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Equine Canada calls for review of hypersensitivity protocol in show jumping

Canadian rider Tiffany Foster, on her horse Victor, competes in the qualifying round of the equestrian jumping event at the London 2012 Olympic Games August 4, 2012. Foster was disqualified before the team show jumping final on August 5, 2012 because of hypersensitivity in her horse's front leg, a decision team captain Eric Lamaze called "a complete miscarriage of justice". Picture taken August 4, 2012.


Equine Canada is calling for a review of the rules that led to the disqualification of Canadian rider Tiffany Foster's horse at the London Olympics.

Foster's horse Victor was disqualified from the team jumping competition Sunday when he was found to have hypersensitivity in his left front leg due to a small scratch.

While Equine Canada agrees that hypersensitivity testing is in place to protect the fairness of the sport and the welfare of the horses, the organization says further discussion about the rule is needed.

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"In our opinion the horse was fit to compete as he showed no signs of lameness," Canadian Olympic team veterinarian Sylvie Surprenant said Wednesday in a release. "However, the hypersensitivity protocol is such that if the horse is sensitive to the touch, regardless of the cause, the horse is disqualified. While the rules for the hypersensitivity protocol were followed, we believe that there should be a review of this protocol."

The release, which Equine Canada called a "clarification," came a day after the organization issued a statement saying it "fully supported" the hypersensitivity testing protocol, a stand that reportedly angered star Canadian rider Eric Lamaze.

The Canadian team protested the disqualification but it was denied and a devastated Foster was not eligible to compete at the Games.

The issue of hypersensitivity has followed international show jumping for years, since capsaicin — the main ingredient in chili peppers — can be used to make a horse's legs over-reactive to touch and thus jump higher. Several jumping horses were disqualified at the 2008 Olympics for testing positive to capsaicin.

However, jumpers in competition can easily get small leg cuts, and the tests for hypersensitivity don't distinguish between heat in a leg caused by a minor sore or by a foreign substance.

"We feel that further discussion of the hypersensitivity protocol needs to take place in order to ensure a balance is reached between the philosophical intent and the real-world application," Equine Canada president Michael Gallagher said. "Canada looks forward to playing a role in those discussions along with other nations."

Gallagher said Equine Canada, which oversees equestrian sports in Canada, stands behind Foster.

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"Everyone at Equine Canada and the Canadian Olympic team are disheartened and extremely disappointed over the premature ending of Tiffany Foster's Olympic dream, and remain fiercely proud of both her incredible sportsmanship and athletic achievements," said Gallagher.

Lamaze, who coaches Foster, said the suspension made him feel "ashamed" of his sport.

"This is a complete miscarriage of justice," he said Sunday. "Yes, the horse has a little, superficial cut on its coronary band that could have happened in any number of ways.

"The horse was ridden in the morning, and was jumped as part of his exercise routine, with no indication whatsoever that he was uncomfortable. The horse was not bothered by it, and we had no doubts that competing would not have caused any further harm."

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