What Does FEI Show Safe Really Mean?

By: Dr. Julie Vargas, DVM

In 2017, 2 US riders tested positive for the banned substance ractopamine at a FEI show in Wellington, Florida.  It was determined, after much distress, that the positive tests were due to contamination of a supplement fed to both horses. The supplement was called Soothing Pink and was made by Cargill Inc. which admitted responsibility. They discovered that the supplement the horses had been fed before the test date was contaminated by the substance ractopamine.  Ractopamine is a muscle-building agent used in pig feed and supplements. It has been found in a number of positive swabs in performance and racehorses in recent years, however this particular instance was due to inadvertent contamination of the Cargill supplement. Cargill then withdrew the supplement from the market. 

Manufacturing integrity is of upmost importance and mishaps occur with even large companies such as Cargill.  Soothing Pink was marketed as “show safe” however the riders were still held accountable for the unfortunate contamination.  When information is available regarding supplement manufacturing, it is important to ask what other products are made and stored in the facility.  Competitors must be aware of and practice caution with supplement companies that make varieties of show “safe” and “unsafe” feed and supplements in the same environment.

“Just because a supplement is 100% herbal and natural, does NOT mean it is show safe.”

Does all natural or 100% herbal equate to “show safe”?

No! Just because a supplement is 100% herbal and natural, does NOT mean it is show safe.  The use of any herbal or natural product to affect the performance of a horse or pony in a calming or an energizing manner is expressly forbidden by FEI regulations. Thus, the USEF and FEI have banned popular calming herbal ingredients such as Chamomile, Lavender, Passionflower, Skullcap and Valerian.  The FEI does not test or approve herbal or natural products.  This means claims that a product does not violate the FEI rules or is undetectable by drug testing is the sole responsibility of the manufacturer. So again, the emphasis on reputable companies is key.

Of late, regulatory authorities have rightly recognized that many substances, or their metabolites, that might produce a “positive” are present at trace levels and are likely derived from legitimate therapeutic medications or are of a dietary, environmental, or endogenous origin. Previously a positive of any magnitude was deemed an offense, but today there are approved thresholds for certain medications within the racing and FEI regulations.

Within the FEI list and within the new FEI Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations (EADCMR), there are two main categories of regulated substances:

  • Banned substances.These are substances that have been deemed by the FEI to have no legitimate use in equine medicine and/or have a high potential for abuse (e.g., human antidepressants, antipsychotics, nervous system stimulants, etc.).  These simply should not be found in any horse at any level at any time.
  • Controlled Medication substances. An exhaustive list of medication that is prohibited in competition, and made up of all known substances that are recognized as therapeutic and/or commonly used, but have the potential to enhance performance at certain levels. Some examples might be anti-inflammatories (see note below about allowed levels), local anaesthetics, bronchodilators, cough suppressants, and other commonly and uncommonly used medications. Clearly substances on this list may also enhance performance depending on the timing and size of dose.

No matter what the circumstance, competition horses are expected to compete with no banned substances or controlled medication substances in their systems unless at a level defined and approved by FEI regulations.

The FEI prohibited substance list is available by visiting FEI DOPING RULES 

General Rules..

Athletes and their support teams are strongly encouraged to work closely with veterinarians when administering substances to horses.

The FEI has published a warning regarding the use of supplements (including herbal supplements) and products of which the ingredients are unknown. The wording is strong and direct.  It says … “In the past horses, to which supplements, herbal remedies etc., have been given have produced positive tests as a result of ingesting such products. Persons Responsible are responsible for what their horses ingest and they are, therefore, responsible for any substance found in a sample provided by their horse. A contaminated supplement will not excuse a positive doping test, and sanctions will be imposed in accordance with the rules.”  The same document encourages competitors to navigate through the myriad of confusing supplement claims and to make sure the supplements are sourced from reputable companies only.

At the end of the day, the FEI message is clear “IF IN ANY DOUBT, DO NOT GIVE IT TO YOUR HORSE”

For more information on safe supplement selection for FEI competition, read the entire FEI Warning Regarding the Administration of Supplements to Horses Articles 10.4 of the Equine Anti-Doping Rules and the Equine Controlled Medication Rules at INSIDE FEI

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About the Author

Dr. Julie Vargas dvm

Dr. Julie Vargas is a graduate of the University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine.  She completed a hospital and an ambulatory internship at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, KY before joining a sport horse practice in Wellington, FL.  She completed her veterinary acupuncture certification at Chi Institute and her chiropractic/spinal manipulation certification at the Integrative Veterinary Medical Institute, both in Reddick, FL.  Dr. Vargas has a passion for equine sport horse medicine and strives to find the best outcome for her patients combining years of conventional veterinary medical practice with alternative, regenerative, and nutritional therapies.
Currently, Dr. Vargas heads up the Sport Horse Medicine and Rehabilitation divisions of Spy Coast Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. She is also on faculty at Lincoln Memorial University Veterinary School.