A year ago at the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s annual meeting, headlines were made by the announcement that hunter rider Kelley Farmer and trainer Larry Glefke were hit with whopping fines and long suspensions after a horse shown by Farmer in July 2016 tested positive for GABA, a calming supplement.
At this year’s meeting, which got under way yesterday in Lexington, Kentucky, the headlines were made by another blockbuster announcement: That Glefke and Farmer had been reinstated, rolling back to July 1, 2017, and the organization “was voiding the proceeding from the outset.”
It was a head-spinning development, calling into question the integrity of the federation’s vaunted laboratory and USEF’s testing program that is a cornerstone of its mission.
Although an arbitrator was supposed to conduct a full hearing in February, USEF decided not to go forward with that, but it moved ahead on another front.
“Step one is there’s going to be a massive audit,” USEF President Murray Kessler said in an interview as he started the second year of his term.
He was quick to add, “I still stand behind that I’m going to get cheaters out of this organization. But when I stand up and say somebody’s a cheater, I’ve got to be able to rely on the evidence. And the evidence has to be pristine.”
At the same time, he emphasized, “I have to treat every member in the organization fairly.”
He believes that what happened in the lab is “not a repeatable mistake; it’s just stupidity. It’s not a process mistake or a machinery mistake. It was a mistake in the preparation of the sample for testing. Why did that mistake happen and why did it take so long for that to come out?”
Despite the difficult situation, Kessler has not lost focus. The mantra of this annual meeting is “Bringing Joy and Embracing Change.”
Kessler vowed, “I will clean up the industry. Our tough stand already has resulted in a 22 percent decline in positive doping tests. So we’re making good headway. I’m proud of the organization, but very disappointed in this. Disappointed is the nicest (word) I can say.”
When the situation was discussed during this morning’s meeting of the veterinary committee, trainer Susie Schoellkopf commented, “This is a major, major flaw. This falls right on this committee. This is as serious as it gets. People are up in arms, and I don’t blame them.”
There are those who have wondered whether it’s wise for U.S. Equestrian to have its own lab, since it is the organization that brings those accused of violating the rules before a hearing committee.
Asked for his thoughts on that, Kessler responded, “Given today’s events, I’ll ask the same question. I will look at everything, including whether we even have a lab. There will be no stone left unturned.”
According to a statement Glefke and Farmer issued today, for the last year, they were “convinced that the USEF GABA samples in this case were flawed and scientifically unreliable, at least as to their horse's tests in this matter.
“This was based on their never having administered GABA nor allowed it to be used with their horse and the aberrant test results … Although complete records were not immediately available before the USEF Hearing in June 2017, what evidence could be collected demonstrated a huge disparity in the GABA level detected in their horse's samples, which called into question their test results.”
While most people charged with violations have the frozen B sample tested at an outside lab, Glefke and Farmer had theirs tested at the USEF lab. Kessler said that as of now, the USEF lab will not be testing B samples.
Despite the question involving the disparity, the USEF Hearing Panel rejected the then-available evidence in June 2017, according to Glefke and Farmer’s statement. But when additional evidence was presented to the arbitrator, he reversed his previous ruling in favor of USEF and ruled that evidence had convinced him Farmer and Glefke would likely prevail in their challenge to the suspensions. He lifted the suspensions immediately.
Glefke and Farmer expressed gratitude that USEF agreed to take this action … but “even more importantly for USEF and its many members, USEF also announced that it was going to conduct `a thorough compliance audit of the laboratory’ and pledged that it will take `any necessary corrective action’ to ensure that what happened to Ms. Farmer and Mr. Glefke never happens again. Ms. Farmer and Mr. Glefke greatly appreciate USEF's planned corrective actions that should lead to a better laboratory process which ensures fair regulation and makes the treatment they have received for the last year impossible in the future for other USEF members to have to endure.”
Farmer and Glefke thanked their legal team of Bonnie Navin, John Pappas, Paul Regensdorf and Michael Romm for building their case that showed errors in USEF's lab procedures related to their samples.