Eventing is the latest equestrian discipline to fall victim to rumours of doping within the sport’s circles.
Although mere conjecture, recent reports in the press concerning the use of sedatives in the dressage phase during three-day events have provoked a response from equestrian sporting bodies and raised public awareness of the alleged problem in this Olympic year.
Peter Durrant, chief executive of British Eventing, dismissed as “wild assertions” speculation that three-day eventing had a doping problem. He did conceed that both the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) and the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) had enhanced their testing procedures as a result of rumours circulating in the eventing world.
Peter told HHO: “During the past 12-18 months, we have been carrying out an enhanced testing program. This has not thrown up any matters of concern. In fact, the total number of positive dope tests in the sport has decreased, if anything.”
Fritz Sluyter, head of the FEI veterinary department, to whom the matter has been referred for further investigation, was equally unperturbed.
Fritz says: “After rumours circulated last year, there was increased testing, at Burghley in particular, but nothing came of that. Since we didn’t identify a problem, I would suggest that we are dealing with pure speculation.”
Several of the sport’s top names have been voicing their qualms concerning the ever-increasing emphasis on dressage for some time. It is now widely considered that unless a rider is placed in the top 10 after the dressage, they are not in a competitive position.
Peter Durrant suggests that there are two sides to this coin. “The increased emphasis on the dressage phase stems from the fact that in eventing, horse and rider strive for perfection in all things. In the past, the attitude towards the dressage phase was fairly casual, and some riders really couldn’t be bothered to put very much work into it.”
Some competitors now devote enormous amounts of time and energy to produce the perfect dressage test, which Peter believes could explain some of the rumours.
“You hear individual opinions, which have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Of course it is frustrating to get off your horse, which may have been nervous and excitable, to see the next person execute an almost flawless test. In the heat of the moment, it would be very easy to say something which could be misconstrued or blown out of proportion.”
Although mentions of “undetectable” drugs have been made, experts are confident that there aren’t any undetectable sedatives, either in herbal or pharmaceutical products, on the eventing circuit.
The FEI is adamant that its guidelines are very clear, but nevertheless, there is a niggling worry in the wake of the “designer drugs” scandal, which has affected the athletics field.
Fritz Sluyter explains: “Science is bound to provide temptation. There are constant developments in the world of drugs, and inevitably the more dishonest athletes search for a miracle. We have to remain alert to this, as the last thing we need in the equestrian world is a scandal similar to that experienced by the cycling world.”