Where to start? I thought last year’s FEI General Assembly was a sizzler, but compared to last week’s pow-wow in Copenhagen, 2008 was a snooze fest. Top of the shit list this year: the Clean Sport Commission’s decision to allow the presence of things like bute and banamine in horses at FEI competitions, and the ‘yay’ vote from 53 national federations (there were 48 ‘nays’) to usher in this controversial new era in doping and medication. I’m sure I haven’t adequately learned all the details, but already I fail to see what the ruckus is over. Plenty of fans and colleagues rallied behind Isabell for giving her horse a human anti-psychotic that is near the top of the banned list. Are these the same people now crying ‘shame’ over the FEI’s sensible decision to avoid penalties to riders who give their horses legitimate medication in the days before competing? Is there ANYONE out there who has NEVER given a horse bute? Other than a few woo-woo alternative-therapy-instead-of-the-vet types?
Here are my thoughts on NSAIDs. I once had a wonderful event horse named Snap. He was only 15.1 hands, moved like the Quarter Horse he was, but also carried me to team gold at the NAYRC some time back in the last century (1985 to be exact). Snap had another QH characteristic – a predisposition to navicular bone degeneration. I was able to enjoy one final year of eventing Snap in my early 20’s at the Preliminary level – which helped me survive the often crushing boredom of being an Arts major at university. Snap was permitted to have trace amounts of bute in his system if he was tested at a Canadian competition, and since he didn’t need bute all the time or a lot of it, through careful management I was able to keep him sound, happy and doing the job he loved. If there had been a zero tolerance policy in Canada at that time, I would not have been able to enjoy that final year of eventing with Snap.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and the inclusion of Para-dressage as an FEI discipline. Being part of the FEI family has been wonderful for para-equestrian sport, but it has brought one big pitfall: zero tolerance on NSAIDs. Many competitive Para-dressage horses are schoolmaster types – safe, well trained, and good quality enough to be competitive on the world stage. Many of them have age-related soundness management issues, which has meant more than a few of these wonderful older horses have been sidelined from FEI competition because they need a little bute or isoxuprine to stay comfortable. Did you hear me? Comfortable, I said. That’s what these NSAIDs do. I can’t live without my ibuprofen when my back hurts, which is often. Why should there be a hue and cry with the Clean Sport Commission’s decision to treat horses more like human athletes? Banamine is given to horses with colic. Horses that have suffered a mild colic are often perfectly fit to compete a couple of days afterward, and now that a certain amount of banamine is going to be permitted, riders, owners and vets will no longer have to face the agonizing dilemma of whether to give a horse something to reduce pain and distress at the cost of not being able to compete.
According to a Chronicle of the Horse article (http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/shocking-vote-legalizes-bute-fei-competition) FEI veep Sven Holmberg said: “What you have just done has cut the legs off the clean sport campaign. If you thought recent media attention against rollkur has been tough, just wait to see what happens with this.” Bad puns aside, I am wondering if Mr. Holmberg understands the difference between doping substances and legitimate medications. I’ve no doubt the CoTH dribblers are off and running with their new ball, and I fully expect some flack for my position, which I will reiterate here:
It is my belief that anyone who thinks the FEI’s progressive medication (not doping) list is evil has something in common with those woefully unenlightened Sarah Palin fans who call Obama a fascist and a Leninist in the same breath. And am I the only one who sees the irony in the Americans’ ‘hell no’ position? The USEF has arguably the most leniant NSAID rules of any country, and they even allow the odd cocktail (I’m not talking daiquiris here – I mean when a horse is given more than one NSAID in combination). And how about those Germans? And Irish? And British? Or are they just trying to deflect attention from the fact that it’s their own athletes’ use of banned substances that created the need for the Clean Sport Commission in the first place?
Frank Kemperman, the newly minted FEI Dressage Committee chair, called the progressive list absurd because some national federations have zero tolerance rules for NSAIDs. I have a lot of respect for Frank and I hope that by publicly disagreeing with him he won’t punish me by refusing to talk to me when I have questions for him. I don’t know about other countries, but in Canada the rules are crystal clear: if there is a discrepency in the rules between the national federation and FEI rules at an FEI sanctioned competition, the FEI rules have precedence. Doesn’t sound absurd to me. Frank also thinks the progressive list is a step back, and I don’t agree with that either. Aspirin makes a poor scapegoat alongside capsaicin and fluphenazine.
In other news, I have made my video correspondent debut, much to my great mortification. I have not yet been able to bring myself to watch myself on the pilot episode of DNN, but if you are intrigued to see my report from the GDF, click here: www.DressageNewsNetwork.com
I am hoping and assuming that they chose the best of my many, many takes of the little intro I was told to give. How can a person be nervous while filming herself alone with a video camera, you ask? The out-takes would be longer than the useable footage…and I really, really hope they took out the bit where I accidentally asked Steffen about his experience in Germany when I should have said Holland, and then said the ‘f’ word not quite under my breath. I haven’t felt so incompetent at something since I tried out for the highschool volleyball team and was told by the coach that she might put me on the floor if we were winning 14 to 1. Either I’ll get better at it or this will have been a very, very short career in video journalism.
A bit more housekeeping: many of you have expressed frustration at not finding more regular blog postings from me when I’m not at things like the GDF or Olympics. From now on, except here and there such as over Christmas, I will make Wednesday my official posting day – even if I don’t have much to say that week. Who am I kidding? I always have plenty to say. Talk to you Wednesday.