World of Showjumping

This week

Coming weeks

CSI5*/CSI2* LGCT Samorin

CSI4*/CSI2* St.Lo

CSI3* Vejer de la Frontera

CSI3* Vilamoura

CSI3* Tryon

CSI3* San Giovanni in ...

CSI2* Herning

CSI2* Riyadh
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

CSI2* Peelbergen
The Netherlands

CSI2* Opglabbeek

CSI2* Michalowice

CSI2* Chevenez

FEI Tribunal sends out stern warning of non-tolerance for horse abuse with a 20-year suspension

Monday, 08 June 2020
FEI Tribunal

The FEI Tribunal has imposed record sanctions in a horse abuse and anti-doping violation case – in which the horse was fatally injured – sentencing an endurance athlete to a 20-year suspension and fines of CHF 17,500. The athlete was also ordered to pay CHF 15,000 towards the costs of the proceedings. In its decision, the FEI Tribunal stated that it had “never before adjudicated on a horse abuse case of this magnitude.”

“This is a really great result for horse welfare and the fight against doping in equestrian sport,” FEI Legal Director Mikael Rentsch said in a statement from the FEI. “We are very happy to see such a strong sanction handed down by the FEI Tribunal and it offers a stern warning to others that the Tribunal will not tolerate cases of horse abuse.”

“This was a tragic case of a horse losing its life due to desensitisation and micro-dosing and, while we have had concerns that this has been ongoing for some time, this was the first solid evidence we have had of nerve blocking during rides as well as micro-dosing,” FEI Veterinary Director Dr Göran Åkerström said. “This has resulted in a change in our post mortem procedures to make them more forensic and also allowed us to prioritise the research and development of the Hyposensitivity Control System which is now in place.” 

It was during an international one-star endurance event (CE1*) in Fontainebleau, France on 15 October 2016, that the 10-year-old gelding Castlebar Contraband suffered an open fracture to his front right cannon bone and had to be euthanised by the FEI treating veterinarian. In its decision, the FEI Tribunal details the fracture as follows: “(…) if “a picture is worth a thousand words”, the Tribunal found very troubling the graphic video footage showing the bloody fractured cannon bone protruding from Castlebar’s skin and dangling when his leg was held up as well as the photographs of his leg in the case file.”

The statement from the FEI about the case details how blood samples collected from the horse post mortem revealed the presence of the controlled medication substance Xylazine, which is used as a sedative, analgesic and muscle relaxant. Xylazine is prohibited in competition and no valid veterinary form exists for the substance. It is rapidly excreted from the body and known to be used in endurance to lower the heart rate. Furthermore, the FEI statement describes how the post mortem report revealed the appearance of multiple lesions with a highly targeted location, consistent with recent injections, demonstrating that the horse had been nerve blocked in training, and both before and during the competition. This desensitisation, together with osteoarthritis in the right front fetlock joint, resulted in stress fractures that ultimately caused the catastrophic injury.

During the Tribunal hearing, FEI Veterinary Director Dr Göran Åkerström stated that nerve blocking removes the “very fundamental protective function of sensitivity” and increases the risk of catastrophic injury. “This is especially relevant for fractures that are due to bone fatigue (stress fractures) where Castlebar will not show any signs of pain such as lameness while under influence of the injected substance. At an Endurance Ride this means that the FEI Veterinary Delegates will not be able to identify Castlebar as lame and Castlebar will continue the competition instead of being eliminated. The continuous loading of the fatigued bone tissue will then with high certainty lead to a severe fracture,” Åkerström explained. 

In its decision, the Tribunal noted that there were several contradictions amongst the witness statements provided by the athlete and the FEI. Among these contradictions, were the observations on Castlebar Contraband’s condition after the accident. While the athlete and his support team stated that the horse was clearly in pain after sustaining the fracture, the FEI witnesses – which included the FEI treating veterinarian as well as the organizer of the event – were both of the opinion that the horse did not appear to be in pain or suffering, even trying to put weight on the injured leg. “(…) the Tribunal has accepted the observations of the FEI witnesses (Dr. , Ms. , and Ms. ) about Castlebar’s apparent lack of pain and suffering. This further supports Dr. Åkerström’s statement that a horse will not show any signs of pain while under the influence of an injected substance,” the Tribunal stated in its observations on some of the key expert evidence. 

As to the presence of Xylazine, the Tribunal accepted the explanation of the treating veterinarian who performed the euthanasia: That she had followed a standard protocol which did not include the use of Xylazine – refuting the claim by the athlete’s legal team that the substance had been used in the euthanasia process. The Tribunal concluded that the athlete had not establish on the balance of probability how the Xylazine entered the horse’s system. “As a result, the PR failed in his personal duty to ensure that no Controlled Medication Substance was present in Castlebar’s body during the Event without a valid Veterinary Form pursuant to Article 2.1.1 of the ECM Rules,” the Tribunal stated about the rule violation. 

Furthermore, the Tribunal stated that it was comfortably satisfied the FEI had met its burden of proof and that the athlete had committed horse abuse within the meaning of article 142.1 of the General Regulations. The Tribunal referred to how the horse received multiple injections before the event – as established by veterinary records, as well as how the horse received nerve blocking injections during the event. This abnormally desensitised the limbs, which caused – or likely caused – pain and unnecessary discomfort to the horse. “It is clear that Castlebar received multiple injections to his front fetlocks and front coffin joints as well as other tests for lameness during the four months before the Event,” the Tribunal stated. “The Tribunal believes that even for a high performance horse, the number of injections Castlebar received during this timeframe appears excessive.”

In its decision, the FEI Tribunal made a point of how the athlete did not seem to be particularly concerned about the well-being of his horse. “(…) what the Tribunal finds most troubling is that the PR apparently left the accident site after Castlebar’s catastrophic injury, demonstrating a remarkable lack of compassion for a horse he claimed to have loved and treated like a member of his own family,” the Tribunal detailed.

Having considered all of the medical evidence, the Tribunal found it was foreseeable that the repeated and multiple nerve blocking injections would have increased the horse’s risk of a serious injury such as the fracture it sustained. “The Tribunal further finds that the PR compromised Castlebar’s welfare. Horse welfare is paramount in equestrian sport, and to preserve and protect a horse’s welfare is one of the FEI’s statutory objectives (Article 1.4 of the Statutes). Any action or intent of doping and illicit use of medication constitute a serious welfare issue and will not be tolerated. Therefore, in addition to the seriousness of the PR’s infringements, the Tribunal finds that a lengthy sanction is necessary and justified when it takes the PR’s apparent lack of consideration for Castlebar’s welfare into account,” the Tribunal stated in its decision. 

“Although it is now too late for the deceased, Castlebar Contraband, the Tribunal issues this lengthy suspension as a stern warning to others that the Tribunal will not tolerate cases of horse abuse, especially of this nature” the Tribunal concluded before issuing its sanctions – the strongest in FEI history. 

The athlete was suspended for 20 years in total – 18 years for the horse abuse and two years for the ECM rule violation. 

The full decision in this case can be found here.

The decision can be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). 


This photo has been added to your cart !

Your shopping cart »
This website is using cookies for statistics, site optimization and retargeting purposes. You consent to our cookies if you continue to use this website. Read more here.