Ask the Vet: Confessions of a (former) USEF Drug Testing Assistant

If your horse gets randomly selected to be drug tested at a show, what happens next? Dr. Jen Johnson demystifies the process.

From Jen:

During my training, I had the opportunity to serve as an assistant to a USEF drug testing veterinarian. As such, I’ve seen the process from both sides – as a competitor and a tester. What I’m sharing reflects my experiences as a drug tester, and don’t necessarily represent the way each individual testing veterinarian chooses to perform their duties.

For most of us, it’s just a line on the entry form – those fees that add up after we pay for our classes & stall. Office fee, grounds fee, bridle fee, DRUG FEE. Depending on your level and discipline, anywhere from $8 to $20 per show. But what, exactly, does that get you? And how does it work?

First, the shows are selected. The USEF looks at the calendar for the show season and selects which shows they would like to have tested. This may be based on many factors – having had positive tests there before, having not been tested in a long time, or simply random chance. Next, the USEF contacts an approved testing veterinarian in the area of the show to get it on their calendar. As drug testing is meant to be a surprise, this part of the process is not disclosed publicly.

The testing veterinarian will then assemble a team of assistants. Upon arrival at the grounds, it is customary for the team to introduce themselves to the technical delegate, show secretary and other organizers & officials. Some vets ask to set up a designated drug testing stall, however the team I worked on preferred to test the horse in its own stall.

Depending on the type of show, the process of randomly selecting which horse is to be tested varies. For ring, the vet may select the horse based on placings (for example, choosing to test the 2nd placed horse) usually making this decision before the class is pinned. For individual classes, like dressage or eventing, the testing vet usually selects the next horse out of the ring or off the course when they are free. Since the veterinarian is the one who officially selects the horse, the vet must be available to notify the rider and owner. Testing vets also have the discretion to select a horse for testing that displays unusual or suspect behavior. Also, USEF testing vets are not allowed to test FEI horses; the FEI has its own testing protocol.

Once a horse is selected, it is not to be out of sight of the testers. The veterinarian and an assistant follow the horse back to its stall and should allow the horse time to be untacked and cooled out. Then the vet draws two blood samples. In the meantime, the assistant begins filling out the paperwork. This identifies the horse, rider, owners as well as the show, the class and (if applicable) the placing. Each form is pre-printed with an identification number, and has matching specimen tags that go with the samples. The samples are wrapped in special tape to prevent tampering and sealed in a bag, also to prevent tampering. Then the waiting begins…

Blood samples are always collected on each horse, and testers try to get urine samples as well. However, not all horses cooperate. Depending on USEF directives, assistants wait between 30 and 60 minutes for a horse to give a sample. If one is collected, it is sealed in the same fashion as the blood. If not, the tester signs that no sample is collected. Then, the owner or their agent signs that they witnessed the collection and sealing of the samples. Horse owners may also have the option to have the testing vet administer Lasix, to obtain a urine sample faster, avoiding the wait.

Once the samples are collected, they are placed in a secured cooler. At the end of the day, the testing vet will send the samples to a designated testing facility for USEF to perform the drug testing. Since two samples are collected, only the “A” sample is tested, and the “B” sample is saved in case repeat or additional testing is required. Negative tests are not reported to those associated with the horse, and positive tests are handled according to USEF rules. It is not routine for the testing veterinarian to be notified of any test results.

I hope sharing some of these details helps demystify the process. Although it could be considered a minor inconvenience to be selected, cooperating with the drug testers ensures our horses are safe, healthy and sound.

 About the author: Dr. Jen is a veterinarian, and an eventer and dressage rider. She been involved in horses in some form or another since she was 4 years old and has experience in gaming, pleasure, H/J and, for the last eight years, eventing and dressage. The majority of her practice has been with horses, both in referral centers and field service. She has also served as official show veterinarian for several horse trials and other shows in the Midwest.

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