Banned skin products 'rife' in world of showjumping

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 August, 2008, 12:00am

The use of products with performance-enhancing capabilities is widespread in the showjumping world, according to an experienced equestrian trainer.

Four Olympic showjumpers have tested positive to a muscle relaxant with banned properties, but that could be the tip of the iceberg, according to the trainer, who wished to remain anonymous.'I wouldn't be surprised if it was as high as 80 per cent,' the trainer said yesterday. 'There are a lot of products or concoctions that are not going to swab [positive for drugs].'

Four of 15 showjumpers tested positive for capsaicin, a drug that creates a hot and sore sensation. When applied to a horse's legs, they become hypersensitive to hitting a jump.

One B-sample began the testing procedure yesterday, while the other three will begin the procedure today. The FEI said 60 horses would be tested, 20 from each of the three disciplines, meaning that an additional five showjumpers are undergoing analysis from the competition, which finished on Thursday night.

The trainer said he and others believed that 'to be caught at the Olympics with what they were using is silly' because of the availability of other products that had a similar effect with less chance of being detected.

One is Finalgon, which has an active ingredient called nonivamide - similar to capsaicin.

An International Equestrian Federation official said there was no point in hypothesising about the use of such products.

'Maybe there is, maybe there isn't, we confirm [a case] when we have the evidence,' the official said.

Terence Wan See-ming, chief racing chemist at the Hong Kong Jockey Club racing laboratory, would not reveal whether these searches included nonivamide.

'We screen tens of thousands of banned substances, but I am not at liberty to disclose what we screen for or do not screen for in equestrian or other samples,' Wan said. 'In fact, the notion of what is screened and not screened is not a correct one. The detectable period of any banned substance can be very long or very short, depending on numerous factors. What's much more important is, under what condition and for how long can a banned substance be detected.'

The laboratory was appointed by the FEI to conduct the equine anti-doping controls.

The trainer said there were other compounds and methods which helped achieved the desired effect. One apparently included scratching the legs with a wire brush and another applying medications on top of cling wrap and then removing the cling wrap ahead of the competition.

Though there have been a few cases of capsaicin in racing, this was the first cluster of cases discovered in showjumping.

Asked if detecting the drug was a signal of the forensic strengths of the Jockey Club lab, Wan acknowledged that possibility, but also said that because capsaicin had not been previously detected many might have believed it would continue to go undetected.

'[It] might have been misconstrued by many as if it would not be detectable at all, or it would not even be a banned substance, leading to increased use of products containing capsaicin in greater amount, with higher frequency, and/or at a time closer to competition,' Wan said of the test findings.

The trainer said applying stringent consequences could help deter the practice. 'It's abuse of the horse,' the trainer said. 'If you suspend them for two years and they're dealt with severely it sends a message.'

The FEI said sanctions needed to be appropriate to the rule infringed. The official did say the immediate provisional suspensions demonstrated the FEI's serious stance on the use of prohibited substances.

'At the Olympic Games, the immediate suspensions shows you have to be really careful,' the official said.

So far, the number of horses who have tested positive is: 4