Jun 25, 2009

Isabell Werth - The Rebuttal

So, Isabell Werth released a statement today on her horse's positive results in the doping test. As we all know by now, Whisper tested positive for Fluphenazine, a drug approved for use in humans with schizophrenia. I also learned that it has been around for years on the H/J circuit as a 'fix' for difficult/hyper horses. You learn things every day...


Anyway, she explains that Whisper suffers from "Shivering Syndrome" or "Shivers." It is a disease of the nervous system that affects balance, most commonly found in draft horses. I'm no expert, but reading through articles on the web as well as her statement, I find that the syndrome manifests itself in many different ways and at different stages of the horses' development. The most common early symptom is involuntary muscle tremors when the horse is asked to either back up or lift a hind leg (for shoeing or cleaning the hoof). It can be as simple as tremors, a 'hitch' or snatch of the hind leg into the air, or a complete loss of balance that can cause the animal to fall (or at the very least, I can assume it would scare itself terribly). It doesn't seem like a painful condition and it may not even degenerate beyond what I described. Moving forward is generally not a problem, so riding and competition seems totally within the realm of possibility.

So, with my description out of the way, Isabell goes on to explain that Whisper's shivers and jerks while being shod, bandaged, etc., were causing issues for his caretakers. She then consulted with her veterinarian, who said (rightly so) that there is no cure for this condition, but he had seen horses do well with a drug called Modecate. This drug (lo and behold) contains Fluphenazine, though I know not in what quantity. Isabell had the vet administer this drug to her horse on May 16th. The vet assured her that it would take only 6 days for the substance to be cleansed of the system, and so they opted to go ahead and compete the horse on May 30th. Which is where he tested positive for Fluphenazine.

Interesting. Look, I am not a vet. I don't feel terribly compelled to have discussions about Modecate and Fluphenazine, how it could be used to help in Shivers Syndrome, what delivery method they used, etc, etc... It is clear it was likely used as a sort of sedative to help calm the tremors for some particular reason at her stable on May 16th. Fine. I've sedated a horse to clip or whatever sometimes. Okay, I understand this. Here's what's completely wrong with this story and why I have little sympathy for her:

- Fluphenazine is listed (and has been) on the list of prohibited substances at the USEF and FEI for years. On the Drug & Medications guide of the USEF, it clearly states that it takes 90 days for the horse's system to be deemed clean of the medication after its usage. Does no one she employs read these things? Does she not read these things?

- Her vet says that the medication will clear her horse's system in 6 days. She trusts him. Sorry, guys. Unacceptable response. Isabell has ultimate responsibility for everything that goes into her horse's system. I have NO SYMPATHY. I am held to a very rigorous set of responsibilities at my job. If someone I trust screws up, it is still my fault for not checking their claims.

- Her horse has a serious medical condition. WTF GUYS?! Why the hell would you suddenly opt on a new course of treatment before a competition without doing some serious thinking and studying about such a course of action. You are a freaking international competitor, representing the sport for your country. You don't take decisions lightly. You just don't.

- Which leaves the other possibility that Whisper has been on this course of treatment for awhile and we only just discovered it. That honestly doesn't change anything. Know what you are putting in your horse's body.

I pass judgment on her because what she did is wrong. Whether or not I might do the same thing in her shoes does not make it right. You have a horse with a serious condition (which, I might add, seems like it would cause issues with in competition for things like, say, backing up -- I don't know the horse, so I can't speculate, but I might retire him from competition personally) and you need to be upfront with the FEI about the need for special medication waivers / dispensations. If they refuse, well, at least you tried and went about it in the right way. But this is disingenuous. And stupid to boot, if you just look at the USEF guidelines on usage of Fluphenazine. It took me about 5 minutes to look that one up. This is a case of willful ignorance and negligence.

And I don't get all the debates going around about whether we need to change the rules on what is and isn't considered doping at the FEI level. Dudes, we can argue about that all day long and not resolve shit. The fact remains that right now, this is considered doping. He had an amount (however small) of an illegal substance in his body during a competition. Hey, he could have had triple the amount and it might have never enhanced his performance at all. The fact remains that that DOES NOT MATTER. That argument needs to be left up to professionals more learned than you or I. The point is that right now there is a set of rules. Fight them if you will, but if you choose to compete within those guidelines, you must be prepared to adhere to them.

Let me give you an analogy --I choose to work at my company and must adhere to certain regulations that I may not like or even agree with. I made a decision to work there because the pros outweigh all the negatives. But then, I have no one to blame but myself when I get cranky about one of the procedures. I can make suggestions and work to change the system, but if I want to continue working there, I still have to play the game.

And let me just end by saying that at every point in this process Isabell Werth can and should be held responsible for knowingly giving her horse a prohibited substance. She runs a business and she holds the ultimate responsibility for every single person who comes into contact with her horse. Anyone who says otherwise is just making excuses.

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