Just when I thought I was finally going to get a chance to talk about the Blainville CDIs – where I am writing this from, for heaven’s sake – Isabell went and got herself busted. I can already hear the crashing sound of myths shattering around the globe. The news of Isabell’s horse Whisper testing positive to a doping substance – a substance that was apparently administered in the past to wild animals so that they wouldn’t die of shock while being captured and transported – is creating its own kind of shock in the dressage world, for several reasons:

1. It’s been a fairly clean sport until now. Not squeaky, but almost – I think everyone has pretty much agreed that the positive test on Mythilus in Hong Kong was a big bit of bad luck, but innocent. So apart from Rusty’s test for ‘ointment’ and his subsequent loss of the 2003 WC title, there hasn’t been a whole lot of dopin’ goin’ on in DQ Land. But now one of the sport’s great heroines and role models has been caught. (Sound of plate crashing on floor)

2. Timing – could she have picked a worse time to make this bad decision? Maybe giving something to Satchmo during the Olympics would be close, but to get caught right after the German federation announces a crackdown, and after she is quoted as saying that she considers herself accountable only to the horse’s owner for disclosure of what she puts in or on the horse? (Sound of someone getting up from the table with the tablecloth stuck in his zipper)

3. Nature of the substance – I just looked up fluphenazine on my favourite unauthorized source for everything, Wikipedia. Here is what it says:

Fluphenazine: Typical antipsychotic used for the treatment of psychoses such as schizophrenia and acute phases of bipolar disorder. It belongs to the piperazine class of phenothiazines and is extremely potent; more potent than haloperidol and around fifty to seventy times the potency of chlorpromazine.

Its main use is as a long acting injection given once every two or three weeks to people with schizophrenia who have a poor compliance with medication and suffer frequent relapses of illness. Its side effect profile is similar to haloperidol, namely predominantly dopamine-blocking effects which give rise to akathisia, Parkinsonism and tremor. Long term side effects include the potentially irreversible tardive dyskinesia and the potentially fatal neuroleptic malignant syndrome.

Is Isabell hanging her Swiss vet out to dry or did he really tell her the drug has a 6 day life span in the blood stream? If the horse has shivers, why on earth would you give it a drug whose potential side effect is ‘tremor’? In fact, the indication of the drug is for mental illness,not physiological symptoms along the lines of shivers. And how about those long term side effects? (Sound of car driving through plate glass window into a china store)

4. Nature of horse’s condition – if Whisper indeed suffers from shivers, then why is the horse competing at all? Shivers is an awful affliction, and it has no effective treatment, never mind a cure. Here is a snippet from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine’s website:

The prognosis for affected individuals is generally unfavorable to poor because the disease is usually slowly progressive. In a horse with shivers, the tendency is for the spasms to increase in both frequency and severity. The long-term prognosis for athletic function is grave. Eventually, shivers may result in death or euthanasia because of profound weakness, muscle wasting, and apparent discomfort, and incapacitation associated with episodic muscle cramping.

I’m sitting here at a CDI in Canada that by German standards would probably be considered a small show. I’ve seen many, many good horses this week, and a few outstanding ones – and this is only Canada, which is a hockey country, not a horse country. Surely a rider such as Isabell Werth, and an owner such as Madeleine Winter-Schulze have adequate resources and horse flesh at their disposal that they are not forced into taking a horse with an incurable neuromuscular syndrome into competition. If Isabell was clutching at straws when she blamed shivers, or if something vital has been lost in translation (such as if by ‘shivers’ she meant ‘spookiness’), and the horse simply has a behavioural problem, then perhaps the doping is less reprehensible. Probably not. It’s like differentiating between undercooking the chicken or overspicing it. They both result in a feeling of nausea. (Sound of semi-trailer loaded with crystal wine glasses being dropped from a height of 50 meters)

What’s also stunning about this event is that so far it’s been a non-event as far as FEI Communications has been concerned. There has been nary a peep from Mission Control, in spite of the fact that even the hearing that followed Isabell’s temporary suspension is now a day old. I do trust Astrid Appels and I think she is pretty responsible with making sure her sources are reliable. But it would be so nice to get a press release from the FEI, just so that we can be sure of the facts….by the way, I recommend a visit to http://www.eurodressage.com/ as an excellent starting point if today’s blog was news to you. And if Isabell’s suspension IS news to you, here is something else you might have missed this week: Michael Jackson died.

Tomorrow I PROMISE I will get you up to speed on the activities here in Blainville, including tales of meeting Cees Slings. Here’s a photo to prove he was really here last week.