Equestrianism: Durrant calls for proactive approach to doping

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Rumours of horse doping are nothing new in the sport but, if recently aired suspicions can ever be proved, at least there will be no repeat of the 1999 fiasco that followed attempts to conceal a positive dope test on the British horse, Coral Cove.

"The lessons learnt then are being applied rigidly," Peter Durrant, the chief executive of British Eventing, said. "We now follow the rule of openness and transparency."

The latest rumours, which come in a year when British event riders are strongly fancied to win the Olympic team competition in Athens, involve innuendo rather than hard fact. But, though they have not been proven, nobody is suggesting that they are a pack of lies.

"Science will always put temptation in people's way," Durrant said, referring to the possibility of undetectable drugs being on the market. "It's up to us to eliminate the risk of temptation that comes from advances in science. I don't believe this is a particular problem, but we need to be streetwise and we must be prepared to be proactive. It's all part of the process of keeping the sport clean."

The dressage phase, which has become increasingly influential, is now seen as the most likely area in which an undetectable wonder drug, claiming to promote well-being and calmness in the horse, might lead the unwary astray. So far increased testing after the dressage in international contests has failed to uncover a single known sedative.

The few who are caught at national level tend to be inexperienced riders competing in intro classes, with positive dope tests usually occurring because the horse had previously been treated with a banned substance that is still in its system.

Durrant would like the International Equestrian Federation to eliminate the "grey areas" whereby some herbal remedies are still permitted - although Valerian, which was sometimes administered as a feed additive, is now on the banned list. "We've almost got to have a blanket ban and a Draconian approach to get rid of the grey areas," he said.

Yogi Breisner, the Great Britain team manager, would also like the problem of herbal remedies to be tackled, even though he is not convinced that they are effective. Neither is he convinced that illegal substances are never used in equestrian sport. "There's always a section of the human race that tries to keep a step ahead of the testers, but people do get caught out," he said.