Two UAE endurance riders have been provisionally suspended from competition after their horses tested positive for the same prohibited substance, which has never before been found in horses competing under FEI rules.

Both the winner of the CEI* ride held in Doha on 22 April, Centurion, who was ridden by the UAE’s Abdulla Mubarak Rashed Al Khaili, and the second placed horse, SUR (Mabrouk) ridden by the UAE’s Mohd Butti Ghemran Al Qubaisi, tested positive for the banned substance human Erythropoietin (EPO).

EPO is a peptide hormone that is produced naturally in the body. It is released from the kidneys and acts on the bone marrow to stimulate red blood cell production. An increase in red blood cells improves the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry to the body’s muscles.

Under World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules, EPO has been banned as a performance enhancing substance for human athletes since the early 1990s, but a reliable testing method was not in place until 2000. EPO has been banned for equine use under the FEI’s equine anti-doping and controlled medication regulations (EADCMRs) since 2010.

“EPO is well known in human endurance sports in which an increased number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells is an advantage, but the substance has little benefit in equestrian sport and this is the first time we have seen FEI horses testing positive for EPO,” said FEI veterinary director Göran Akerström said.

“Horses have a large natural reserve of red blood cells stored in their spleen, and the use of EPO would actually have a negative effect in many horses as the increased level of red blood cells would slow down blood circulation.”

This is the latest incident the FEI’s ongoing battle to combat rule breaking in the sport of endurance in the region, which has been extensively documented by Horse & Hound.

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FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez said: “Clean sport is a top priority for all governing bodies and a key part of that is protecting our clean athletes. So we will take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that there is no room in our sport for those who attempt to gain a competitive advantage through the use of prohibited substances.”

Both athletes have been provisionally suspended from the date of notification (2 June 2016). The two horses have also been provisionally suspended for a two-month period.