Frustration is growing on all sides as the season gets under way, while Burghley’s doping scandal remains unresolved and uncertainty hangs over the eventing community. 

Jock Paget’s Clifton Promise and Kevin McNab’s Clifton Pinot both tested positive for the banned sedative reserpine at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials on 8 September.

Both riders were immediately suspended from all national and international competition pending B sample test results and a tribunal. Both their B test sample results came back positive in November, but horse sport’s governing body the FEI told H&H last week that the tribunal date still “has not yet been set”.

Equestrian Sports New Zealand chief executive Jim Ellis confirmed this was the case and they are now not expecting the tribunal to take place until late April or early May.

This is causing concern to many.

Kiwi eventer Bruce Haskell, president of the Event Riders Association (ERA), said a swift resolution was needed.

Badminton ballot concern

Another element fuelling the frustration is that, due to FEI procedures, the results of Burghley 2013 will not be amended until after the tribunal. Thus neither prize-money nor important FEI points needed to qualify for other top events can yet be reallocated.

Some riders believe that the results should have been changed immediately after the B samples came back positive. This is on the grounds that, no matter how the drugs entered the horses’ systems, they were competing on banned substances and therefore must be disqualified.

However, the FEI says this has not happened because disqualification “is only automatic once a rule violation has been established”.

“The finding whether there has been a rule violation can only be made by the tribunal once the case has been heard,” a spokesman added.

Some riders who completed Burghley and are trying to secure a place to run at Badminton, need the additional FEI points that would come with an improved finishing position at the September fixture.

Badminton director Hugh Thomas told H&H that it was “frustrating for everyone in the sport that this case is not resolved”.

“We have prepared a schedule of how the points would be affected if and when they [Jock and Kevin] are removed from the prize list,” he added.

“As far as the leading horses are concerned, it’s not going to make the slightest difference. But there are a couple of horses who at the moment don’t have very many points for whom it would have an impact.

“Pippa Funnell’s Redesigned and Michael Owen’s The Highland Prince could potentially both be affected.”

Andrew Nicholson told H&H…

Andrew Nicholson finished second, behind Jock Paget on Clifton Promise, at last year’s Burghley. If Clifton Promise is disqualified, it will be Andrew’s fourth Burghley title. It will also mean he has secured the first leg of the Rolex Grand Slam.

“I am pretty chilled about it,” Andrew told H&H. “These things take time and there is nothing that I can do to change the situation.

“I can’t see how I can’t win Burghley because it has been proved that the horse was competing on an illegal substance. So I will be targeting Kentucky and Badminton.

“To me the only problem with it taking so long is that, if they find Jock totally innocent, they will have cost him a month of big competitions.

Paget teaching, but cannot compete

Jock Paget, who is still based at his yard in Dunsfold, Surrey, and has been teaching while he awaits his tribunal, is also disappointed about the delay.

“This has been a huge setback for Jock, especially coming after the year he had been having and his strong assertion of innocence,” said Jim Ellis.

“With the New Zealand squad riders getting back into training in January, this is clearly more frustrating for Jock, as he can see his teammates at squad clinics and is unable to join them.

“With the start of the UK season, the frustration at being provisionally suspended naturally increases. He is keen to be able to put his case to the FEI tribunal hearing as soon as the system allows.”

Jock did not wish to comment further, but supported the comments made on his behalf by Mr Ellis.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (6 March 2014)