THE welfare of polo ponies in America has taken a step forward following the introduction of doping and medication rules by the US Polo Association (USPA).

The move comes after the death of 21 polo ponies at the US Open last year, following an accidental overdose of selenium (news, 23 April 2009).

The USPA has adopted rules already used by the US Equestrian Federation (USEF) and players have a year to get used to the new system.

Since 29 March ponies can be randomly drug-tested immediately after a match.

During 2010, if a pony tests positive, the USPA will inform the owner and player, but take no further action. After 1 January 2011, owners, players and team sponsors face a suspension or ban from USPA competition and a hefty fine if found guilty of doping.

Education sessions have been held with the polo community.

USPA polo pony welfare committee chairman Dr Bill Patterson told H&H: “We have been working on this for some time This is not just a knee-jerk reaction to the deaths last April.

“High-goal players understand why we’re doing this and it’s not draconian — we allow therapeutic use of drugs,” he said. “But lower- to medium-goal players will also be tested, so need to adjust.”

USEF drugs and medications chief administrator Dr Stephen Schumacher described the move as “a monumental step for horse welfare”.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (15 April, 2010)