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  • Writer's pictureJulie Taylor

De-nerving: is it doping?

Updated: Jan 24, 2018

“Doping is treatment with a substance or a technique which improves or detracts from a horse's natural performance ability. It can also be treatment, the purpose of which is to decrease or mask symptoms of disease or pain.”

The above is the definition of doping published by the Danish Equestrian Federation in 2012 in a pamphlet which is still linked to from the page on anti-doping on the federation's official website. You can read the pamphlet here if you read Danish.

According to the General Regulations of the Danish NF, doping cases must be sent straight to the highest authority within the federation, the board of appeals. Link to DNF General Regulations.

However, when the federation was notified by two different people in late 2016 and early 2017 that a Danish horse, Never Say Never, had been competing despite having been de-nerved in 2015, all that happened was that the rider received notice from the administration office that he could no longer compete the horse in the future. A decision which was later reversed, allowing the horse to return to international competitions. In fact, Never Say Never (pictured) has been announced as one of four horses representing Denmark in the Nations Cup in Uggerhalne next week.

Why wasn't a doping case launched when the complaints originally came in? The Danish Equestrian Federation works closely with the Danish Horse Protection Society, Hestens Værn. In 2011, another pamphlet was published (lots of pamphlets, it seems. Top marks for pamphlet publishing) in cooperation with the Danish Association of Veterinarians, the FEI and a bunch of other groups. This pamphlet also gets a link directly from the Danish NF website's page on anti-doping. It describes doping somewhat similarly:

“ Doping is treatment with a substance or a technique which improves or detracts from a performance in relation to the horse's natural ability, which can include inhibition or even masking of illness”

I have asked the Danish Equestrian Federation why the matter of Never Say Never competing after neurectomy surgery, the purpose of which – according to papers sent to us by the surgeon who performed it - is to “remove chronic pain in the back part of the hoof of a limb which medical treatment had failed to heal” did not result in a doping case.

I received a reply from head of communications, Rikke Højgaard: “You are conflating neurectomy and doping and that isn't how we have handled the case” Ms. Højgaard explains in an email.

I already knew that the Danish NF didn't handle the case as a doping case. And I want to know why they didn't, considering the definition of doping in their own pamphlets. “Neurectomy is not part of the FEI's anti-doping rules but is listed in the context of other methods, so connecting it to doping is incorrect.”

Let's look at those FEI doping rules: “the Equine Anti Doping Rules (hereinafter “EAD Rule” or “EAD Rules”), the first chapter of the EADCM Regulations, shall apply to any violation alleged under the EADCM Regulations that involves a Banned Substance or Banned Method.”

Now we need just need to know what constitutes a “banned method” in the context of veterinary interventions. At first, I thought it would be easy to find out. Just ask the FEI. However, I wrote to the FEI over a week ago to ask under what circumstances interfering with the sensory nerves to a site of chronic injury might be in violation of their doping rules, and I am still waiting for an answer.

In the meantime, it doesn't look as if anybody is making sure that chronically lame horses are not made to compete by use of surgery to keep them in the dark as to their own injuries.

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