Be very careful (though that doesn’t always work)

By Nancy Jaffer
May 24, 2017

Can you imagine taking a sample of feed every time you open a new bag, keeping it in a baggie marked with the date the feed bag was opened and the lot numbers? Oh, and writing all the information in a log book, including where and when the feed was purchased. How about testing the supplements you give your horse, to see if they show evidence of substances that are prohibited in competition?

That’s now the routine at the barns where horses are being trained by Adrienne Lyle and her mentor, Debbie McDonald. Adrienne and one of her mounts, Horizon, were suspended from competition by the FEI (international equestrian federation) after a drug test taken at a Feb. 10 show revealed a trace of ractopamine.

Adrienne Lyle was all smiles after Horizon won the national Intermediaire I championship following a long battle to make it to the Dutta Corp. U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions. (Photo by Lawrence J. Nagy)

The substance, forbidden by the FEI, was not named on the ingredient list of Cargill’s Progressive Nutrition® Soothing Pink™, a gastric nutritional supplement administered to Horizon, but it was in there. The same thing happened to Young Rider Kaitlin Blythe and her mount, Don Principe. The only link between Adrienne and Kaitlin was the fact that they were using Soothing Pink.

The suspensions of Adrienne and Kaitlin were lifted after Cargill admitted responsibility for the presence of ractopamine and took the supplement off the market, but the FEI still insisted on its policy of suspending the horses for two months—even though they were not harmed and the substance had cleared their systems within five days.

It took intrepid lawyer Sam Silver bringing an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to get the horses’ suspension lifted so Adrienne and Kaitlin could take Horizon and Don Principe to last weekend’s Dutta Corp. U.S. dressage national championships in Gladstone.

It was worth the trouble. Each won the national title in their divisions; the Intermediaire I and Brentina Cup respectively.

Fighting the FEI is expensive, and the total bill hasn’t been tallied. The case has yet to be fully adjudicated by CAS, which will require a trip to Switzerland, according to Horizon’s owner, Betsy Juliano. What the FEI will do subsequently is uncertain.

Why shouldn’t the whole matter have been dropped once Cargill took responsibility?

A statement from the FEI said it is “not challenging the suspensions at CAS, but only defending its paramount interests; to safeguard the welfare of our equine athletes and the level playing field.” The FEI deferred further comment “until the final CAS decision is received.”

Betsy noted, “It’s not as if we disregarded an ingredient on the label.” She added that the horses have been tested before on the same regimen with no negative results.

Betsy stated that the U.S. Equestrian Federation has been a strong support, going to CAS on the horses’ behalf. If not for that, she said, Adrienne and Kaitlin would not have been able to compete in Gladstone after a long and thorough preparation of their horses.

“There was a real discouraging period of time after the FEI refused to lift the horses’ suspensions after all this time preparing the horses, the effort and the heart that goes into it. And then to have her not be able to go down centerline here was really sad to me,” she said, recalling her emotions about Horizon’s situation before the situation was resolved.

The USEF’s help sends “a positive message to the membership, especially the membership who competes, that our federation is fair and will stand behind us when it is necessary,” said Betsy. She had an unusual advantage in this instance, because her company is involved in providing legal services.

As she noted, “by lucky happenstance, this situation falls smack into my line of work.  The method of proceeding through a situation like this is something that is every day for me.”

Betsy also praised Cargill and said she will still use their products. “I now know that if I get in trouble,” she said, Cargill will step up. “This company raced to our aid,” she pointed out.

The situation was a learning experience for all involved, but Adrienne—whom I’ve known and respected since 2005, when she started as a working student with Debbie—has a reputation for being aboveboard and meticulous.

“I’m always so paranoid. That’s the irony in all this,” Adrienne said wryly, referring to all the precautions she takes.

“The CDI horses (those in international competition) have their own grain room and only one person is allowed to make their grain.”

The situation affected her preparation with her horses, causing her to miss an important show at the Tryon, N.C., International Equestrian Center.

It “would have been key, especially for the stallion (Salvino) who’s only done one CDI. We applied for a wild card, and luckily they gave us a wild card,” said Adrienne, who was reserve in the Grand Prix championship with Salvino, noted the suspension didn’t affect training for Gladstone.

“We kept training as if we were going to come here,” she said.

Kaitlin, whom I did not know before meeting her at Gladstone, said, “The biggest thing for me is how vulnerable we all are without really knowing that we are. We all consult the best vets and nutritionists and you think you’re dotting all your I’s and crossing all your T’s; it came as such a surprise to us.”

Brentina Cup champion Kaitlin Blythe with Debbie McDonald, Betsy Juliano and Debbie McDonald. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

She noted it was lucky the horses weren’t harmed by the ractopamine, noting that in other instances around the country, there are horses that have been sickened or died after consuming contaminated feed.

Like Adrienne, she’s keeping a log and going through the baggie procedure.

“It’s been an educational experience,” said Kaitlin. “It’s going to be a bit of an eye opener for everyone as to what can happen when you think nothing can happen.”

We’ve seen this before.  For instance, New Zealand eventer Jock Paget lost his 2013 Burghley 4-star title when his winning mount tested positive for the tranquilizer reserpine, determined to have been in a supplement. He was suspended for months, until it was found that he was not to blame.

Show jumper Margie Engle lost the 1999 American Invitational title when reserpine turned up in a supplement she used that had been guaranteed to test clean.

As Steve Schumacher, director of the USEF’s equine drugs and medication program warns, “Caution is urged if one is using so-called herbal or natural products, since plants are commonly the source for pharmacologically potent, forbidden substances such as cocaine, reserpine, and marijuana.”

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