Valerie Kanavy, a leading figure in the movement to improve welfare in FEI endurance, has been suspended for 12 months after a horse she trains, Fine Cut Gold, tested positive for the banned substance capsaicin.

Under the “strict liability” process, Kanavy is accountable, because in FEI endurance a horse’s registered trainer is now automatically joined with the rider in proceedings related to banned substances – a rule change Kanavy herself supported.

Valerie Kanavy. (Valerie Kanavy Facebook)

She was suspended by the FEI Tribunal for 12 months, and fined 3,500 Swiss francs. The mare’s rider, Alex Shampoe, was also suspended for 12 months but fined a reduced amount of 1,500 Swiss francs, due to her age (20) and low level of blame. The pair have already completed the 12-month suspension period, as it was credited against time served when provisional suspensions were imposed last year.

The US’s two-time endurance world champion pointed out the irony of her situation, having been a member of the special committee set up by the FEI to re-write the endurance rules in 2018.

Kanavy’s horses were selected for sampling during the New Jersey under 21’s 160km ride in October 2021, where Fine Cut Gold was ridden by Shampoe, who works at Kanavy’s Gold Medal Farms. During the ride their hamstrings were massaged with an arnica product, a long standing practice. The barn has returned “hundreds” of negative tests in FEI competition over the years so both riders and trainer were horrified by Fine Cut Gold’s positive result, especially as their other horses massaged with the same product on tested negative.

Kanavy actively cooperated with investigations, and quickly established the source as a roll-on version of the trouble-free arnica cream she had used for 30 years. On this occasion the usual tube was sold-out in her local Walmart. Because Kanavy was preoccupied with how much liquid could be extracted from the roll-on version available, she failed to notice capsaicin on the ingredients label.

“Stupidly, ignorantly, embarrassingly, I did not even think to look at or check the label to see if the formula or ingredients had changed,” said Kanavy. “Capsaicin is not a product that we have ever intentionally purchased nor can be found in our stable except for the roll-on cream I purchased by mistake.” She was not sure she would have recognized capsaicin as a negative ingredient since it was something she had never used. It is an analgesic with hypersensitizing properties.

Kanavy explained that she has spent “many hours, actually years, working with the rules and building a program to make the sport of endurance both safe for horses and respected for the athletic abilities and training necessary to ride horses long distances safely.” She felt it was truly ironic that she was “part of the committee that strengthened and expanded the ‘person responsible’ part of the drug rules, which was the right thing to do and should be expanded to all the FEI disciplines.”

She also continuously works within USEF and inevitably after the positive test was first notified last year, she was suspended and removed from USEF committees and boards.

The FEI Tribunal was shown extensive evidence of the attention to detail applied at Kanavy’s barns in Virginia and Florida, with top level veterinary advice, in order to field clean horses and avoid contamination.

Shampoe said: “Valerie has taught me how to manage the horses and how much hard work goes into caring for, training, and competing top level equine athletes. Her horses have the best care and are competed based on their abilities. This whole experience has been devastating to me, to my friends and family because they all know that it was an accident.

“We do our best to make sure that we keep our environment at the stable and the competitions as well as the horses clean. Competing at the top well, knowing that our horses are clean, and knowing that our horses are physically and mentally fit, is much more rewarding than doing so knowing that rules were broken, or the horse’s welfare was compromised. For me, my horse will always come first, and I am sure that I will be even more diligent in the future than I already am in making sure that everything is triple checked before it is used, even if we use it all the time.”

FEI doping regulations allow for no suspension to be imposed if those involved can show they bore “no fault or negligence.” In this case the Tribunal found that while unintentional, the doping violation could have been avoided. This meant Kanavy and Shampoe bore “no significant fault or negligence” which allowed for a reduction from the standard two-year tariff for a first offence with a banned substance.

The FEI Tribunal accepted Kanavy had made an “honest mistake” and credited her for admitting the violation the same day she was notified. It did though reject expert evidence that suggested Fine Cut Gold’s urine could have splashed on her tail or hindlegs during collection and thereby contaminated by the topical product. The FEI said the capsaicin detected was in its metabolised form.