Italian show jumper cleared over mare’s positive drug test

The drug had been administered by an air transport company, and the rider was not told at the time.
Image by Frohe Weihnachten

A show jumper has been exonerated over a positive drug test in his horse after it emerged that a sedative had been administered by staff for a company transporting the mare by air.

The FEI Tribunal accepted that Simone Coata, an Italian-registered jumper, bore no fault or negligence over the positive drug finding.

Coata had his horse, Vaja Hoy, flown to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for a CSI4* event from January 6 to 9 this year.

The mare was selected for testing on January 8. Her blood sample tested positive for chlorpromazine sulfoxide, a metabolite of chlorpromazine, which is a sedative. It is classified as a banned substance under the FEI Equine Prohibited Substances List.

The horse and rider were provisionally suspended on January 31, and Coata was invited to provide an explanation. On March 30, the tribunal issued a preliminary decision lifting the provisional suspension, saying it was satisfied that Coata had, on the balance of probabilities, established the source of the drug, and that, based on the evidence, he bore no fault or negligence for the violation.

Coata explained to the tribunal that Vaja Hoy had been sedated by a horse flight company. The firm did not seek his permission, nor did it tell him of the drug’s use until he had started to investigate the drug breach.

The company said the drug administration took place before take-off. As soon as Vaja Hoy had been loaded at the ground station, and closed in her container, she started to display anxiety and kicking, and was slamming herself against the wall in an uncontrollable way.

Company staff were concerned she would hurt herself, and felt there was no other choice but to administer chlorpromazine sulfoxide to calm her. This was done for the horse’s best interests, the company said. The drug was kept aboard the aircraft and 5cc was given.

Coata, in his submission, said that he had worked with horses since he was a child and he took his responsibilities as a rider seriously. He was, he said, familiar with the FEI rules on human and equine anti-doping.

His stable had excellent anti-doping protocols to minimise any risk of accidental administration or contamination. Hygiene practices were exemplary. Medication was only ever given by veterinarians and he kept a clear log of all medications given to horses. He made sure they were labelled and stored in a locked cabinet.

Feed was only ever purchased from reputable suppliers, and it was carefully stored in sealed containers.

The stables also kept a visitor log, so managers knew who has been in contact with the horses. Staff members were trained on appropriate stable practices.

Coata said he had chosen the flight company because of its excellent reputation. He had taken several steps to minimise any potential risk, such as paying extra for a full container space for Vaja Hoy and another horse she was familiar with so that they could comfortably travel together.

He had asked many times if Vaja Hoy’s own groom could travel with her, but this was not possible because of internal policies and Covid-19. The company had reassured him of the competence of its own grooms.

Coata said he did not know what more he could have done to further reduce the risk in this instance. For horses to compete at the highest level they must fly and what happened on the flight was beyond a rider’s control, he said.

He believed there was nothing more he could have done to protect his mare from this drug breach.

The FEI, in its submission, said it was of the view that Coata had established the source of the drug, and that he could not have reasonably known or suspected that the experienced and reputable firm would administer the drug.

The FEI and Coata agreed in writing that he bore no fault or negligence in the case, and that he should not be fined or receive any other sanctions. However, his results at the event would not stand.

Tribunal member Diane Pitts, sitting as a one-member panel, ratified the written agreement between the FEI and Coata.

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