The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) announced July 21 that three Swiss show jumping horses have tested positive for prohibited substances.

Samples taken at the CSIO5* at La Baule, France, on May 17 from the horse Nino des Buissonnets, ridden by Steve Guerdat, who won the Grand Prix on the day of testing, have returned positive for the banned substances codeine and oripavine and the controlled medication morphine.

Additionally, samples taken at the CSIO5* at La Baule on May 17 from the horse Nasa, also ridden by Guerdat, who finished third in the La Baule Derby on the day of testing, have returned positive for codeine and morphine. The horse’s sample also showed traces of oripavine, but not at a sufficiently high level for the testing laboratory to declare a positive for the substance.

Finally, samples taken at the CSIOY (Young Riders) in Deauville, France, on May 8 from the horse Charivari KG, ridden by Alessandra Bichsel, have returned positive for codeine, oripavine, and morphine.

Under the FEI’s Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations (EADCMRs), a mandatory provisional suspension is imposed on the athlete in the event of a banned substance positive prior to the opportunity for a full hearing. Similarly, under the EADCMRs, a horse testing positive to a banned substance is provisionally suspended for two months.

As a result, Guerdat and Bichsel have both been provisionally suspended from the day of notification (July 20), and the three horses have been provisionally suspended for two months. The FEI offers the athlete, referred to in the rules as the person responsible, and the horse owner the opportunity for a preliminary hearing before the FEI Tribunal to request the lifting of the provisional suspensions.

“The presence in all these samples of oripavine, which is not found in any veterinary products, suggests that this could be contamination, but obviously we still have to follow standard procedure,” said FEI Secretary General Sabrina Zeender. “The combination of oripavine, morphine, and codeine have frequently been seen in contamination cases from other equestrian sport regulators, and the FEI already has three outstanding cases from 2014 involving oripavine and morphine in which we proactively sought the lifting of the provisional suspensions. As the regulator of international equestrian sport, we have to balance fairness to the athletes with our dual role of protecting horse welfare and maintaining a level playing field.”

Requests for the lifting of the provisional suspension in each of the 2014 cases were originally denied by the tribunal, but sufficient evidence was subsequently gathered to show that all three cases were highly likely to involve contamination and the FEI promptly sought the lifting of the provisional suspensions. All three provisional suspensions were simultaneously lifted by the FEI Tribunal on Dec. 19, 2014.

Oripavine is an opioid analgesic that is not used clinically due to its very narrow therapeutic margin and extremely high toxicity levels. Oripavine positives are frequently the result of poppyseed ingestion. Codeine and morphine, both of which are found in poppyseeds, are also analgesics.

Due to increasing evidence of poppyseed contamination resulting in positives, the FEI downgraded morphine from a banned substance to controlled medication in 2013. Among a number of proposed changes to the equine prohibited substances list due to come into effect on Jan. 1, 2016, codeine is listed for a similar downgrading to controlled medication.