Gold Medal Horse Tests Positive for Drugs

Four horses that competed in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece--including one gold medalist--have tested positive for banned substances. The four positive horses are Irish show jumping gold medal winner Waterford Crystal, ridden by Cian O'Connor; German showjumper Goldfever, ridden by Ludger Beerbaum; German event horse Ringwood Cockatoo, ridden by Bettina Hoy; and Austrian event horse Foxy, ridden by Harald Riedl.

According to England's Horse and Hound, James Sheeran, BVSc, veterinarian for Waterford Crystal, had given the horse a mild sedative during hydrotherapy treatment for a fetlock injury on July 22, but felt the drug residues should have dissipated before the Olympics.

A German Equestrian Federation release stated Goldfever tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Beerbaum said was in a zinc ointment used to treat a fetlock injury. Ringwood Cockatoo tested positive for the antihistamine hydroxy-diphenhydramine, which was in the Benadryl lotion used to treat a swelling in the saddle area.

Forty horses were randomly sampled for testing in Athens, which was 20% of the total number of competing horses at the games. All medal winners--both horses and riders--participated in mandatory drug testing.

If after following stringent drug testing procedures the positive horses are still found to be in violation of FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale, the international equestrian sport governing body) rules regarding illegal substances, then the riders must forfeit all medals received and are subject to disciplinary action from the FEI and Olympic committee.

"During the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the FEI tested 48 horses," said Frits Sluyter, DVM, head of the FEI veterinary department. "The tests were analyzed by the Sydney Reference laboratory. Four test results came back positive, but none of them were medaling horses."

Drug tests have evolved in recent years to identify more and find smaller traces of substances in the horse. "The testing is getting better and better with the type of tests that are used," said Jack Snyder, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, a professor in the department of surgical and radiological services at the University of California, Davis, and a director of the Olympic veterinary clinic. "Even in the four years from Sydney it has changed a lot."


About the Author

Marcella M. Reca Zipp, MS

Marcella Reca Zipp, M.S., is a former staff writer for The Horse. She is completing her doctorate in Environmental Education and researching adolescent relationships with horses and nature. She lives with her family, senior horse, and flock of chickens on an island in the Chain O'Lakes.

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