Herbal tonic given to horse leads to three-months suspension for rider

The powder of guarana seeds. Guarana seeds contain high concentrations of caffeine. Photo: User: Wesley2048, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The powder of guarana seeds. Guarana seeds contain high concentrations of caffeine. Photo: User: Wesley2048, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A herbal concoction prepared by a rider’s mother was most likely responsible for his dressage horse failing a blood test conducted under the anti-doping regulations, the FEI Tribunal was told.

The horse Armani Du Jade Ewaldress, ridden by Belgium-registered Olivier Carlens, tested positive for caffeine and theophylline after competing in a CDI2* dressage event in Paris late last November.

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant while theophylline is a bronchodilator used in the treatment of respiratory disease. Each substance can be a direct metabolic byproduct of the other.

Both are classified as controlled medication substances under the FEI Equine Prohibited Substances List.

The caffeine concentration in the horse’s sample was 250-300 ng/ml, which is considered high – well above the FEI’s screening limit.

Following the hearing of the case, Carlens was suspended for three months, which means he will not be able to compete until October 10 this year. He was fined 1500 Swiss francs and ordered to contribute 1000 Swiss francs to the costs of the judicial procedure.

Carlens told the tribunal that the horse had never had any medical treatment before the event in question. He provided the tribunal with a list of the feed the horse had been given, which included a home-made syrup of elder-bush with honey and spices such as thyme, guarana, melissa and hawthorn.

Carlens said he started to investigate and discovered that guarana contained a lot of caffeine.

He explained that his mother, Jessie Marchand, made the syrup for the young horses in their stable, including Armani Du Jade Ewaldress, for vitality and to support their respiratory system.

Marchand told the tribunal that the syrup had been given since the start of November. She had added some spices to create a barrier for infection, to increase immunity, and boost vitality. She had used guarana and never thought it might contain caffeine.

The FEI, in its submission, accepted that Carlens had established a possible source of the
contamination through the elderberry syrup, which was spiced with guarana.

Guarana, it noted, contained about twice the concentration of caffeine found in coffee seeds. The FEI said an internet search for “guarana” readily revealed its caffeine content.

The FEI accepted that Carlens and his mother did not intend to give the horse caffeine – indeed, they had actually checked for guarana in the FEI database but did not find it.

But its position was that they should have conducted further research into the ingredients of the syrup before it was given to the horses, especially since such information was available easily on the internet.

In a further submission, Carlens said a veterinarian who regularly visited the stables had been asked about the syrup beforehand and had confirmed to him that “there was no problem” with its use.

Carlens said he had thought that checking the FEI list was sufficient, and it did not occur to him that he needed to do more research, especially considering that guarana was a “natural” product and not a medication.

He said he would put protocols in place in order to avoid similar mistakes.

He said he always tried to do the best for the horses, and that the syrup had been given to prevent any diseases, and not for any performance-enhancing purposes.

Dr Armand Leone, sitting as a one-person panel, said that Carlens could have reasonably suspected that a homemade syrup might contain an ingredient with a prohibited substance, such as in this case where guarana contains caffeine in high concentrations.

Carlens, he said, could have easily found out that guarana contained caffeine.

He ruled that Carlens, by not doing the proper research into the syrup ingredients – as would be
expected from a rider competing in FEI competitions – accepted the risk that the syrup might contain prohibited substances.

The tribunal was of the view that a rider should do proper research, no matter whether the product given to a horse was a medication or a natural product.

He acknowledged that the rider had good intentions in giving the horse the syrup and ruled that the fault on Carlens’ part was not significant. A three-month ban from competing was appropriate, he ruled.

The FEI Tribunal decision can he read here


One thought on “Herbal tonic given to horse leads to three-months suspension for rider

  • June 2, 2020 at 10:50 pm

    The FEI, in not checking guarana, is responsible since they maintain a database of banned ingredients. I feel since the rider did check the database, provided a supporting vet opinion, he was unduly punished.


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