Fine, suspension after horse tests positive for caffeine at South American event

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A Venezuelan rider has been suspended for six months and fined 3000 Swiss francs after his horse tested positive for caffeine and theophylline at the Central America and Caribbean Games in Bogotá, Colombia, last year.

The showjumper Le Vio was competed by Pablo Barrios, who had represented his country for five years.

Barrios argued before the FEI Tribunal that the positive test results – the horse was sampled during the event on both July 26 and 29 – were most likely the result of contamination of supplied feed after his own stocks were held up in customs.

Caffeine is a stimulant of the central nervous system. Theophylline is a bronchodilator used to treat respiratory disease. Both can be direct metabolites of each other.

They are designated as “Specified Substances” and are classified as Controlled Medication Substances under the FEI’s anti-doping rules.

Barrios, in his explanation to the tribunal, produced an expert statement from Thomas Tobin, a veterinarian from Lexington, Kentucky.

Tobin confirmed that, in his view, the concentrations in the horse’s sample were consistent with feed contamination. The environment in Colombia is an unusually high caffeine-related environment, he said, and it is not unusual for horses there to show environmental caffeine concentrations that would be regarded as unusual elsewhere in the world.

Barrios explained that he had brought his own concentrated feed for Le Vio. Hay, alfalfa and shavings were to be provided by the organising committee of the event.

However, as his concentrated feed was stuck in customs, he had to ask the organizing committee of the event for concentrated feed, in addition to the hay, alfalfa and shavings.

He said he had no choice but to feed his horse with the concentrated feed made available from the organising committee, at least until July 23.

Barrios said that both the Colombian national federation and the FEI had been aware of feed contamination issues in Colombia, asserting that Colombia had not been suitable for an international event.

Indeed, the Colombian federation had even warned riders about the risk of contamination in a communication.

He argued that the substance most likely entered his horse’s system at the airport on the first day, and then with the feed provided by the organising committee on the following Sunday and Monday (concentrated feed, alfalfa and hay).

The alfalfa, which came via the games organisers, was a well-known source for such contamination, and was able to maintain a lower level of caffeine and theophylline in a horse’s system, he submitted.

He submitted that the concentrations found were well below the performance threshold and did not affect the performance of the horse. However, the FEI disputed his view of what the tested concentrations represented.

The FEI, in its submission, said it had consulted several experts in relation to the samples in this case. According to the FEI’s experts, the concentrations found were highly unlikely to be feed contamination, with the level found considered high.

The world governing body argued that Barrios had not satisfactorily established how the substance had entered the horse’s system.

“In the case at hand, the [rider] has only provided speculations rather than explanation for the positive finding. Further, [he] has not provided any evidence in order to establish No (Significant) Fault or Negligence for the rule violation.”

Barrios told the tribunal that he could not accept the Administrative procedure offered in the case at hand, which for him would have meant admitting guilt, and he could not admit something that he had not done.

Tribunal member Henrik Arle, sitting as a one-member panel, said he took note of Barrios’ explanation for how the substances came to be in his horse’s system.

He noted that none of the other horses tested at the event by the FEI, who had also have been fed with the hay and alfalfa provided by the organiser, tested positive.

Nothing, he said, pointed toward which type of feed fed to Le Vio was actually contaminated, or whether any of the feed or supplements were contaminated at all.

“The tribunal underlines that in cases of positive findings allegedly caused by contaminated feed, it is not sufficient to prove contamination of the feed only.

“In addition, a link between the contaminated feed and the positive test result needs to be established. In the case at hand the tribunal … finds that the [rider] has not even adduced any evidence in regard to the first step, i.e., that the feed had indeed been contaminated.”

Arle said that Barrios had not proven that contamination of supplied feed was behind the positive test result, ruling that a fine and suspension were appropriate in the circumstances.

Barrios will be ineligible to compete until August 14 this year. He was also ordered to contribute 1500 Swiss francs towards the cost of the judicial procedure.

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