Top Swiss showjumper exonerated over horse’s failed drug test

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A member of a Swiss rider’s support crew who urinated in a horse truck after taking painkillers was most likely the reason for a showjumping horse failing a drug test.

The member of the support crew had taken Tramadol for a sore back, it was revealed.

The professional rider, Nadja Peter Steiner, of Jona, Switzerland, had previously been suspended for two years by the FEI Tribunal and fined 7500 Swiss francs over the failed test by her horse, Saura de Fondcombe.

Those sanctions were overturned on appeal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ratified an agreement between Steiner and the FEI, which was negotiated after evidence emerged of the man urinating in the truck.

The FEI, in the agreed settlement, accepted that Steiner bore no fault or negligence in relation to the failed drug test.

The horse had returned a positive test for O-Desmethyltramadol, a metabolite of Tramadol. Tramadol is an opioid painkiller commonly used by people for moderate to severe pain. It is classified as a banned substance under the FEI’s anti-doping rules.

Steiner’s problem in defending the drug case brought before the FEI Tribunal was that she could not satisfactorily prove the source of the O-Desmethyltramadol.

She had taken Saura de Fondcombe south in a horse truck to Morocco for a CSI3*-W in Tetouan in October, 2017, where samples taken from the horse subsequently tested positive for low levels for O-Desmethyltramadol.

After extensive inquiries, Steiner submitted two potential sources of the metabolite: human to horse transmission through sweat at the prizegiving ceremony, where a person held the horse and allegedly transmitted Tramadol to the animal; and Moroccan water contaminated with Tramadol.

However, a pharmacological expert concluded that, while this was possible, there was not sufficient evidence of a link to the suspected potential source of the Tramadol.

The lack of sufficient evidence resulted in the exclusion of both sources by the FEI Tribunal, as they were deemed not likely to have caused the adverse analytical finding.

The tribunal ruled that Steiner had failed to identify the source of the positive finding. She was suspended for two years, fined, and ordered to pay legal costs of 2000 Swiss francs.

Steiner continued to investigate the possible source and made a crucial breakthrough, which underpinned her appeal.

She had, much earlier in the case, checked if any of those working closely with the horse might have taken Tramadol, which could have resulted in human to horse transmission. No such person was found.

Subsequently, a support person confessed that he had taken Tramadol to relieve back pain after driving the horses from Europe to Morocco. He admitted that he had then urinated in the compartment of the horse truck where the horses were located. In addition, he could not exclude that he might have urinated in the vicinity of the stables on the following days. However, he could not remember with certainty.

Steiner said the crew member initially did not realise that his conduct could have caused the failed drug test. He was concerned his professional reputation would be ruined and that he could be fired. For these reasons, he had not mentioned his conduct earlier.

Once he realised that his intake of Tramadol pills on arrival in Morocco, and his urination, could have caused the failed drug test, he confessed directly.

On arrival in Morocco, the horse had been fed and watered inside the truck, while being untied, as the stabling was not ready.

Once the stables were ready, leftover hay was moved from the lorry to the horse’s box.

Steiner consulted a scientific expert. He confirmed that it was plausible that the intake of two pills of Tramadol of 50-100 mg by the support person, and their later urination in the horse lorry on the very same day, could lead to a positive finding of 0.5 ng/mL in the horse’s blood sample through contaminated hay.

The FEI said it was satisfied with the explanation offered by Steiner and it negotiated an agreement to take to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. It accepted that Steiner, a member of the Swiss national team for the last four years, had a range of procedures in place to prevent contamination and positive cases.

It accepted that she bore no fault or negligence for the failed test. She could not have known or reasonably suspect that a member of her support crew used Tramadol and urinated in the horse truck.

The FEI agreed that no fine should be imposed, and the sum already paid would be reimbursed. The two-year suspension will also be eliminated.

The agreement was ratified by the sole arbitrator, Jacques Radoux, for the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Steiner was represented in the proceedings by Dr Stephen Netzle and Dr Mirjam Trunz, attorneys-at-law with Times Attorneys in Zurich, Switzerland. The FEI was represented by its legal counsel, Anna Thorstenson, based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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