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Keeping the sport clean

As part of UK Anti-Doping Clean Sport Week (21-27 May 2018) Kate Hore, RNutr (Animal) and Senior Nutritionist at NAF, along with the BEF Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Rules (‘BEFAR’), explain which substances you can and can’t compete on, and how to make sure you keep clean.

A question we’re commonly asked is: ‘Is it safe to compete on?’ How do you advise riders correctly? There are two main considerations we have to look at – firstly, does the product knowingly contain products that are not allowed for competition? Secondly, what are the chances that unknown contamination by a prohibited substance has occurred? 

What is a prohibited substance? The Prohibited substance list is divided into Banned Substances and Controlled Medications – It is the rider’s responsibility to ensure they and everyone who comes into contact with the competition horse knows and understands anti –doping regulations.


  • Deemed by the FEI and BEFAR to have no legitimate use in equine medicine and/or have a high potential for abuse
  • Eg. human antidepressants, antipsychotics, nervous system stimulants, certain NSAIDs, certain corticosteroids, anabolic steroids


  • Commonly used in equine medicine, but should only be used outside of competition
  • The horse’s system must be clear of any controlled medications at the time it competes.

Natural prohibited substances 

Some natural products, although not appropriate for competition, still have a role to play within equine welfare and therefore are still available as natural supplements. While herbs such as Valerian, a natural sedative, are well-known and rightly avoided, others are not so well-known. Those particularly to be aware of include Chilli Pepper and Devil’s Claw, if either of these substances are found in a horses sample this will result in a positive test. Care should always be taken when giving any supplements.

How can I find out if the medication, feed or supplement I give to my horse contains any Prohibited Substances?

All ingredients of the supplements you wish to use must be checked against the FEI’s Equine Prohibited Substances List (EPSL). In some instances it may be necessary to contact the manufacturer of the product for a full list of the product’s ingredients.

For all equestrian disciplines besides racing, the FEI Prohibited Substances list is followed, and there is an online searchable database supplied by the FEI that allows you to check ingredients. Simply check the label and input the ingredients into the search bar. As an example, if we search for ‘Glucosamine Sulphate’, used in quality joint supplements, you get a negative result, i.e. ‘Your search returned no results.’ However, if we search for ‘Valerian’ it appears as a prohibited substance.

When using the database, the chemical name of the substances must be entered, rather than colloquial names, trade names or other terminology. Metabolites and substances with a similar chemical structure or biological effect to the substances listed on the EPSL are also considered as Prohibited Substances. 

For either result, if you’re in any doubt check with the product’s manufacturer, who should be able to give you further guidance. 

Devil’s Claw was added to the list of Prohibited Substances in January 2016 as the FEI recognised the active constituent, Harpagoside, to be a natural anti-inflammatory. However, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have its uses. Devil’s Claw products are great for maintaining comfort in the joints of older or retired horses. Of course, competing horses should not be fed Devil’s Claw products. If competition horses are on a yard, we’d advise keeping any Devil’s Claw products in the medicine cabinet and well away from feed to avoid any confusion. 
Non-ingested banned substances

Don’t forget to check applications as it’s not just through feed or supplements that riders can fall foul of the rules. One high-profile case at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games saw Germany lose its team show jumping gold medal as one of their horses had a positive result after a topical rub had been used on it.    

Accidental contamination

Once we’ve identified those ingredients we definitely can’t compete on and we make sure they’re not in the product we’ve chosen, doesn’t that mean it’s definitely safe to compete on? Unfortunately not. The biggest risk of getting a positive test comes from accidental contamination. Accidental contamination may arise from a number of routes. Here are just a couple:

Example 1 – raw material supplier: Feed or supplement manufacturers will likely purchase their specialist ingredients from a herb and spice supplier. Imagine that supplier also supplies the baking industry, so may stock ingredients like cocoa or coffee. They only need to use a holding bin that previously held cocoa and cross contamination can easily occur. Laboratories can detect contamination at levels equivalent to one teaspoon in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, so the slightest mistake may cause an issue. Manufacturers have to be so careful.

Example 2 – harvest contamination: Imagine a grain lorry arriving at a feed mill. That lorry may contain 16 tonnes of oats. However, if some white poppy seeds had blown over from the hedgerow and got into the load during the harvest, then just a few of those seeds would be sufficient for a positive morphine test. Until recently, white poppies were widely grown in the UK for medication production, so it’s a considerable risk. Those seeds would not be evenly distributed throughout the oats, rather they are likely to be sitting in a discrete pocket in part of the load. No matter how many samples are taken and tested, the seeds could easily be missed.

When you consider all the risks, particularly the issue of discrete rather than even contamination, you can see why responsible feed and supplement manufacturers do their very best to manage rather than eliminate risk. As manufacturers, we know riders want to hear that a product is ‘100 per cent guaranteed safe’. Unfortunately, it simply isn’t a responsible claim to make. We would advise caution against any manufacturer making such a claim, as it suggests they don’t really understand the risks – and not understanding the risks is the biggest risk of all.  

If it’s not enough just to check ingredients and manufacturers can’t offer a total guarantee, what can we tell riders? What the serious competitor needs to do is collect their own independent evidence of the rigorous checks. 

How feed manufacturers are monitored 

Luckily, there is a scheme that competitors can trust to reduce the risks. Working in conjunction with globally-recognised quality audit bodies, BETA (British Equestrian Trade Association) launched the BETA NOPS Code back in 2009. This is an assurance scheme to reduce the risk of accidental contamination by Naturally Occurring Prohibited Substances (NOPS). The prohibited substances they are particularly looking for include the following (although please note this is not an exclusive list. Source in brackets):

  • Caffeine (coffee)
  • Theobromine (chocolate)
  • Theophylline (tea)
  • Morphine (opium poppy, Papaver somniferum)
  • Hyoscine (nightshade, Datura)
  • Hordenine (germinating barley)
  • Atropine (nightshade, Atropa belladonna)
  • Nicotine (tobacco)

These are NOPS that could conceivably get into the horse’s feed chain either directly from the feed being grown, such as hordenine on barley, but also from cross contamination, such as the morphine in poppies. You can see how ill-advised it would be to enjoy a cup of coffee and a chocolate biscuit in the feed room!

The BETA NOPS Code ensures all materials used are risk assessed, all suppliers are carefully chosen and all manufacturing processes are carefully controlled to minimise the risk of NOPS contamination from farm to shop. At NAF, we check every batch of every raw material and every end product. 

Checking that any feed or supplement for competition horses and ponies carries the NOPS logo should reassure owners, producers and trainers that everything possible has been done to minimise the risk from accidental contamination.

Owners, riders and producers have their own role to play in feed safety for competing horses. Anyone handling feed/ supplements or dealing with veterinary matters for competing horses should be aware of the risks and take suitable precautions, such as keeping snacks away from horse feed and keeping any medications separate and cleaning buckets after every use.

For further information about how you can reduce the risk on your yard, see the BETA guide to avoiding prohibited substances online here.
Find out more about anti-doping testing at events here.