effort. In supporting us here, the USEF showed that strict enforcement of anti-doping rules need not be inconsistent with basic principles of fairness.”

(As of this writing, the FEI database shows that both Horizon and Don Principe are labeled “SUSPENDED FROM 05/04/2017 TO 04/06/2017″

(The USEF has listed both horses in the official entries for the championships next week.)