Following the biggest doping scandal to hit eventing, H&H's acting deputy news editor Sophia Heath visited Jock Paget at his Surrey base. He is now preparing for the World Equestrian Games, but lifting the ‘cloud’ of doping allegations won’t be easy
If the past 10 months have taught the event rider anything, it is that the danger of contamination [in Jock’s case through a calmer called LesstressE] is a real threat to any rider in any discipline.
The FEI verdict, which was released two weeks ago (7 August), excused Jock and his mentor Kevin McNab of any wrongdoing, but the case has thrown excessive supplement use and the dangers of contamination into the spotlight.
In his evidence at his FEI Tribunal, Jock said Clifton Promise was on seven different products. If there is a risk of a supplement containing an illegal substance, he’s increasing the odds sevenfold compared with not feeding supplements at all. However, Jock maintains that supplement use is essential for event horses.
“I give each supplement to a horse for a reason. It’s not because I just like the name or the colour so I chuck them in,” Jock said.
“You are not dealing with a human athlete, like a runner, where a coach can say: ‘you need to make sure you eat this and drink that’.
“We can’t have those conversations with the horse. And we need to bridge the gap between what they are getting and what we are asking them to do at a three-day event.
“Supplements are essential, but this [case] is a great example that you can’t be too careful with the supplements that you use.”
During the tribunal process, Roger Hatch, director of Trinity Consultants, which manufactures LesstressE, admitted to using a “wooden spoon and plastic bowl” to make the supplement, and that there was no quality control in place.
“Of course I wouldn’t have used the product if I had known that was the situation,” Jock said. “I don’t think anyone would use a supplement that they knew was being made like that. It is laughable.
“But when I spoke to Mr Hatch, no alarm bells went off. He has been working in this industry for 46 years and this product has been on the shelf for 18 years.
“I never went out to his business to have a look at the way he makes things. Maybe that’s something people should do.”
During the Tribunal, the FEI wanted Jock to be able to prove the exact point of contamination, but it was decided by the Tribunal that this would be an “unreasonable burden”. Some people have suggested that this might change the parameters for future cases.
“I think it will be a case-by-case scenario,” Jock said. “I don’t think it’s going to set a precedent for people who can’t necessarily show where it [the contamination] happened, but can show that it happened before they got it [the product].
“You are going to need quite a bit of evidence around that as well to be exonerated.”
In April, at Jock’s request, a “partial decision” was made by the FEI and Jock was stripped of his Burghley title, which was handed to Andrew Nicholson. Andrew — who was competing in Kentucky at the time — launched into a verbal tirade when questioned by a
New Zealand television reporter about the move (news, 1 May).
“You are in New Zealand so you will be hearing all this bulls**t about what a good man Jock was for surrendering it. Well, that’s a load of bulls**t, he surrendered nothing, he didn’t have it to f****ng start with, he lost it the moment the horse was tested,” said Andrew at the time.
Despite this, Jock insists there is no remaining tension with his idol, with whom he will compete on the same team at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) later this month.
“I still look up to him and I always will — he is a legend of the sport,” Jock said.
“One of the things we love about Andrew is that he says what he thinks.
“I think he made it pretty clear he didn’t have a problem with me but had a problem with the process and the way people were interpreting the process.
“He said what he thought and I like him for that.”
A further argument also came to a head last week when fellow Kiwi rider Joe Meyer said that he had been wrongly named in the evidence given to the FEI for suggesting the LesstressE product to Jock (news, 14 August).
“I am sorry that Joe has been dragged into this mess,” Jock said.
“But I gave evidence under oath. He did recommend the product.”
Time is a healer
Although Jock has now been cleared of any wrongdoing, he still believes it may take a while for his association with doping to be forgotten.
“Of course there are concerns and I don’t want to have that cloud above me,” he said. “It is there and I can’t change that. All I can do is hopefully do some good things and eventually, with time, it will be filtered out and replaced with something positive.
“I haven’t been out and about enough to get a real measure of what people think, and I know most people won’t say things to my face anyway.
“The facts are the facts and that should be how people make their opinion. I am not interested in people who make up their opinion on what they want to hear.
“The people that I have spoken to and been close to have been fantastic throughout.”
Jock also admitted that he will now always be scared whenever one of his horses is checked for prohibited substances.
“I will be shitting myself the next time one of my horses get tested. I was so confident before Burghley — I didn’t even give it a thought when they asked to take Promise for testing.
“But now I know anything can get contaminated.”
Looking forward to WEG
“Promise knows his job very well and he gets better every year,” he said. “I have done my preparation now and I am happy with my preparation, regardless of what has happened. All that is left to do now is perform on the day.”
Clifton Promise is no longer on LesstressE, but Jock is not worried that it will influence his performance.
“I won’t know until I go to a big competition again and see how he copes. But he went to Hartpury last weekend (6-10 August) and he was eating his feed and he was happy so I am not too concerned.
“He is mellowing in his older age. But he is a Ferrari, not a Volkswagen, and he loves his job and is very good at it.
“I would never recommend this experience to anyone, but now that I am on the other side of it I am glad that I went through it. I have learnt a lot, but I am never going to be safe [from contamination].”