The Fédération Equestre Internationale Tribunal has imposed a 20-year suspension and a fine of $18,302 in a record sanction regarding an endurance horse abuse and anti-doping violation case in which the horse was fatally injured. Athlete Sheik Abdul Aziz Bin Faisal Al Qasimi of the United Arab Emirates was also ordered to pay $15,691 towards the costs of the proceedings.
The case involved the horse Castlebar Contraband, ridden by Sheik Abdul at the CE1* in Fontainebleau, France, on Oct. 15, 2016.
Castlebar Contraband suffered an open fracture to its front right cannon bone during the event and had to be euthanized. 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 but is prohibited in competition. The substance, which is rapidly excreted from the body, is known to be used in endurance to lower the heart rate. No valid veterinary form, the equine equivalent of a therapeutic use exemption, exists for this substance.
The FEI Tribunal accepted the explanation of the treating veterinarian who performed the euthanasia that she had followed a standard protocol that did not include the use of xylazine, refuting the claim by the defendant’s legal team that xylazine had been used in the euthanasia process.
During the 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) as a horse will not show any signs of pain, such as lameness, while under the influence of an injected substance.
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 (desensitized) in training, and both before and during the competition. This desensitization, together with osteoarthritis in the right front fetlock joint, resulted in stress fractures that ultimately caused the catastrophic injury.
As a result, the FEI Tribunal ruled that the athlete had committed horse abuse and that the equine controlled medication rules had been violated. They imposed the strongest sanctions 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 suspension commenced from the date of the decision, June 3, 2020, and will run until May 17, 2040. The results of the athlete and horse at the event were disqualified.
“This is a really great result for horse welfare and the fight against doping in equestrian sport,” FEI Legal Director Mikael Rentsch said. “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 desensitization 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,” said Åkerström. “This has resulted in a change in our post mortem procedures to make them more forensic and also allowed us to prioritize the research and development of the hyposensitivity control system which is now in place.”
The final decision in this case can be found here.
The parties can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport within 21 days of receipt of this decision.