Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief a few days ago when it was announced that none of the horses tested during the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games showed evidence of prohibited substances. This does not mean that no horse competed with the assistance of a prohibited substance in its system during the Games. Testing all 752 horses every time they competed over 16 days would have been prohibitively expensive and logistically impossible. Instead, a representative sample of horses was chosen.
For the World Equestrian Games, current FEI Veterinary Regulations "recommend" that a minimum of five per cent of the horses competing be tested for prohibited substances. (Any horse is eligible for testing by virtue of being entered for competition.) In fact, more than twice the recommended number (82 horses, about 11 per cent) was selected for testing. The Regulations require testing for medal-winning horses in individual competitions and for one horse from each medal-winning team and allow random testing of any horse entered in the competition. Also, blood and urine must be collected from any horse that dies during competition. Thankfully, this last mandate was unnecessary.
It might sound simple, but it is not. Effective drug testing, especially at a competition with the scope of the World Equestrian Games, requires planning and cooperation among a number of people.
Dr. Stephen Schumacher, who heads the United States Equestrian Federation’s Equine Drugs and Medications Program, coordinated testing during the Games with the Ground Jury, other FEI officials, a cadre of veterinarians and technicians who drew blood samples and collected urine, the testing laboratory in New York, competitors, and an overnight package shipping company.
The process worked like this:
Each time a horse was selected for testing the person responsible for the animal received official notification of the selection. From notification through collection of blood and urine samples someone in an official capacity, either an authorized veterinary assistant, a veterinary technician, or a steward, stayed with the selected horse at all times. This prevents either inadvertent or intentional switching of horses prior to testing and also insures that a selected horse does not receive a prohibited substance after competition but before testing. Accompanying a selected horse might involve a leisurely stroll back to the barn with a dressage competitor or a mad dash by a technician chasing a four-in-hand across the Kentucky Horse Park grounds.
At the barn the selected horse was identified using the animal’s passport. The horse was untacked and cooled out but was not allowed into its stall until after samples were collected. This procedure reduced the possible of environmental contamination of samples. Blood was drawn into several collection tubes by a testing veterinarian or the authorized team veterinarian.
Urine was collected by a technician—if the horse cooperated. The FEI would like both blood and urine samples from every horse selected for testing, but in a concession to reality the regulations suggest a wait of "at least one hour" for a horse to urinate. One hour doesn’t sound like a long time, until you spend it waiting for a horse to pee.
According to the FEI, blood was taken from each of the 82 horses tested and urine was collected "where possible." A total of 140 blood and urine samples were collected; 24 of the selected horses selected apparently did not cooperate with the urine collection.
For each horse selected the testing crew received a small cardboard container resembling a box lunch. The testing kits were sealed to protect the contents from contamination. Inside were sealed and sterile plastic cups for urine collection, sterile test tubes and needles for blood, and latex gloves for testing personnel. The person responsible for the horse had the opportunity to witness every step of the collection process, from breaking of the seal on the testing kit and the urine collection cups, through collection of samples, to final sealing of the samples in tamper-proof plastic evidence bags.
The blood and urine collected were divided into separate samples labeled "A" and "B." The "A" samples are tested first and if negative for prohibited substances the corresponding "B" samples are destroyed. If, on the other hand, an "A" sample returns a positive test, the "B" sample would be retained for subsequent testing.
Paperwork for each horse includes a medication control form that must be signed by the testing veterinarian and the person responsible for the horse. The person responsible has the option of either accepting the validity of the testing procedure or objecting to it. The paperwork and the samples are linked by a series of bar codes, which guarantees anonymity when the samples are tested at the laboratory.
At the end of each long day, Dr. Schumacher gathered the samples collected from a secured refrigerator where they were stored after collection, packed them into a cooler, and hustled off to meet a specially commissioned representative from the shipper for overnight delivery to the testing laboratory.
Drug testing is expensive, time-consuming, tedious—and necessary. Everyone involved did a great job.