The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), as the world governing body of equestrian sport, provides the framework for all FEI events, and central to this framework is horse welfare. At the time of competition, the horse must be fit to compete and free of substances that are prohibited under FEI rules. The FEI therefore requires all those involved in the sport to adhere to the FEI Code of Conduct and to acknowledge and accept that at all times the horse’s welfare must remain paramount. All those participating in FEI events must also be aware of the FEI approach to maintaining a clean sport and abide by FEI Doping and Controlled Medication regulations
FEI veterinarians might test horses obligatory, randomly, or when rules violations are suspected.
The number of FEI events being held around the world continues to increase. With more than 56,443 horses registered to compete at FEI events in 2011, compared to 53,032 in 2010, the role played by FEI veterinarians at these events is becoming even more important. During such events, specially trained FEI veterinarians monitor the horses’ health closely. FEI veterinary protocols have also been carefully established to ensure competition horses are given the correct care and attention as soon as they arrive on site at an event.
FEI veterinarians either provide treatments to maintain the horses’ health or act as veterinary officials for the FEI at events. The treating veterinarian supports the normal or emergency treatment of horses competing within FEI rules. The FEI veterinary official seeks to apply and enforce the rules at FEI events in a consistent manner to maintain a level playing field.
All FEI veterinarians must have equine practice experience and a strong command of the English language. They are also required to take specific FEI courses and soon will be asked to fulfill an online exam. This ensures they have an in-depth understanding of FEI regulations so they can make consistent decisions and follow the correct processes at FEI competitions.
FEI veterinary protocols come into play as soon as horses arrive at the venue. All horses are subject to an initial veterinary exam, in which FEI veterinarians check the horse’s identity against the passport, verify vaccination status, and perform a general health check, including looking for signs of infectious disease. Once FEI veterinarians are satisfied the horse is in good health, they grant entrance to the secure stable area. If there’s any doubt, the horse is transferred to an isolation stable. Here monitoring continues, and the treating veterinarian administers the necessary care and follows up as necessary. These precautions are also an integral part of supporting government needs to protect horses against disease spread during international travel.
Veterinarians then check the horses’ fitness to compete at the first horse inspection, often called the “trot-up” or “jog,” run by a committee consisting of at least an FEI Veterinary Delegate and the Ground Jury. All horses undergo a further identity check before the horse inspection. Any horse not considered sound is referred to the holding box for further evaluation and a second FEI veterinarian’s opinion. The Ground Jury, with the examining FEI veterinarians’ advice, makes the final decision regarding whether a horse is fit to compete.
In addition, throughout the event the veterinarians strictly adhere to FEI Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations. The FEI might therefore test horses according to one of three processes: obligatorily (e.g., medal winners at major events), randomly, or targeted (when rule violations are suspected). Positive samples are referred to the FEI Legal Department and might result in severe sanctions imposed on the Person Responsible (rider) and potentially on support personnel including veterinarians. There are two classifications of prohibited substances: Banned and Controlled Medications. The sanctions for detection of the former start at a two-year ban, and for the latter can be up to a two-year ban.
The FEI also has systems in place to monitor any cause of equine fatality that unfortunately, but rarely, might occur at FEI events. This is reflected in regulations that, for example, require postmortem examinations on such horses and testing for the presence of prohibited substances.
FEI veterinarians play a vital role in ensuring horses’ health and welfare is maintained at all times. They must show integrity and make sound, consistent judgments to protect equine welfare and fair play.
Victoria E. Unt, BVetMed, MRCVS, is a Veterinary Advisor for the FEI based in Lausanne, Switzerland.