Keeping prohibited substances out of competing horses

01 May 2014, at 1:00am

Ruth Bishop a member of the British Equestrian Trade Association’s feed committee, looks at ways in which riders and trainers can avoid prohibited substances getting into competition horses

POSITIVE tests for prohibited substances continue to affect equestrian sport. The presence of a prohibited substance in a post-race or urine sample is a disaster for all – connections, the sport and any supplier duly implicated.

The definition of a prohibited substance depends on the regulatory body. In racing, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) defines a prohibited substance as “a substance which originates externally to a horse, whether or not it is endogenous to it, and is listed in any of the categories specified in Schedule 6 of the Trainers Manual, and includes the metabolites of the substance and the isomers of the substance and the metabolites”.

Schedule 6 lists the following broad definitions:

  • Any substance capable at any time of causing an action or effect, or both an action and effect, within one or more of the following mammalian body systems: nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive, musculoskeletal, blood; the immune system (except for licensed vaccines against infectious agents); and the endocrine system.
  • Endocrine secretions and their synthetic counterparts. n Masking agents. n Anabolic steroids, peptide hormone or analogues (with the exception of oxytocin use in fillies and mares in breeding management or to block oestrus cycling), â2 adrenoceptor stimulants (except when prescribed by a veterinary surgeon), oxygen carriers or agents that directly or indirectly affect or manipulate gene expression. 
  • Sedatives, tranquillisers, hypnotic or anxiolytic substances.

In equestrian sport, the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) lists two main categories of substances within its Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations (EADCMR):

  • Banned substances – those considered by the FEI to have no legitimate use in equine medicine and/or have a high potential for abuse. n Controlled medication substances – medication that is prohibited in competition and made up of all known substances that are recognised as therapeutic and/or commonly used but have the potential to enhance performance at certain levels.

Competition horses are expected to compete with no banned substances or controlled medication substances in their systems unless at a level defined and approved by FEI regulations.

The FEI publishes its annual list of prohibited substances at h/prohibited-list. 

FEI list

The British Equestrian Federation (BEF) anti-doping and controlled medication system mirrors that of the FEI and has adopted the FEI prohibited substances list in its entirety. 

Prohibited substances can enter the horse via inadequate withdrawal times of authorised equine medicines, inadvertent ingestion of human or veterinary medicines, recreational drugs, food or drink that contain prohibited substances, or contaminated feedstuffs. 

In the event of a positive test, someone has to be held responsible by the authorities. In racing it is the trainer and in equestrian sport it is the rider. This is irrespective of whether they directly approved the use of the material that caused the positive result.

It is therefore incumbent on trainers and riders to be informed and, in turn, to ensure those responsible for the horses that race or compete under their name are educated in reducing risks. 

To help educate trainers and riders to steer clear of positive tests for banned substances in equestrian sport, the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) has produced a new information booklet, The BETA Guide to Avoiding Prohibited Substances.

This handy publication highlights the key risk factors and provides a comprehensive checklist of care for stable, feed and medication management. This extensive list of do’s and don’ts can also be found on an accompanying poster that can be displayed on the yard.

Both the booklet and poster are available as a download from the BETA website,

Feed assurance schemes can also play an important part in keeping prohibited substances at bay. Many equine feeds and supplements are accredited to the BETA Naturally Occurring Prohibited Substances (NOPS) assurance schemes.

Defined standards

Companies audited under these schemes work to defined standards to help reduce the risk of NOPS contamination in their products.

NOPS can occur in feedstuffs as a result of a natural presence of a prohibited substance or inadvertent cross- contamination during processing. The NOPS currently covered by the scheme are caffeine, theobromine, theophylline, morphine, hyoscine, hordenine and atropine. 

Since the schemes began, 10 potentially serious incidences of NOPS contamination have been averted and, equally important, the supply chain for feed ingredients has become more transparent. This behind-the-scenes, independently audited activity by the feed industry means that choosing a BETA NOPS-accredited nutrition supplier is an essential part of NOPS control on the yard.

There have, however, been recent examples where feed and particularly supplements from non-scheme members have been contaminated with other prohibited substances, with cross- contamination during manufacture implicated.

Although the BETA NOPS assurance schemes do not cover all prohibited substances listed by the BHA or FEI, they do require participating companies to have risk-assessed their supply chains and, importantly, require that feeds can be made only on a dedicated non-medicated production line in order to reduce further the risk of cross-contamination. This way, the schemes offer a wider protection than for the principal contaminants it seeks to avoid.

In summary, carefully monitored management regimes designed to support performance in today’s equine athletes should also include education and vigilance on the part of all members of the team, including suppliers that keep prohibited substances out of competing horses.

For further information on the information leaflet and a list of companies that have signed up to the BETA NOPS schemes, please contact Claire Williams at BETA, telephone 01937 587062 or e-mail