Clifton Eventers owner Frances Stead says the “great cloud” that had been hanging over the team’s head for almost a year had finally been lifted, following the FEI Tribunal decision clearing Jonathan Paget and Kevin McNab of doping their horses at the Burghley Horse Trials.
The provisional suspension of both riders has now been permanently lifted.
“This outcome confirms what we have consistently said since this news broke on October 16 last year – that both Jock and Kevin are two exceptional individuals who are not only very talented and hardworking, but also operate at all times in an ethical and honest way and for whom the welfare of their horses is absolutely paramount,” Stead said.
“It is also great news for the sport of eventing, as it confirms it remains clean of any drug abuse of horses.”
But she also said that as Jock Paget and Clifton Promise were last year the first rider/horse combination for 24 years to win the Badminton-Burghley double, it was extremely sad that because of this case, they could not go on to attempt to win eventing’s ‘Grand Slam’ at Kentucky in 2014.
“In addition, the length of time this has taken has meant Kevin McNab could not prepare Clifton Pinot properly to try to meet Australia’s selection criteria for WEG 2014, and has missed the opportunity of representing his country for the first time at a major championships.”
The decision also clears the way for Paget and Clifton Promise to compete at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in France later this month. They were provisionally named in the New Zealand team, pending the final ruling.
In outlining the FEI’s decision on the case, Stead said the standard set for a “no fault or negligence” ruling by the FEI Tribunal is extremely high – “so much so that there has only been one previous time when a ‘no fault’ ruling has been given for all associated parties, ie, no-one received a ban or penalty.”
“As perspective, there has been an average of 18 cases a year over the last seven years in Europe alone where the FEI has identified a positive drug test for a horse. This confirms how exceptional it is for us to have achieved this ‘no fault’ ruling,” she said.
She said that while it might be argued that the presence of reserpine in an excitable horse’s system could aid performance in the dressage phase, “it would seem very clear that it would be a distinct hindrance for cross-country the next day and indeed for then trying to get a tired horse to showjump clear on the final day.
“The Burghley cross-country course is one of the most physically demanding on a horse in the world, with enormous fences and hilly terrain. Even with a fully alert and talented horse, history shows riders can get seriously injured, even killed during this phase.
“It therefore seems absurd to think any rider would set off across country at Burghley knowing their horse had ingested a long-acting sedative or tranquiliser such as Reserpine in the days prior! This would seem absolute madness for a rider and, whilst both Jock and Kevin are extremely brave, they are not mad!”
Stead noted that both riders had used the supplement at the centre of the case – LesstressE, manufactured by Trinity Consultants - for several years on horses who stress whilst away from home or in a competition environment.
“They have been using it with Clifton Promise and Clifton Pinot respectively at all major FEI competitions since they each arrived in the UK.
“Clifton Promise has been tested by the FEI whilst being given LesstressE on four previous occasions, including at Badminton 2013. Clifton Pinot has similarly been FEI tested once before whilst using the supplement. In all cases the test results were negative.”
Stead also pointed out that a rider would know they were “increasing their chances of injury and possibly death by intentionally giving reserpine to their horse in the days before they set off on the Burghley cross country”.
“This rare ‘no fault or negligence’ ruling by the FEI Tribunal totally vindicates Jock Paget and Kevin McNab, along with Clifton Eventers and anyone else involved with these horses, from any wrong doing. The great cloud that has been over everyone’s heads for almost a year now has finally been lifted.
“Now at least we can all focus on the future. Kevin and Clifton Pinot are aiming to shine at Burghley. Before that, however, Jock and Clifton Promise will try to show the world what a great combination they are by aiming to win Gold at WEG 2014 in three weeks’ time.”
She call on the equestrian community to support both riders, given everything they had been through in the past year.
“There are certainly none more deserving of success than these two exceptional individuals.”
At a hearing before the FEI Tribunal in early June, Paget’s provisional suspension was lifted pending the release of the final ruling. Paget has since competed at several events in the UK.