The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) recently approved new measures to ensure the legs of high-level jumping horses are not being intentionally sensitized to pain in order to provide a competitive advantage. Beginning in 2008, official veterinarians will be employing heat-sensing equipment and examining legs for evidence of this abuse.

The FEI, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, is the international governing body for equestrian sport.

The prohibited practice officials are screening for involves applying products to or injecting agents into the skin on the legs, with the goal of making them hypersensitive to touch. Some trainers use the technique to ensure that the horse lifts its legs high enough over jumps.

The FEI Bureau announced in mid-November that random thermographic and clinical examinations of jumpers’ legs would be systematically performed by FEI-appointed veterinarians at the start of the competition and throughout the competition. Clearly positive results would lead to elimination of the horse from the event; questionable results would call for further and more frequent investigations of the horse’s legs.

“This is a serious issue,” said John McEwen, BVMS, MRCVS, chairman of the FEI veterinary committee which formulated the new protocol. “(Hypersensitization) is abusive to horses and is therefore an unacceptable practice which needs to be stopped.”

This is one of the FEI’s efforts to protect competing horses.

“It’s an extension of our current practice of bandage control,” said FEI spokesperson Malina Gueorguiev. “We want to keep ahead of the risks and make sure that the sport is safe and fair.”
Through bandage control, leg wrappings are physically verified for presence of hypersensitization ointments or sharp objects. By contrast, thermography employs the use of infrared cameras to detect heat