Competition and showing producers may be putting riders’ lives at risk by doping horses and ponies with the controversial drug Ritalin.

The sedative – chemical name methylphenidate – is commonly prescribed in the USA to treat children with attention deficit disorder.

Although banned by most equestrian authorities and condemned by the American equine veterinary industry, it is openly fed to horses and even discussed in the media in that country.

A source from the British showing world said: “I have seen ponies, particularly lead-rein and first ridden ponies, going into the ring obviously doped.

“Ritalin is not only diabolically dangerous, it is going to leave us with a legacy of breeding stock unsuitable for children.

“Show gossip suggests that it is even being used for the breaking in and schooling of ponies, and they then are not capable of going anywhere without the substance in their system.”

British Show Pony Society chairman Jim McTiffin said that samples from random dope tests are analysed at Newmarket for all Jockey Club prohibited substances. “We are determined to clamp down on doping and this shows why. I can’t believe that people are prepared to risk the life of a child by doping a pony,” he said.

John McEwen, director of sports science at the British Equestrian Federation, said: “I have heard anecdotal evidence that Ritalin is being used in Britain. This is a product that is untested and unlicensed for use on equines.

“There are risks of side-effects, such as anxiety and agitation, so it could be extremely dangerous for the rider as well as the horse.

He warned: “It is a banned substance and is detectable in dope tests and should not be used on any equine, whether competing or not.”

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