Ponies Association (UK) announced this weekend that an increased programme of random dope tests will be performed at the “Equestrian Holiday of the Year” as a direct result of increasing concerns that there is a doping problem in the showing world.

The announcement comes in the wake of a stern reminder last week from the British Show Hack, Cob and Riding Horse Association that it will not tolerate the doping of horses and is “determined to stamp out this abuse”,

Almost 10,000 ponies have competed throughout the year to win a place at the Ponies (UK) Summer National Championships, which take place from 17-21 August, and 3,000 competitors are likely to battle it out for the Supreme of the Show award.

Betsy Branyan, of Ponies (UK), explains their concerns: “There is a problem: more and more gossip is circulating about the use of what we would call – in human terms – uppers and downers.

“Several judges and stewards have commented that it seems as if some of the littler ponies, ridden by younger kids have been given some form of sedative – whether it is chemical or herbal.

“What we are concerned about above all is the safety element – many people use the drugs only at shows, when they don’t know how the pony will react, which means that they are putting themselves, and others, at risk.

Ponies (UK) follows FEI guidelines on prohibited substances, which include some herbal substances as well as more commonplace substances such as bute, which Betsy also maintains is an issue, not least because of the welfare implications for a pony that is constantly on the substance.

The association intends to increase its doping-tests as much as six-fold. In previous years, they tested only one or two ponies during the entire show, but the target this year is 12. The chairman will decide which classes will be targeted, and before the class takes place, will decide which ponies in that class will be tested.

“At the moment, we penalise by disqualifying a pony if it tests positive for any of the prohibited substances. We haven’t currently set a method of disciplining producers, although I imagine that this is something which will be reconsidered by the chairman in the near future,” says Ms Branyan.