Editor's Note: What's Fair in FEI Drug Testing?

In the December '08 issue of Practical Horseman magazine, Managing Editor Stacey Nedrow-Wigmore discusses the fairness of the FEI 'zero tolerance' drug policy.

Stacey Nedrow-Wigmore | © Allison Rogers

After reading the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) Tribunal’s ruling in the case of the positive drug test for U.S. dressage rider Courtney King-Dye’s horse Mythilus at the Olympic Games (Practical Horseman, Practical Tips & Talk, p. 76), I was left wondering whether the hearing process is truly fair.

As the “Person Responsible” for Myth’s positive drug test, according to FEI rules, Courtney was disqualified from the Olympics–and, thus, erasing the U.S. team’s fourth-place finish–due to a very small amount (14 nanograms per milliliter) of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug Felbinac found in Myth’s system. Considering that it would take 7,500 to 100,000 ng/ml to have an effect on a rat, does the punishment really fit the “crime”?

On one hand, I think FEI’s “Zero Tolerance” policy has merit: It ensures a level playing field; it’s very black and white. But, on the other, it strikes me that in Courtney’s case–and many others I’ve seen throughout the years–the tribunal’s ruling lacks common sense.

While Felbinac is not available in the United States, it is commonly used in Hong Kong and China for the relief of arthritis pain in humans. The amount in Myth’s system was so small that it would seem like a clear case of accidental contamination and couldn’t possibly have given him any competitive advantage. But despite Courtney’s efforts (which FEI took into consideration during her testimony), the tribunal disqualified her because she couldn’t prove how the contamination occurred.

Yet Rodrigo Pessoa, whose horse Rufus also had a positive drug test at the Olympics, was able to show the source of Rufus’ contamination: Rodrigo’s groom was treating his own broken collarbone with a topical ointment that he accidentally transferred to the horse. And the tribunal STILL disqualified Rodrigo and upheld his suspension–based on the grounds of sloppy stable management practices. This sounds like a double-edged sword to me.

While I’m one who tends to subscribe to a “life isn’t fair” view of the world, I have to believe there’s middle ground when it comes to these cases. Perhaps it’s just a matter of injecting some common sense into the hearing process. What do you think? I invite you to discuss this question in the Practical Horseman forum.

Happy riding and reading!

Stacey Nedrow-Wigmore

Managing Editor

Reprinted from the December 2008 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.

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