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Competition horses could test positive for banned substances simply because their handlers have neglected good hygiene, a leading American vet has warned colleagues.

Cynthian Kollias-Baker, director of the racing laboratory at the University of Florida, told delegates at theAmerican Association of Equine Practitioners Convention that increasingly sophisticated drug testing methods could pinpoint even tiny concentrations of banned substances and that even “environmental” sources of contamination may lead to a positive result.

A horse tested positive for ibuprofen after consuming feed prepared by a groom who had ibuprofen gel on his hands, while veterinary surgeons were able to detect traces of isoxuprine in the stable of a horse who had been treatedwith the drug for several weeks after treatment was withdrawn.

Dr Kollias-Baker also warned that even small amounts of caffeine in a sample are regarded as a serious breach of the rules.

Caffeine is pervasive in the horse’s environment – contained in coffee, tea, chocolate and soft drinks – so care must be taken to ensure that human food items are not inadvertently fed to horses.

Washing hands between handling horses on any medication and competition horses, avoiding feeding titbits, cleaning of stables and equipment and keeping an eye on feed supplements were recommended as good practice to avoid the risk of “accidental doping”.

Read the full story in this week’s Horse & Hound (22 January), or click here to subscribe and enjoy Horse & Hound delivered to your door every week.