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An endurance horse failed a drug test after he was given a homeopathic remedy stored in an old tramadol bottle.
Houkoumi G, ridden by Belgium’s Evelyne Stoffel, tested positive for the powerful painkiller O-desmethyl-tramadol at the CEI* 100 at Virton on 4 September 2016.
The drug is prescribed for use in humans, but it is a banned substance for equines under FEI rules, meaning it is “not permitted for use in the competition horse at any time”.
It was found to be present in the urine, but not the blood sample taken.
The case went before the FEI Tribunal on 6 June.
A statement from the horse’s vet, Dr Mathieu Henry, said he had not prescribed any anti-inflamatory medication since October 2015 and had “never prescribed any tramadol”.
He added that Ms Stoffel and her husband, Dany Marmignon, had “always privileged the health of their animals rather than competition or financial gain”.
Mr Marmignon sustained serious multiple injuries in a car accident in 1987 and uses tramadol to manage the pain.
His doctor, Dr S Thiry, confirmed that he prescribes the drug for him.
Ms Stoffel stated she used Dr Bach’s homeopathic flower remedies for herself and her animals.
She decided to mix two of these together into one bottle for ease of use and found that empty bottles of tramadol had a “handy dropper”.
“She had therefore, without any bad intensions, taken an empty bottle of tramadol and filled it with the flowers of Bach, so she could leave the bottle in the grooming box,” said a statement in Ms Stoffel’s defence.
“She had given the horse 25 drops of this product (the two flowers of Bach and the residue of tramadol) every day of the week prior to the event.
“That, if only she had realised that some tramadol residue could have remained in the bottle, she would never have used it.
“She perfectly understood that what she considered as empty, was not considered as such for a laboratory.”
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Her defence also alleged that if she had chosen to give the horse a “useful” amount of tramadol, this would have shown up in the blood sample.
A statement from the FEI said that the person responsible (Ms Stoffel) had given what “seemed like a plausible explanation” of how the substance entered the horse’s system and was satisfied this was the source.
“The FEI was of the opinion that it was an unsafe practice and common sense should have told the person responsible to avoid such a situation, i.e., using vessels which previously contained a banned substance to then hold a preparation to be given to a competition horse,” added the statement.
“Especially as in this particular situation the bottles were not rendered clean. Further, that it could potentially have put the horse in danger.”
The FEI Tribunal found the degree of negligence to be “high” and added it “expected more awareness from a rider who competes at an international level”.
The tribunal found that while Ms Stoffel has been negligent in not cleaning the empty tramadol bottle, her fault for the rule violation “has not been significant”.
It also took into note her general good care for her horses’ welfare and that she is an amateur competing only in Belgium “merely riding for the love of the sport”.
Ms Stoffel was disqualified for 15 months — she has already served seven of these through her provisional suspension — fined CHF2,500 (£2,002) and asked to pay CHF1,000 (£807) towards legal costs.