Record sanctions have been imposed in an Endurance horse abuse and drug violation case in which the horse was fatally injured.
The FEI Tribunal imposed a 20-year suspension on the rider, Sh Abdul Aziz Bin Faisal Al Qasimi, who was registered in the United Arab Emirates. He was also fined 17,500 Swiss francs and ordered to pay 15,000 francs towards the cost of the judicial proceedings.
The case involved the horse Castlebar Contraband, ridden by Al Qasimi in the CE1* 90km contest in Fontainebleau on October 15, 2016.
Castlebar Contraband suffered an open fracture to his front right cannon bone during the event and had to be euthanised. The injury occurred at the 12th kilometre of the third loop, about 480 metres after the second vet gate.
Blood samples collected from the horse after his death revealed the presence of the controlled medication xylazine, which is used as a sedative, painkiller and muscle relaxant. Its use is prohibited in competition.
The substance, which is rapidly excreted from the body, is known to be used in Endurance to lower the heart rate. No valid Veterinary Form — the equine equivalent of a therapeutic use exemption — exists for xylazine.
The tribunal, comprising Harveen Thauli, Cesar Torrente and Martin Gibbs, accepted the explanation of the veterinarian who euthanised the horse that she had followed a standard protocol which did not include the use of Xylazine.
The defendant’s legal team had asserted that xylazine had been used in the euthanasia process.
The post mortem report revealed the appearance of multiple lesions with a highly targeted location, consistent with recent injections, demonstrating that the horse had been nerve blocked (desensitised) in training, both before and during the competition.
This desensitisation, together with osteoarthritis in the right front fetlock joint, resulted in stress fractures that ultimately caused the catastrophic injury.
In his report, FEI veterinary director Dr Göran Åkerström said that nerve blocking removes the “very fundamental protective function of sensitivity” and increases the risk of catastrophic injury. This is especially relevant for fractures that are due to bone fatigue (stress fractures) as a horse will not show any signs of pain, such as lameness, while under the influence of an injected substance.
The tribunal found that Al Qasimi had committed horse abuse and that the Equine Controlled Medication Rules had been violated.
The panel imposed the strongest sanctions in FEI history.
Al Qasimi suspended for 20 years in total – 18 years for the horse abuse and two years for the anti-doping violation.
The suspension started from the date of the decision – June 3, 2020. It will run until June 2, 2040. The results of Al Qasimi at the event were also disqualified.
The fine of 17,500 Swiss francs is made up of 10,000 francs for horse abuse and 7000 francs for the drug violation.
The tribunal said, in its view, that Castlebar Contraband was let down by many of his handlers.
It said it was comfortably satisfied that the FEI had met its burden of proof in the horse abuse case.
“The tribunal is also comfortably satisfied that Castlebar received nerve-blocking injections during the event.
“In fact, (Al Qasimi’s) expert agreed that Castlebar’s ulnar nerve was injected about four hours before his death, which meant the injection occurred during the event.
“By abnormally desensitising Castlebar’s limbs, this caused or likely caused pain and unnecessary discomfort to Castlebar.”
It acknowledged that Al Qasimi showed remorse for what happened to Castlebar Contraband in a letter dated February 9, 2020, and, as a result, he decided to quit competing in Endurance.
“Although the tribunal acknowledges his remorse, the tribunal cannot help but question his sincerity given the totality of the circumstances.”
Al Qasimi’s team had caused delays in the proceedings. “He (Al Qasimi) then decided he did not want a hearing and subject himself to questioning.
“This decision may have been motivated by his decision to quit Endurance riding, which ultimately rendered a hearing unnecessary.
“The tribunal draws an adverse inference from his decision requesting a hearing, delaying the proceedings by postponing it, and then deciding he no longer wanted a hearing.”
Furthermore, Al Qasimi did not seem to be particularly concerned about Castlebar Contraband’s well-being, the tribunal said.
“The evidence shows that Castlebar received nerve-blocking injections before and during the event.
“As mentioned before, even his own expert suggested that Castlebar’s ulnar nerve was injected during the Event.
“But, what the tribunal finds most troubling is that (Al Qasimi) apparently left the accident site after Castlebar’s catastrophic injury, demonstrating a remarkable lack of compassion for a horse he claimed to have loved and treated like a member of his own family.”
The tribunal found that Al Qasimi had compromised Castlebar Contraband’s welfare.
“The tribunal finds that a lengthy sanction is necessary and justified when it takes (Al Qasimi’s) apparent lack of consideration for Castlebar’s welfare into account.”
Commenting on the case outcome, the FEI’s legal director, Mikael Rentsch, said: “This is a really great result for horse welfare and the fight against doping in equestrian sport.
“We are very happy to see such a strong sanction handed down by the FEI Tribunal and it offers a stern warning to others that the tribunal will not tolerate cases of horse abuse.”
Åkerström, the FEI’s veterinary director, commented further: “This was a tragic case of a horse losing its life due to desensitisation and micro-dosing and, while we have had concerns that this has been ongoing for some time, this was the first solid evidence we have had of nerve-blocking during rides as well as micro-dosing.
“This has resulted in a change in our post mortem procedures to make them more forensic and also allowed us to prioritise the research and development of the Hyposensitivity Control System which is now in place.”
The final decision in this case can be found here.
The parties can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) within 21 days of the date of the decision.