South African endurance rider, Gillese De Villiers, has been fined and suspended for six months after her horse tested positive test for phenylbutazone and a related substance at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Normandy last year.
De Villiers has been an endurance rider for 25 years and has completed 18,000km. Until the recent suspension, De Villiers says she has never breached any of the FEI rules.
De Villiers was riding Tra Flama at WEG, a horse she had leased through Spanish connections. Tra Flama vetted out at the second vet gate and later was confirmed positive for the common anti-inflammatory painkiller, phenylbutazone, and its metabolite, oxyphenbutazone. Without proper veterinary clearance, this amounted to a controlled medication rule violation. De Villiers stressed to the tribunal that she had not even seen Tra Flama until August 25 – three days before the world championship race.
The horse’s owners had signed an agreement with the South African federation, which declared that the horse had not been administered with any prohibited substances. De Villiers was adamant she was not responsible for the substance getting into the horse’s system. She even underwent a lie detector test, the results of which indicated no deception.
It transpires it was the owners and another individual who had taken care of the horse’s feeding and care, and who had also taken care of the grooming during the competition. She argued that she had implemented all reasonable preventive measures, but had not been able to thwart what she described as the injustice done to her.
That perceived injustice arises from the strict liability principle that underpins the FEI’s rules as they relate to banned substances and controlled medications.
De Villiers said that principle was to her great disadvantage.