USEF Announces Three GABA Suspensions And Fines

Aug 12, 2015 - 7:54 AM
Tori Colvin and Inclusive's third-placed finish at last year's USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships has now been removed after the horse tested positive for GABA. Photo by Taylor Joyce.

The U.S Equestrian Federation recently released their July hearing committee rulings, and three prominent hunter trainers were listed with suspensions and fines after positive tests for “gamma-aminobutyric acid in excess of normal physiological levels” in horses they trained.  

Brigid Colvin, mother of top junior rider Tori Colvin, and Steven Rivetts received a seven-month suspension and $7,000 fine each after Betsee Parker’s Inclusive tested positive for GABA at the 2014 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships (Ky.). USEF refers to Brigid and Rivetts as the horse’s trainers in the hearing committee report.

Tori rode the 12-year-old gelding to a third-placed finish overall after winning the classic round.

Brigid did not wish to speak with the Chronicle about the details of the case. Brigid’s suspension will run Sept. 1 through March 31, 2016, while Rivetts’ begins July 1 and ends Jan. 31, 2016. 

In addition, Inclusive’s owner Parker must pay a $300 fine and return all prize money and prizes earned at that event. 

“I had nothing to do with it, so I am appealing,” Brigid said. “I am in the process of going through the real courts to appeal because I’m very upset about this.”

Professional Thomas “Tommy” Serio was fined $8,000 and given an eight-month suspension after two horses he showed tested positive for GABA. Katie Chester’s Compass Rose was tested at the WEF 9 Worldwide Horse Show (Fla.) in March 2014, while Mr. and Mrs. J.W.Y. Martin’s Calvert was tested at the Upperville Colt and Horse Show (Va.) in June of the same year.

Serio’s suspension begins Dec. 1 and is scheduled to end July 31, 2016. Owners involved in those cases also have to return prize money and prizes won and pay a $300 fine each. 

Serio’s wife Kathy explained that as a representative for Adequan she receives numerous supplement samples and gave both horses the supplement Tranquility last year. The horses were not given the product on a show day. The website currently lists the product as “the ultimate mental health supplement.”  

“I don’t use a lot of supplements,” she said. “The [year after I received the supplement] I was cleaning out the barn apartment and pulled it out and said, ‘Eh, it’s free, why don’t we just try it?’ It was for ulcers and to calm the gut and ease your horse. We tried it on a few horses, but I called [the company] first, and they said it was fine to use.”

When the Serios received word of Compass Rose’s positive test for GABA in late June 2014, they were shocked. 

Kathy called the supplement company and was told that because her sample had been manufactured before February 2013, it had a GABA derivative in it. But by then it was too late to take the horses off of it, and Calvert’s test came back positive two months after his sample was taken. The company has since altered their formula for Tranquility so that it no longer contains GABA.

The Serios are upset about the difference in time it took to get back results from their horse’s drug tests and with how the USEF handled their case. Their request for a rehearing was denied, so they are currently appealing with the help of a lawyer.

Kathy said the couple are planning on suing the USEF and hope their case will shed some light on and bring change to the organization’s hearing procedures.

“[Tommy’s] had one [previous] violation, however, it was not a horse in his care and control,” she said. “It was an outside client who brought a horse to a horse show, never told him she had given him a little bit of [acepromazine] to clip his ears, so when it got drug tested that weekend, Tommy got set down for three months. 

“He’s never had a single violation with the USEF, so for them to set him down for eight months and $8,000, after he did admit that he fed this feed supplement, but we did our due diligence to be sure it was OK to use, and the [company] said yes, seemed a little bit unreasonable,” she continued. “You’re not even looking at a person’s reputation or past history. The same people that set him down [befpre] were still on the hearing committee. The same people that heard every single GABA case are still on the hearing committee, and they should be recused because they’re already biased. That’s our position—that this is not fair. They’re railroading people.”

When asked why Brigid and Rivetts’ suspensions were a month shorter than Tommy’s, USEF’s Director of Communications Leah Oliveto said: “The penalties imposed for federation rule violations pertaining to GABA and other forbidden substances are based on the evidence presented at the hearing. The hearing committee considers numerous mitigating factors to determine the appropriate penalty. The specific facts and circumstances in one case may warrant a different outcome than another case involving the same violation.”

U.S. Hunter Jumper Association board of directors member Lynn Jayne received a $4,000 fine but no suspension after a horse she trained, Confession, tested positive for gabapentin after being tested at the Showplace Spring Spectacular I Horse Show (Ill.) last June. No suspension was issued in that case.

“Given the unusual factual context of this case, the hearing committee ruled that a suspension was unwarranted,” stated the USEF. Jayne, of Elgin, Ill., did not respond to request for comment before publication. 

Aug. 17 Update: USEF has removed record of Jayne’s penalty from the July hearing committee report. A USEF representative stated that Jayne has requested a review of the decision. 

In addition to the GABA suspensions reported for July, the USEF handed out a lifetime ban to Oklahoma American Saddlebred trainer Randall S. Cates for having a sexual relationship with a minor. 

“Given the serious nature of the violation, Mr. Cates’ stature at the time as a trainer of many minor athletes, his systematic and insidious grooming of the minor victim over a multi-year period for his sexual benefit, and his consummation of sexual relations with the victim while she was a minor, the Hearing Committee determined that a lifetime ban is appropriate here for Mr. Cates’ violations of the Athlete Protection Policy in the federation’s Safe Sport Policy,” stated the committee report on the USEF website

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