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Random drug testing for US polo ponies

Polo ponies in America will receive greater protection from doping and harmful medication next year, when the US Polo Association (USPA) begins its first pilot programme for random drug-testing.

The move comes in response to the sudden death of 21 polo ponies in Florida last April, who were injected with a botched supplement on the morning of a match.

At the time, the USPA had no substance control regulations.

“It will take us some weeks more to agree a list of prohibited substances and work out details of testing procedures,” said Dr Bill Patterson. He is a polo-playing vet and chair of the USPA welfare committee formed in the wake of the incident.

The pilot programme of random blood and/or urine testing will be trialled during the winter polo season in South Florida, where 2,000-3,000 ponies will compete.

A USPA spokesman said the federation is still consulting other equine sport associations to identify best practices for a complete drug and medication rule system, including adjudication, hearings and penalties.

The Hurlingham Polo Association, the governing body of polo in the UK and Ireland, has randomly tested both players and ponies for some time.

The incident in Florida last April is still under investigation.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (12 November, ’09)

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