Reserpine: banned substance in horse sport

  • Reserpine is the banned substance that Jock Paget‘s Clifton Promise tested positive for after winning the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2013. Kevin McNab‘s ride Clifton Pinot also tested positive for reserpine after the event.

    Both riders were cleared of any offence when the FEI Tribunal concluded that the substance had entered the horses’ system through a supplement called LesstressE and that contamination had occurred at the manufacturing stage.

    Reserpine is a long-acting powerful tranquillizer for human use, though it is little-used because of its side effects. Vets have also used it to calm hot and anxious horses and those on box-rest.

    Vet Keith Chandler told H&H: “It changes chemicals within the brain to alter the horse’s temperament. It is usually administered over several weeks to make horses easier to manage, train or ride. But you have to apply to the government for a licence to import it and it also has side effects.”

    The substance is banned by the FEI; it is deemed to have “no legitimate place in equine medicine”.

    During his report for the FEI tribunal investigating the Jock Paget/Kevin McNab case, FEI expert witness Dr Stuart Paine explained that although reserpine is not licensed for use in horses in the UK, it is licensed in Australia and New Zealand and it is used as a long-acting equine tranquiliser.

    He went on to explain that the drug mainly appeared in the form of a product called Rakelin (pictured top), which is readily available for purchase via the internet and in many countries over the counter. Rakelin is given weekly by intra-muscular injection only.

    He said Rakelin was “marketed as being useful as an aid when unfamiliar surroundings and/or unaccustomed stress create anxiety in a horse.”

    Dr Paine also stated that reserpine might have a performance-enhancing effect for a competition horse, particularly in dressage, as that discipline requires a horse to be calm, composed and focused.

    World Horse Welfare’s Roly Owers said: “The key message that has to come out of this case is that reserpine or Rakelin has no place in horse sport whether overtly or inadvertently. Anyone who is using it should be aware that it is flagrant and diabolical abuse of equine welfare.”

    This information was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (24 October, 2013/14 August, 2014)

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