Performance-enhancing drugs are a problem also in horse riding and this is tackled with great determination. But what is doping? How do you carry out an anti-doping test on a horse?
What is doping?
According to the majority of regulations of Italian sports currently in effect, doping is defined as administering or taking drugs or substances that are biologically active as well as adopting or submitting to medical treatments, not justified by the presence of an illness, that can alter the psychophysical or biological conditions of the organism in order to enhance the athletes' performance (art. 1 of the Law no. 376 of December 14, 2000 regulating health protection of sports activities and the fight against doping).
Doping is a crime punished with up to 3 years in prison (which may be increased if athlete's health is affected) in case a minor has been encouraged to take prohibited doping substances or a CONI employee distributes the substances. A specific treatment using forbidden doping substances and, having taken such substances, taking part in sports competition is allowed only in the presence of an illness in the athlete that is documented and certified by a doctor, after verifying the absence of dangers for their health. But even in this case, the treatment must meet specific therapy requirements and the documentation must be kept and made available to the athlete at any time. Anti-doping checks on competition and sports activities are carried out by some laboratories authorized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The criteria that regulate the fight against doping in horses are similar.
Doping is contrary to the principles of loyalty and fairness in sport competitions, to the cultural values of sport, to the sport's function and role in highlighting the natural physical potential and moral qualities of the athletes.
The anti-doping laws apply to several illegal actions, namely
the presence of a forbidden substance or its markers in a sample taken from the Athlete
the use of attempt to use a forbidden substance or a prohibited method
the refusal or omission, without justified reason, to have a biological sample taken, after being notified in compliance with the current Regulations, or avoid the taking of the sample in other ways
the breach, without justified reason, of the conditions established for Athletes, who must agree to submit to out-of-competition testing, including lack of compliance with the need to inform about their whereabouts, resulting in the impossibility to conduct the tests required by the laws in force
the tampering or attempted tampering with whichever phase of the anti-doping checks
the possession of forbidden substances and the use of prohibited methods
the trafficking of forbidden substances or prohibited methods
The fight against doping in Italy
The Italian Olympic Committee (Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano, CONI) is the National Anti-doping Organization (NADO) recognized by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
NADO is the maximum authority at national level responsible for adopting and implementing the Anti-doping Regulations, giving direction on sample testing, management of test results and organization of debates.
The sport anti-doping Rules adopted by CONI, similarly to competition rules, are the norms that regulate the situations in which all the sports activity is carried out in Italy. For example, members and affiliates of FISE, which is part of CONI, must accept these Rules in order to be able to take part in sports activities.
Anti-doping Rules are not subordinated nor bound to the judicial requirements and criteria on matters regarding crime or labor law.
Anti-doping according to FEI
With regards to Olympic equestrian sports, FISE adopts and applies the international regulations drawn up by FEI and accepted in 2005. Said regulations came into effect in 2006.
The anti-doping program developed by FEI has the same aim and purpose of those mentioned above, especially the protection of the horse in general. More specifically, the regulations aim at protecting the following values:
Ethics, fair play and honesty
Excellence in competitions
Character and education
Entertainment and joy
Devotion and tenacity
Compliance with rules
Respect for oneself and other athletes
In order to protect these values, competitors must lead well-specified behaviors. For example, with regards to veterinarian care, each treatment must be fully justified by a health condition identified in the horse; horses that cannot compete due to an accident must be immediately submitted to an appropriate therapy; no substance must be submitted without the prior authorization of the official FEI veterinarians; all the treatments made in proximity of a sport event must be recorded and declared.
FEI has also set a list of forbidden substances, which is divided into three sections: doping substances, class A drugs and class B drugs, the use of which is considered in a different way.
Choosing the horses to be tested according to FEI
Chapter 6 of the FEI veterinarian regulations contains the procedure for taking and analyzing samples in relation to anti-doping checks. According to these regulations, the horses to be submitted to anti-doping testing must be identified through their passports, but in some cases the DNA test may also be requested.
According to FEI, the veterinarian responsible for taking the samples must work very closely with the president of the jury and following his/her indications whenever possible. The judge, in turn, adopts the suggestions made by the veterinarian with regards to the sampling.
A horse is submitted to an anti-doping test for three conditions:
Compulsory test (for example for horses that have won medals)
Random test, defined and agreed by the judge and the vet
Test for specific reasons (always agreed by both)
Anti-doping tests are regularly conducted in many equestrian events such as CCI3*, CCI4*, CSIs (3*, 4*, 5*), CIOs, World Cup Qualifiers and Cup Finals, Championships and Games. It is recommended that tests are carried out also in other CI events. The number of horses to submit to the tests can vary, depending on the type of competition.
The sampling according to FEI
When a horse has been selected for an anti-doping test, the veterinary commission notifies the person responsible for the horse, who will be responsible for supervising the horse during the taking of the sample. From this moment on, FEI staff must constantly monitor the horse. As in the case of other regulations, also the FEI one states that the refusal to be submitted to the test is sanctioned with at least the disqualification of the horse from the event underway.
The sample of blood or urine is taken in the usual way in the presence of the official veterinarian and the horse's supervisor. Both are responsible for ensuring that the sample, once taken, is not accidentally contaminated by other substances. The signature on the sample taking report automatically states that procedure followed to take the sample was correct and the appropriate tools were used.
The presence of forbidden substances must be proven by analyzing a sample of tissue, body fluids (usually blood) or excretions (usually urine). Urine is considered an excellent sample for this type of analysis, and it is recommended more and more often. In any case, the official veterinarian can authorize the taking of other materials, like hair, saliva, outer layer of the skin or other suspected materials such as rehydrating solutions and similar.
Once the veterinarian has taken the sample, he/she sends it to the analysis laboratory within 24 hours from the end of the competition. FEI has authorized many laboratories to carry out this type of analysis, each of which has put in place appropriate quality control procedures in relation to the analyses required.
The samples of blood or urine arrive at the laboratory in two portions each (A and B, usually 2 small plastic bottles for urine and 2 or more tubes or syringes for blood). One is opened and used for the analysis, the other is frozen and kept for a potential cross-analysis and subsequently destroyed, if the first analysis is negative.
Anti-doping according to UNIRE
The Italian National Union for the Increase of Equine Breeds (Unione Nazionale Incremento Razze Equine, UNIRE) has developed its own anti-doping regulations, to which every horse managed by this organization must adhere.
All the horses taking part in events of competitions managed by UNIRE as well as those declared or resulting in training are subject to the above-mentioned regulations.
It is forbidden to find in a horse's body, on the day of the race or during the qualification or requalification tests in which the horse is declared as a starter, any amount of a substance belonging to one of the categories included in the "list of forbidden substances" mentioned in annex 1 of the regulations, or the presence of a scientific indicator proving that a forbidden substance has been administered.
On the day when the sample is taken, it is also forbidden to find in a horse declared or resulting in training, any of the above-mentioned elements unless this is justified by a prescription issued by a veterinarian. In any case, it is forbidden to find in a horse declared or resulting in training, any quantity of an anabolic steroid or a substance certainly deriving from this.
It is not forbidden to find so-called endogenous substances (i.e. produced by the horse itself) in a horse or those that can derive from its natural feeding, listed in annex 2 of the regulations, provided that their quantity is below the limits established and included in the above annex.
Selection of horses according to UNIRE
During the race day and the training, the Veterinarian In Charge is responsible for adopting any measure intended to prevent the use of forbidden substances, identifying the horse and protecting the welfare of the animals.
The horses to be submitted to the tests are identified by the Veterinarian In Charge in accordance with the rules issued by UNIRE.
The samples can be taken also on horses that have been withdrawn after the declaration of the starting horses.
On the race day, the Veterinarian In Charge must be promptly informed
of any accident that might have happened on the track in which a horse is injured. Also this horse can be selected for the tests for forbidden substances.
Type and method of taking samples according to UNIRE
The Veterinarian In Charge, after ascertaining the identity of the horse and the regularity of the vaccination certifications, takes samples of urine and/or samples or other biological material and/or samples of elements in contact with any part of the horse by using materials and tools made available by UNIRE.
When the samples are taken by the Veterinarian In Charge, the Anti-doping Inspector may be present, whose function is to assist the owner and/or the trainer or, in their absence, their representative authorized through a written authorization letter, or the person who is responsible for the horse.
During races where the testing is compulsory, the owner and the trainer must consider themselves notified and do not need to be specifically summoned. In other cases, the Veterinarian In Charge notifies the owner and/or the trainer.
The samples can be taken at any time, at the loose boxes in the area reserved for sample taking, at the saddling paddocks, the isolation paddocks and at the stud or training center or any other place accommodating the horses.
The sample taken is divided into two parts, one of which is used for the first analyses and the second one for the second analysis, in compliance with the provisions of FIAH (the International Federation of Horse Authorities).
The sample used for the first analyses is put into a specific container by the Veterinarian in Charge, then closed, sealed and labeled, where the sex and age of the horse is indicated. The anti-doping inspector writes a unique code on the container, so that the horse being tested cannot be identified. The inspector then places the container in a thermal bag, which is then sealed and put into another container, ready for transport.
The part of the sample used for the second analyses is also put into a specific container, on which a label is attached carrying the name of the horse, the location and the day in which the sample was taken. The container is closed and sealed; it is up to the people involved to decide whether they wish to sign it.
The anti-doping Inspector introduced the container, together with a copy of the sample taking and packaging report in a thermal bag, which must be closed, seal and then put into another container. At the end of the checks, the Veterinarian In Charge sends the samples to the analysis laboratory.