On June 8, 2020, the FEI announced the imposition of record sanctions in a horse abuse and anti-doping violation case involving Castlebar Contraband and Sh Abdul Aziz Bin Faisal Al Qasimi. Though this horse and rider were involved in the sport of Endurance riding, not Hunter/Jumper, it is vital for us to be aware of doping and abuse issues across all disciplines. The case also has resulted in an enormous change in FEI post mortem procedures for all disciplines.
The FEI Tribunal has imposed record sanctions in an Endurance horse abuse and anti-doping violation case in which the horse was fatally injured, sentencing the athlete Sh Abdul Aziz Bin Faisal Al Qasimi (UAE) to a 20-year suspension and fines of CHF 17,500. The athlete was also ordered to pay CHF 15,000 towards the costs of the proceedings.
Photo by Henry Brown/Action Images.
The case involved the horse Castlebar Contraband (FEI ID 103UO95/NED), ridden by Sh Abdul Aziz Bin Faisal Al Qasimi (FEI ID 10031263/UAE) at the CE1* in Fontainebleau (FRA) on October 15, 2016.
Castlebar Contraband suffered an open fracture to its front right cannon bone during the event and had to be euthanized. Blood samples collected from the horse post mortem revealed the presence of the Controlled Medication Substance Xylazine, which is used as a sedative, analgesic and muscle relaxant but is prohibited in competition. The substance, which is rapidly excreted from the body, is known to be used in Endurance to lower the heart rate. No valid Veterinary Form, the equine equivalent of a Therapeutic Use Exemption, exists for this Substance.
The FEI Tribunal accepted the explanation of the Treating Veterinarian who performed the euthanasia that she had followed a standard protocol which did not include the use of Xylazine, refuting the claim by the defendant’s legal team that Xylazine had been used in the euthanasia process.
In his report, FEI Veterinary Director Dr Göran Åkerström stated that nerve blocking removes the “very fundamental protective function of sensitivity” and increases the risk of catastrophic injury. This is especially relevant for fractures that are due to bone fatigue (stress fractures) as a horse will not show any signs of pain, such as lameness, while under the influence of an injected substance.
The post mortem report revealed the appearance of multiple lesions with a highly targeted location, consistent with recent injections, demonstrating that the horse had been nerve blocked (desensitized) in training, and both before and during the competition. This desensitization, together with osteoarthritis in the right front fetlock joint, resulted in stress fractures that ultimately caused the catastrophic injury.
As a result, the FEI Tribunal ruled that the athlete had committed horse abuse and that the Equine Controlled Medication (ECM) Rules had been violated, and imposed the strongest sanctions in FEI history. The athlete was suspended for 20 years in total – 18 years for the horse abuse and two years for the ECM Rule violation. The suspension commenced from the date of the Decision, June 3, 2020, and will run until June 2, 2040. The results of the athlete and horse at the event were disqualified. The athlete was also fined CHF 17,500 – 10,000 for the horse abuse and 7,000 for the ECM Rule violation – and was ordered to pay CHF 15,000 towards the costs of the proceedings.
“This is a really great result for horse welfare and the fight against doping in equestrian sport,” FEI Legal Director Mikael Rentsch said. “We are very happy to see such a strong sanction handed down by the FEI Tribunal and it offers a stern warning to others that the Tribunal will not tolerate cases of horse abuse.”
“This was a tragic case of a horse losing its life due to desensitization and micro-dosing and, while we have had concerns that this has been ongoing for some time, this was the first solid evidence we have had of nerve blocking during rides as well as micro-dosing,” FEI Veterinary Director Dr Göran Åkerström said. “This has resulted in a change in our post mortem procedures to make them more forensic and also allowed us to prioritize the research and development of the Hyposensitivity Control System which is now in place.”
To view the Final Decision for this case click here. The parties can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) within 21 days of receipt of this Decision (June 3, 2020).
Additional Notes on FEI Equine Prohibited Substances
The FEI Prohibited Substances List is divided into two sections: Controlled Medication and Banned Substances. Controlled Medication substances are those that are regularly used to treat horses, but which must have been cleared from the horse’s system by the time of competition. Banned (doping) Substances should never be found in the body of the horse and are prohibited at all times.
In the case of an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for a Banned Substance, the Person Responsible (PR) is automatically provisionally suspended from the date of notification (with the exception of certain cases involving a Prohibited Substance which is also a Specified Substance).* The horse is provisionally suspended for two months.
The FEI introduced the concept of Specified Substances in 2016. Specified Substances should not in any way be considered less important or less dangerous than other Prohibited Substances (i.e. whether Banned or Controlled). Rather, they are simply substances which are more likely to have been ingested by horses for a purpose other than the enhancement of sport performance, for example, through a contaminated food substance. Positive cases involving Specified Substances can be handled with a greater degree of flexibility within the structure of the FEI Regulations.