Reserpine in an eventer? That makes no sense

Jock Paget.
Jock Paget . © Mike Bain

Reserpine in an eventing horse?

The FEI’s banned substances lists provides a comprehensive rundown of drugs from which horses could derive some competitive advantage, but it is hard to imagine that reserpine would deliver any benefit to a top-level eventing horse.

On the most basic level, it just makes no sense.

The horse Clifton Promise, on whom New Zealander Jonathan “Jock” Paget won the Burghley International Horse Trial in September, tested positive for the drug after his victory, it was revealed yesterday.

Paget has requested a test on the B sample, as has Australian Kevin McNab, whose Burghley mount, Clifton Pinot, also tested positive for the drug.

Reserpine is a naturally occurring substance used for centuries in herbal medicine in India. The plant extract is used to control blood pressure in humans and is licensed for use as a long-acting sedative in horses.

Most horse owners will know reserpine as the injectable drug, Rakelin.

Paget and his connections say, at this stage, they have no idea how it came to be in Clifton Promise’s system.

That should come as no surprise, as it does not make any sense whatsoever to use this drug on a top-level eventing horse.

Surely, the only discipline in which such a drug could be of benefit in competition is in the dressage phase, which always occurs first in eventing. Ideally, a dressage horse should present as calm and collected.

One can see how a sedative would potentially be of benefit. But why on earth would anyone use a long-acting sedative if that was their purpose?

Are we expected to believe that a horse on a long-acting sedative could then fire up enough on the show-jumping and cross-country stages to win a competition of the calibre of Burghley?

The drug is known to take days to reach full effect and is recognised as having subtle sedating effects for many days after the last injection.

It is also known to have a long and variable withdrawal period, which hardly makes it the ideal candidate for such a use.

So, what of longer-term use? This makes no sense, either. It seems inconceivable that a horse on long-term sedation could train sufficiently well to get up to win the likes of Burghley.

As Equestrian Sports New Zealand chief executive Jim Ellis told Horsetalk:  “It is not a substance you would expect to see in any horse that is currently performing.”

The test result will have come as shattering news to Surrey-based Paget, a young and rising star on the eventing circuit.

Let us hope he finds some answers.


6 thoughts on “Reserpine in an eventer? That makes no sense

  • October 16, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Does it not also work as a painkiller? That could be useful
    in showjumping after a brutal xc.

  • October 16, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    I’m going to go out on a limb & suggest the grooms of our fabulous kiwi’s horses start sleeping across the doorways of there horses’ boxes at big competitions as has been done in the past to stop our horses being ‘slipped a mickey’!! These good horses are worth such a lot as winners, there is such a lot at stake. Any top rider is aware of what to & not to feed/administer, and will know testing is going to happen. They know it would be competitive suicide to deliberately dope a horse, so I suggest this is by the hand of someone NOT called Jock!!

  • October 17, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Reserpine or rakelin does make sense in an eventer! As a horse vet I have used the drug extensively especially when I was based in Australia. When used properly the drug will ease anxiety in the horse and allow a tense horse to perform at a higher level especially at dressage. I have known horses in the 1990’s to showjump at Grand Prix level on the drug. The effect diminishes over time so one could expect a horse to perform relatively well in the cross country phase if the drug was administered a few days previously. From memory a Brazilian horse tested positive to Reserpine at the Sydney Olympics and most people have become wary about using the drug in FEI horses especially as it has highly variable detection time (and is on the FEI banned list). I am based in England at present and the drug is not licensed here and would require an import license from either Australia or America.

  • October 17, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Absolutely completely agree, something has got to be wrong!

  • October 21, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Of course it “makes sense”. It has been used in racehorses for years, to “take the edge off”. It does not tranquilise the horse. It lasts for about 10-12 days per dose and it seems somebody miscalculated the withdrawal period here.


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