Dope testing of FEI riders is set to increase further in 2019, with blood tests introduced for the first time.

Dr Peter Whitehead, chair of the FEI medical committee, announced the new strategy at the FEI General Assembly in Bahrain, in response to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) requirements.

He explained that blood tests may help detect, for instance, stimulants and other substances that promote oxygen flow which are difficult or “impossible” to isolate in urine samples. He acknowledged that prolonged stamina was desired by athletes as well as horses, citing endurance as an example.

He also urged people with suspicions about recreational drug use to advise the FEI legal department in confidence so that officials can target- test. The clean sport programme already tests a substantially greater proportion of riders out of competition than it tests horses.

So far this year 214 rider samples have been taken, 42 of them out of competition. There has been one positive for an anabolic steroid.

While it was not mentioned in Dr Whitehead’s presentation, last fall there were three human positives for amphetamine all from the same eventing competition in Florida. Dr Whitehead reported that in the first quarter of 2018 there were more applications for Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) than received throughout the whole of 2017, which he attributed to the FEI’s education programme and greater awareness that anti-doping applies to human athletes too.

Dr Whitehead was asked about the status of cannabis, now variously allowed for medical and recreational use in some jurisdictions. He underlined that the constituents of cannabis were on the FEI prohibited list, and that while someone with a legitimate need may apply for a TUE – as some already have – “strong medical evidence” is required.

“We always remind our athletes that even if it is approved through WADA, still need to be aware in some countries it is illegal to have cannabis with them, and also that the constituents stay in your system for quite a long period.”

Dr Whitehead also stressed that national federations are not yet fully engaged in the monitoring of concussion. While eventing had a “very good” feedback system, an enhanced online reporting tool has been developed for all disciplines.

“If people see something that doesn’t seem quite right, say so,” he urged. “Concussion can be very subtle.” Dr Whitehead also felt that driving grooms were at “great risk.”

Most injuries occur handling horses from the ground. He was medical chief at the Olympic Games of London 2012, where his very first case involved a handler struck in the face while unloading.

His committee continues to recommend wearing approved helmets at all times when mounted, whatever discipline. Delegates were reminded that a proposal for helmets to be worn during horse inspections has been rejected by the General Assembly in the past. Dr Whitehead said it was up to riders to know their horse and to wear a helmet if they felt at all at risk in a trot-up.