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World Cup Athlete Disqualified for Hypersensitivity

Posted April 28, 2010 10:21 AM by SavvyExacta

Athletes at the highest levels of most sports face drug testing at one time or another. This includes the equine athletes that compete in horse racing and equestrian sports like show jumping. The show jumping portion of the 2010 World Cup was recently held in Geneva where U.S. representative McLain Ward and his horse Sapphire competed and led as of Friday, April 16. At that point, Sapphire's legs were tested for hypersensitivity.

What is Hypersensitivity?

Hypersensitivity occurs when nerve sensation is higher than normal. There are many causes, ranging from insect bites to performance enhancement; the latter is usually suspected when it is discovered at a competition.

Some riders and trainers will resort to just about any method to be the best, including using unethical techniques to achieve maximum performance. While the World Cup is obviously an important competition, the feather-light poles on nearly flat cups and heights of over five feet appear in jump courses at grand prix competitions around the world.

In order to leave the rails in the jump cups, there are some methods that can be used to make the horses not want to touch the rails with their legs because it hurts. One such method is to apply irritants to the legs. Another is to place spikes inside the boots that would normally protect the horse's legs. A different type of method is to ride the horse to the jump badly in practice, causing it to hit a very hard rail – this is called poling. The horse will remember the pain and not want to hit a rail again.

All of the aforementioned methods are illegal in competitions and perpetrators can be banned for life. One such example is Ward's own father.

Testing Sapphire

Ward and Sapphire are top athletes, and together the pair has won two Olympic gold medals. According to the sport's governing body, the Federation Equestre International (FEI), confidential information was received indicating that Sapphire should be tested for hypersensitivity. The tests used were as follows:

  1. Two thermo-imaging scans of the forelegs. These look for abnormalities – bruises and heat – that would indicate damage to the legs. Some sensitivity was found, but the horse was declared fit to continue after the first round of jumping.
  2. The forelegs were tested using a tap test after the second round of jumping to see if a reaction was found. The horse would move the leg if it hurt, just as a person would jerk away when a bruise is tapped. According to the U.S. veterinarian, he saw Sapphire tapped 24 times on the left foreleg (with four responses) and 33 times on the right (with three responses).

The World Cup vets disqualified Sapphire based on the responses to the right foreleg. No evidence of malpractice was found by Ward or his team.

Standardization in Testing

The tap-test seems to be less scientific than the thermo-imaging scans; tap-tests appear to be subjective. It appears to be a difference of one reaction that disqualified the horse. What if she reacted because the continuous taps were causing bruising? The thermo-imaging scan is a non-invasive way to test.

What do you think?

Resources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/21/sports/21riding.html?src=me

http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=16200

http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/sapphire-disqualified-rolexfei-world-cup-final

http://www.chronofhorse.com/sites/default/files/Protocol_for_Thermography_1.pdf

http://www.equisearch.com/equiwire_news/nancy_jaffer/world_cup_finals_preview_041209/ (image)

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#1

Re: World Cup Athlete Disqualified for Hypersensitivity

04/28/2010 10:38 PM

It's all a bit abstract for some one who only paints horses

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#2

Re: World Cup Athlete Disqualified for Hypersensitivity

04/29/2010 12:07 AM

If someone is trying to tap on my leg 24 to 33 times, by the time they get to 12 or 15, if not sooner, I'm going to try and kick their butt.

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#3

Re: World Cup Athlete Disqualified for Hypersensitivity

04/29/2010 3:22 AM

What a daft test! I'm with you on that Jaguar

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#4
In reply to #3

Re: World Cup Athlete Disqualified for Hypersensitivity

04/29/2010 5:50 AM

If I tap my cat's paws more than 2 or 3 times, she moves them. If I continue, she "taps" me back. Does that mean she should be disqualified?

Jag & Mr TB - I agree. I can't think of any animal that would stand for that...perhaps they should use a cow as a control animal?

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#5

Re: World Cup Athlete Disqualified for Hypersensitivity

04/29/2010 7:08 AM

Equestrians agree that the test is unfair.

As of today over 5,800 are members of the We Support McLain Ward and Sapphire Facebook group.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: World Cup Athlete Disqualified for Hypersensitivity

04/29/2010 8:28 AM

that is so subjective, an example of bad methodology.

I remember in the times I practiced Show Jumping the cups were deep and a horse got a 'healthy' rap hitting it and usually was quick to keep the legs up on the next fence.

I think it was fair at that time, and I still think so.

The cups nowadays are too shallow, although they were too deep then leading to falls and dismounted (and sometimes injured) riders.

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#7

Re: World Cup Athlete Disqualified for Hypersensitivity

04/29/2010 9:21 AM

What scientific device was used to ensure that the force used for the 'Tap' was exactly the correct and consistent amount?

What were the results of EVERY OTHER HORSE receiving also EXACTLY 33 OF THE SAME TAPS?

Now if I were a world-class athlete of ANY kind and someone 'tapped' any part of me 33 times looking for a reaction, they'd get one IN THE FACE.

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: World Cup Athlete Disqualified for Hypersensitivity

04/29/2010 9:58 AM

This FEI-produced video explains the process. They do talk more about imaging than tapping though.

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#9

Re: World Cup Athlete Disqualified for Hypersensitivity

04/29/2010 7:21 PM

The tap test seems way to arbitrary and suspicious for a high potential for bias that favors corruption in the sport governance. Is there a standard by which they quantify the frequency, numnber and force of the taps. Is there a quantifiable unbiased method by which they can measure the response and scale it. Also, while it might be a bit rough on the horse, using training methods to teach the horse not to hit the pole seem more of an issue of training and not competition. So what if they used an electrode or some other punishment for hitting the bar, is there a terst for that? What if the animal is naturally particularly sensitive and just a highly competitive animal that tries to perform better. this really has an air of some BS method of disqualifying specific animals on the basis of some judges or members personal preferences, likes or dislikes.

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