FEI Initiating Thermographic Exams to Prevent Show Jumper Abuse Technique

The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) recently approved new measures to ensure the legs of high-level jumping horses are not being intentionally sensitized to pain in order to provide a competitive advantage. Beginning in 2008, official veterinarians will be employing heat-sensing equipment and examining legs for evidence of this abuse.

The FEI, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, is the international governing body for equestrian sport.

The prohibited practice officials are screening for involves applying products to or injecting agents into the skin on the legs, with the goal of making them hypersensitive to touch. Some trainers use the technique to ensure that the horse lifts its legs high enough over jumps.

The FEI Bureau announced in mid-November that random thermographic and clinical examinations of jumpers’ legs would be systematically performed by FEI-appointed veterinarians at the start of the competition and throughout the competition. Clearly positive results would lead to elimination of the horse from the event; questionable results would call for further and more frequent investigations of the horse’s legs.

"This is a serious issue," said John McEwen, BVMS, MRCVS, chairman of the FEI veterinary committee which formulated the new protocol. "(Hypersensitization) is abusive to horses and is therefore an unacceptable practice which needs to be stopped."

This is one of the FEI’s efforts to protect competing horses.

"It’s an extension of our current practice of bandage control," said FEI spokesperson Malina Gueorguiev. "We want to keep ahead of the risks and make sure that the sport is safe and fair."
Through bandage control, leg wrappings are physically verified for presence of hypersensitization ointments or sharp objects. By contrast, thermography employs the use of infrared cameras to detect heat caused by the hypersensitization products in the animals’ limbs. Currently no heat detection methods are being used.

"This is great news," said international equestrian Simon Delestre of Ancy-les-Solgne, France. "It’s just another way people have to cheat in this sport, and hopefully this will stop it," he said, equating hypersensitization with the use of steroids and other drugs.

McEwen said he is optimistic that the thermographic examinations will prevent hypersensitization in the international event rings, but preventing the abuse in regular training and lower-level competitions is beyond the jurisdiction of the FEI. "We can only hope that the national organizations will follow our example," he said.

The new protocol should be in effect as early as January, said Gueorguiev.


About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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