Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2024

Legacy Award: John Lengel.

The ballad of the unsung hero is often sung far too late, but the retirement of John Lengel, DVM from the U.S. Equestrian Federation in the fall of 2006 triggered an outpouring of admiration from representatives of all disciplines. In November, Lengel stepped down from the helm of the federation's Drugs & Medications Program after nearly 30 years spent revolutionizing the association's equine welfare regulations.
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The ballad of the unsung hero is often sung far too late, but the retirement of John Lengel, DVM from the U.S. Equestrian Federation in the fall of 2006 triggered an outpouring of admiration from representatives of all disciplines. In November, Lengel stepped down from the helm of the federation’s Drugs & Medications Program after nearly 30 years spent revolutionizing the association’s equine welfare regulations.

“One thing I have always enjoyed about this job is that I really believe in what we do, why, and how we do it,” said Lengel. “It’s something that is a very worthy endeavor to which a person can dedicate a career and all their energy.”

Lengel grew up surrounded by animals on his family’s farm in rural Ohio and worked as a hunter/jumper groom in high school. After undergraduate studies at Cleveland State University and Syracuse (N.Y.), he pursued his veterinary medicine degree at Ohio State University and began working with the then-named American Horse Shows Association in 1972 as a drug-testing technician.

He spent a year in Florida in private practice upon graduation in 1976, and returned to the AHSA two years later as director of the Drugs & Medications division, which is responsible for regulating, testing and educating the association’s constituents. Lengel said when he signed on to the position, the D&M had a budget less than 1/10th of what it is today, one of the many challenges his decades of leadership helped to overcome.

Ever the modest man, Lengel is quick to attribute the program’s success to others. “The people that have really helped this program are the volunteers who have served on committees,” he said. “They’ve all been extremely supportive of the program–expanding funding and knowledge. It’s really the volunteer leadership that deserves the credit.”

One such volunteer is A. Kent Allen, DVM, the chairman of the USEF Drugs and Medications and USEF Veterinary committees, who sits on the Board of Directors, and insists that Lengel is worth every bit of praise given upon his retirement.

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“John is obviously a tremendous guy, almost impossible to replace,” said Allen, Lengel’s long-time professional partner at the USEF. “He was kind of the glue that held the D&M together through multiple chairmen over the years. The rest of us just got to stand up at the meetings and look good!”

One of Lengel’s biggest influences on the D&M program came in the late 1980s when he and Marty Simensen, DVM helped implement new and then-controversial rules restricting the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. In 1989 Lengel and Simensen were named joint-Horsemen of the Year by The Chronicle of the Horse for their efforts in revolutionizing the drug standards in equine sports.

Also among Lengel’s many accomplishments was the creation of the Equine Drug Testing and Research Laboratory in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1995. Originally built to handle the testing requirements of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the lab afforded the D&M program a massive increase in overall efficiency of drug abuse detection under the direction of Lengel’s veterinary colleague, George Maylin, DVM of Cornell University. More than a decade later, the Ithaca facility continues to fulfill the needs of the USEF, and also handles the testing of the entire New York State Thoroughbred racing industry.

“It’s one of the best equine drug testing facilities in the world, and we’re always upgrading the technology,” Lengel said proudly, adding that he considers Maylin to be the “most learned expert in the field of equine drug testing.”

The USEF’s 24-hour D&M hotline also came into existence during Lengel’s tenure. Horse owners can speak to a federation representative at any time, day or night, to answer tricky drug queries or address medication emergencies.

“A lot of times it was John, rocking his 1-year-old baby to sleep, answering your D&M question,” Allen said of his colleague. “He was always there answering questions for people, making sure the correct rules were formulated. Just a million different things.”

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Lengel’s propensity toward problem solving was also legendary during his career at the USEF. While he was never afraid to support initially unpopular new regulations or increased testing requirements for the sake of equine welfare, he did so in ways that assured his eventual success.

“He knew how to keep everybody happy,” Allen said, recalling one especially memorable meeting of the F�d�ration Equestre Inter-nationale in Finland. There were some particularly tense committee meetings and heated discussions of U.S. D&M practices, “but that night John opened up his expense account at the bar, and the next day there was no tension at all,” Allen said with a laugh. “Everyone was his friend!”

According to Allen, Lengel was the longest continuous USEF staffer upon his retirement and served as a representative for the association at locations around the globe throughout his career. “He traveled to Tokyo, Finland, Germany, Paris,” Allen said. And in addition to heading the D&M, many people aren’t aware that Lengel served as AHSA Executive Vice President at the head office in New York City from 1982-85.

With his newfound free time, Lengel, who has no horses of his own, said he plans to catch up with his family in Columbus, Ohio. “I’ll cook dinner, drive [them] around. I enjoy taking care of the kids,” he said of his daughter and three sons, ages 14, 12, 9 and 6, respectively.

Steve Schumacher, DVM has signed on as the chief administrator of testing programs of the USEF D&M program, a hire Lengel said he was pleased to have a say in. The outgoing administrator is confident in his successor and anticipates an enjoyable retirement.

But he looks back on his service to the federation with a touch of nostalgia. “I think it’s only getting better and better as time goes on, and it’s in very good hands. I’ve been honored to serve the members of this association in this capacity. This job has been one of stewardship, and it’s been my great honor and privilege.”

Kat Netzler

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