The rule of strict liability, under which athletes have to be solely and legally responsible for what they consume, remains supreme in the world of horse sport. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) promote “Clean Sport” for athletic competitions, as does the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international governing body for equestrian sport.
The FEI credits their Clean Sport initiative as being responsible for the completely drug-free 2012 Olympic Games in London, during which no equestrian athlete or horse tested positive for any banned substance. Equine Canada governs Canada’s official relations with the FEI, as well as Canada’s equestrian relations with the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee. It also governs relations between the government of Canada and Canadian equestrian athletes, coaches, judges, competition organizers and other professionals. Equine Canada (via the FEI) has classified approximately 1,000 different drugs as either “Banned” or “Controlled” in the 2015 Equine Prohibited Substances List. As of January 1, 2015, any individual who is temporarily suspended for a doping violation is prohibited from participating in the sport in any capacity, both at and away from competition.
Equine sport organizations that govern horse sport always encourage participation in anti-doping measures and fair medication control ostensibly because horse welfare is the principal rationale for a zero tolerance drug policy. This is an admirable achievement surely, since horses in particular should not be drugged in order to mask pain or to enhance performance to the degree that it may entail a risk.
It is a paradox though, that despite horse welfare cheerleading by Equine Canada, they are utterly silent when it comes down to the issue of the dual commodity riding/meat horse. Of course, Equine Canada supports the Canadian horse slaughter industry, causing conflict within its own ranks as well as with Canadian horse welfare advocates. In 2012, Equine Canada’s then President Michael Gallagher caused outrage when he issued a press release thanking the FEI after it had disqualified Canadian show-jumping rider Tiffany Foster under controversial and unproven circumstances that did not even involve the possibility of drugs. The FEI Veterinary Commission did not even bother to take her horse out of his stall to examine him further or to test his movement for any signs of discomfort. So, a superficial scrape on a horse’s coronet that did not even make him lame (unless poked repeatedly by veterinarians perhaps) was cause for a lot of rah-rah-rahing about horse welfare by Gallagher, who said, “This is an important testing procedure for the fairness of our sport and for the welfare of the horse which must always be paramount.” So while there are apparently few ethical conundrums for Equine Canada when it comes to firing a four-inch nail into a horse’s head, they supported the FEI decision to disqualify a horse due to a trivial and totally survivable scrape of indeterminate origin on his foot. The irony – it burns!
I think it’s absurd that suspensions can be levied over scratches or even the use of a topical cream containing capsaicin for a skin injury (which is banned because it can serve as a mild stimulant) whilst ignoring the issues of inhumane transport and slaughter as well as the possibility of potentially harmful drugs in the food chain. While horse sport veterinarians are busy taking skin swabs from horses to test for capsaicin, the CFIA tests less than 1% of horse carcasses for the prohibited drug phenylbutazone. If the CFIA held kill buyers and the owners of slaughter-bound horses with strict liability as done in horse sport, practically no horse would be eligible for slaughter.
Doping is contrary to the spirit of sport. Yet so too should be the betrayal of sending horses to slaughter.