Performance Enhancing Drugs, Eventing, and the FEI

Click here for Eventing Nation report on the FEI’s decision to allow bute and other performance enhancers at competitions.

So what exactly is now legal? “The progressive list allows phenylbutazone (bute), up to 8 micrograms per millilitre in plasma or serum. This is three times the level permitted in the 1980s before the powerful anti-inflammatory agent was banned. The progressive list also allows salicyclic acid (similar to aspirin) up to 750mcg/ml in urine and up to 6.5 mcg/ml in plasma or serum. Flunixin, a common anti-inflammatory and painkiller in horses, will be allowed up to 500 mcg/ml in plasma or serum. The new rules allow for a horse with levels below the prescribed limits to pass a drugs test provided the drugs are not used in combination.” Read more.  

We quoted a vet earlier today as saying the new allowed levels are “definitely performance enhancing.”  The major equestrian federations, including the United States, Sweden, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, and Great Britain all publicly opposed the proposal.  The FEI shocked delegates by announcing the new doping proposal on Wednesday and then repeatedly changing the contents and name of that proposal up until the vote on Thursday.  No one has announced who started the “progressive list,” who supported it, or why the progressive list is tolerable to a zero-tolerance policy.

My take: Is there doping in eventing?  Absolutely.  Typically, people either give traditional treatments such as Cosequin or Legend during the competition, they inject magic untestable drugs, or they get really fancy and use special methods to directly treat a problem area.  And all the vaulters do H.  The $64,000 question is whether or not the FEI wants to change that or just look like they are changing it.  I have a friend who is a professional cyclist, and he tells me that cycling officials work with drug companies to deceive competitors into thinking a drug is untestable, a bunch of cyclists start to use the drug, and then they test for it.  Lance is tested nearly a hundred times a year.  If the FEI suddenly got that serious, scores of top riders across many disciplines would get caught.
Why do riders give their horses performance enhancers?  I feel that the reasons are more psychological than related to any calculated medical decision.  The pressures placed on riders from owners, sponsors, trainers, and particularly the hundreds of hours they have dedicated to preparing for each three-day makes doing everything possible to pass the jog appear reasonable.  If the probability of being caught, multiplied by the perceived cost of getting caught outweighs the perceived benefits of breaking the rules, riders will stop doping.  
I support a policy that is zero-tolerance for anything that the FEI can and will test for.  In some cases, such as Cosequin, FEI vets will tell you at the beginning of competition to please take your horse off Cosequin and other related supplements, despite the fact that you will not fail a test for being on normal levels of Cosequin throughout the competition.  This policy is ridiculous because the rider is faced with the situation of having no external incentive to comply and the knowledge that his/her competitors have no incentive to comply.  In the case of Cosequin, they should just comply and save their money because Cosequin is a marginal joint supplement to begin with, but I digress.  For drugs that the FEI can test for, such as bute, and even for medications that riders do not know can be tested for, just keep things simple and stick with zero-tolerance.  The increased comfort for horses during competition is outweighed by the discomfort some horses will feel later after being competed through a mild lameness.  I spoke with a top FEI official about the matter, and he said something in French that I couldn’t understand.  Go eventing.

Related Eventing Nation articles: European Boycott of WEGs?Letter to Princess Haya, Petition to FEI, Horse Racing Won’t Follow FEI, Chronicle Covers Doping Debate, My Take, *FEI Approves ButeFEI Considers Bute 

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