Two separate parties have filed suit against the U.S. Equestrian Federation over the organization’s drugs and medications rules and policies. Both are alleging that the rules, including the thresholds established for various drugs, are unfair towards competitors.
The first lawsuit, filed Nov. 24 in the Supreme Court of New York by trainer Thomas Wright and owners John and Stephanie Ingram, is in response to the USEF suspension and hearing committee process after Fonteyn, trained by Wright, tested positive for 2-(1-hydroxyethyl) promazine sulfoxide (HEPS), a metabolite of acepromazine, at the WEF 6 Equestrian Sport Productions LLC Horse Show (Fla.) Feb. 12-16, 2014.
After the subsequent USEF Hearing Committee meeting on May 20, 2015, Wright was fined $2,000 and suspended for two months, which began Jan. 1, 2016. The Ingrams were required to return any prizes and pay $300.
In a memorandum filed Dec. 31, the Ingrams and Wright assert that the threshold set by the USEF for acepromazine in competition horses isn’t based on scientifically valid evidence of a pharmacological response.
“It’s a concerted effort to bring the attention of the membership that this rule is truly outdated for the time we live in,” said Joel Turner, one of the attorneys representing the Ingrams and Wright. “When the rule was conceived, it was a safe assumption that if you could find it, it had some pharmacological impact on the horse. But now we can find such small amounts. These rulings can interrupt peoples’ lives and unfairly damage a good reputation. We believe the membership deserves more than that.
“When the USEF takes on the role of establishing thresholds then they take on the responsibility to set reasonable thresholds based upon real science establishing some correlation to pharmacological effect in the horse,” he continued. “Otherwise it’s not fair to the membership. Mr. Ingram is adamant that he did nothing wrong, and the most likely explanation is contamination. There’s no reliable science that would support the notion that the amount detected in Mr. Ingram’s mare could in any way have affected her performance in the show ring.”
The Ingram and Wright case asserts that the amount of HEPS the USEF laboratory found in Fonteyn’s urine was 5.1 ng/ml, and that no ace was detected in the corresponding blood sample.
“Although GR 410 is undisputedly not intended to be a ‘zero tolerance’ rule, USEF arbitrarily set its threshold of enforcement at 2 ng/ml of HEPS in urine, despite a complete absence of evidence that test concentrations below 10 ng/ml correlate to any potential effects on a horse’s performance,” states a memorandum filed on Nov. 24. “In fact, petitioners presented scientific evidence that test concentrations below 10 ng/ml HEPS in urine would not correlate to a level of acepromazine sufficient to affect a horse’s performance.”
The second lawsuit, filed Dec. 14 by trainer Archibald Cox and owner Meredith Mateo, is in response to a positive finding for gamma-aminobutyric acid in the horse Cartaire. GABA was found in Cartaire in “excess of normal physiological levels” after routine testing at the Blenheim Summer Classic II Horse Show (Calif.), held Aug. 13-17, 2014.
Cox was given a five-month suspension, scheduled to begin Aug. 31 this year, and fined $5,000. Mateo had to return any prizes and pay the competition $300.
The lawsuit questions the USEF’s findings of the proper threshold for GABA in horses.
“The difficulty is, since the substance is naturally occurring (endogenous to horses and humans), USEF’s ban on the introduction of GABA in excess of ‘natural’ levels is fraught with scientific missteps,” the petition states. “Significantly, the natural or endogenous level of GABA in horses is not yet scientifically known, as described below and in the Affidavit Dr. Steven A. Barker filed herewith. The only peer-reviewed study of the topic to date concluded no such ‘normal’ level exists in horses. To make matters worse, the testing protocol USEF used here (and which forms the only evidence USEF has) is not scientifically valid or accepted in the relevant scientific community. The alleged violations are based solely on these test results.”
“We believe we have a strong case and look forward to the court deciding the issues,” said Timothy Pestotnik, attorney for Cox and Mateo.
But the USEF is planning on defending both cases in the New York courts.
“The Federation stands by the findings and penalties issued by the Hearing Committee,” stated Sonja Keating, USEF general counsel. “Our detailed responses to all of the allegations in these lawsuits will be set forth in our papers to be filed with the courts, which will be a matter of public record.”
A change to GR410 was proposed by John Ingram, and it will go up for consideration at next week’s USEF Annual Meeting in Lexington, Ky. The proposed change adds language regarding scientific certainty behind the thresholds and can be viewed in its entirety on the USEF website.