The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) is investigating at least seven cases of positive dope tests in unspecified competition horses.
The news comes after speculation earlier this year in the national press about the use of “calming” drugs, especially among eventers for the dressage phase, and the FEI now warns that the use of banned substances is widespread.
Five substances have been found in the positive samples, all taken from horses competing at international fixtures over the past few months.
ACP (Acepromazine) is a mild tranquilliser that is available on prescription in Britain and is used legitimately, for instance, to calm a horse for clipping. Detomidine is a sedative (stronger than ACP) that is also routinely used in this country.
Reserpine is another strong sedative that is not readily available in the UK, but is in use for horses in the US, Europe and Australia.
Fluphenazine is an antipsychotic drug used to treat schizophrenia and hallucinations in humans. Guanabenz is used to treat high blood pressure in humans.
In a statement, the FEI says: “These substances are being used in low dosages to improve the manageability of ‘hot’ horses and are therefore regarded as serious attempts to influence the performance of the horse.”
Details of which horses from which disciplines tested positive have not been released, and a spokesman for the FEI could not confirm how long the investigation would take.
Bo Helander, secretary general of the FEI, said the tests were taken “mostly” at show jumping competitions, and that he was confident none was from eventing.
Andrew Finding, chief executive of the British Equestrian Federation, says: “We have two cases outstanding at the moment and neither involves any of the substances mentioned in the FEI communication.
“The two British cases would not be regarded to be in a category which might be referred to as ‘managing hot horses’. We would not wish to comment further until the completion of the FEI’s judicial process.”
Vet Karen Coumbe says: “It’s amazing the way drugs are used: they aren’t substances you would want to play with. You wouldn’t take them yourself, and it’s as risky as drink-driving to give them to horses.”