Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Isabell Werth: Illegal Substance Found Was Shivers Medication

by Fran Jurga | 1 July 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

The sport horse world was shocked last week to learn that Olympic Gold Medalist Isabel Werth of Germany has been provisionally suspended from competition for a doping violation and now faces up to two years' suspension.

Werth issued a press statement (below) which states that she administered the banned anti-psychotic substance not as a sedative but as a treatment for the horse's shivers condition. She had believed that all traces of the medication would have left the horse's system before the competition but that was not the case.

Shivers is a difficult to treat condition seen usually in warmblood sport horses and draft horses. It is often confused with stringhalt, which is a completely different condition, and has been studied at the University of Minnesota by Dr. Stephanie Valberg.

Farriers are extremely familiar with shivers, as the horse has difficulty balancing itself on three legs. Shoeing or trimming can be dangerous for the farrier and the horse.

Click here to read an article previously published on the Hoof Blog about shivers, with an illustration. An excellent article by Dr Beth Valentine in Hoofcare & Lameness #75 is also a good resource.

Here is Isabell Werth's statement:

Yesterday I was informed by the FN (German Equestrian Federation) that during a medication test on May 30, 2009 at the CDI in Wiesbaden, traces of the substance FLUPHENAZINE were found in a sample taken from my small tour horse Whisper. Therefore I feel the need to inform the public personally – in addition to today's FN press release – about the background of this matter.

Whisper suffers from the so-called SHIVERING SYNDROME. This affects the central nervous system and causes imbalances if the horse has to stand on three legs for a longer while – for example when being groomed, bandaged or shod. Feeling insecure, the horse begins to shiver and lunges uncontrollably for fear of losing its balance and keeling over. This illness is not painful and does not influence a horse's ability to compete, but it entails an increased risk for the persons working with the horse (farrier, groom, rider).

Therefore I asked my veterinarian Dr. Hans Stihl (SUI), if and how this Shivering Syndrome can be treated. Dr. Stihl explained to me that so far there is no cure for this ailment, but that several horses in his care had showed positive reactions to a drug called MODECATE. This drug contains FLUPHENAZINE as an active substance. So we treated Whisper once, on May 16, 2009, with this drug, in order to find out if he responds to it. This was the case, the shivering was reduced, and there was less uncontrolled movement when we raised one of his legs.

When asked for the settling time, Dr. Stihl told me that according to his experience, six days are enough, but one could never be completely sure. So, to be on the safe side, we decided to let Whisper compete again on May 30, 2009 in Wiesbaden. I took this decision to the best of my knowledge. In spite of this, the FEI doping lab has now found traces of said substance. One reason may be that the lab has used new analyzing methods.

The FEI has suspended me immediately, as dictated by the rules of procedure. The fact that only ineffective traces of the drug were found does not matter according to those rules. I deeply regret this incident, but I was convinced that I had acted correctly. I wish the rules were revised as quickly as possible in a way that allows reasonable treatment of sport horses without risking long suspensions because the settling times change constantly with each new method of analysis and become literally “incalculable”.

I am aware that I have given reason to doubt the honesty and cleanness of my person and of our sport. I herewith apologize to everyone who is close to me and to equestrian sports. Of course I will do everything to help clarifying any questions that still remain.

(Isabell Werth)

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