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Letter from US Equestrian President Murray Kessler

by US Equestrian Communications Department | Feb 1, 2018, 8:00 AM EST

Dear Fellow Members,

We just finished our Annual Meeting in Lexington, Kentucky where we reported on the great results of the first year of our Strategic Plan.  I was happy to report that we grew membership for the first time in years, increasing almost 30% to over 105,000 members.  We also reported strong financial results, growing financial reserves, 23 signed and/or re-signed sponsors, new initiatives launched to strengthen the developmental pathway for horses and riders, increased access to our sport across all disciplines, and we had one of the greatest years ever for the United States in international and national sports competition.  All very positive news!

Unfortunately, I was extremely disappointed to report that we had a serious error in our laboratory’s handling of a blood sample that left me no choice but to vacate the penalties on a high profile doping case.  The respondents in that case requested that our laboratory test the “B” sample instead of the Maddy Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory based in CA.  As was previously disclosed, mistakes took place in the handling and preparation of the “B” blood sample.  By our rules, if the “B” sample does not substantially confirm the “A” sample result, then the case is dismissed.

What I found most upsetting about this situation was not the fact that a lab technician made a mistake, but rather that this information was not disclosed outside of the laboratory to management, our legal team, or the Hearing Committee. Our legal team learned about these errors from opposing counsel, who disclosed this mistake and others. This is simply not okay, and requires significant and immediate corrective action to restore confidence in USEF’s drug testing program. The following comprehensive actions have already been taken or have begun:

  1. Laboratory Staffing Changes – Upon evaluation of the facts revealed in this case, we concluded that certain staffing changes were necessary and those have been implemented, including several changes in laboratory leadership.
  2. Full Lab Assessment – As previously announced, we are conducting a comprehensive assessment of the laboratory and its procedures.  We have identified several outstanding and independent professionals from Europe to perform this function.  The scope of the assessment includes making recommendations on best practices, identifying any deficiencies so that immediate corrective measures can be taken, and evaluating the skills of the personnel to ensure we are maximizing every employee’s potential and capabilities and have no skill gaps in the team.
  3. “B” Sample Testing Procedure Change – USEF will still give members the option to have their “B” sample tested, however, USEF’s laboratory will no longer be an option for conducting this testing.  One of the things I learned so far is how different “B” sample testing is from “A” sample testing.  USEF tests approximately 8,500 “A” blood samples per year.  Over the past ten years, the USEF Lab has tested approximately 85,000 “A” blood samples which come into the lab and remain refrigerated before processing.  “B” samples undergo a different process for testing because they are frozen for a period of time until they are pulled for testing.  Here’s the surprising part.  USEF has only tested a few “B” samples in the last 10 years.  Most people in the USEF lab have never handled a “B” sample.  Why is that?  Simple.  Almost everyone wants their “B” sample tested at a different laboratory than where the “A” sample was tested.  Therefore, they do not request USEF to test the “B” sample.  Eliminating the USEF option immediately rules out the possibility of this mistake happening again.
  4. Sample tracking – Our team met with a consultant last week regarding the development and installation of a new upgraded sample tracking system that will electronically document the chain of custody of every sample that is delivered to the lab, from inception until it’s discarded.  In the meantime, we are putting in place additional documentation controls for our existing tracking system to ensure all of our documentation requirements are completed for every sample.
  5. Laboratory Strategic Planning Task Force – As I announced at our Annual Meeting, I have appointed Tom O’Mara to chair a task force to do a strategic review of our laboratory including an evaluation of whether USEF should outsource it.  Tom has decades of experience working on the institutional trading floor of a number of global investment banks.  He has successfully managed risks through extreme market cycles.  He will lead a thorough cost-benefit analysis and will provide a report to the Board no later than the Mid-Year meeting in June 2018.
  6. Drug Sample Collection – We have expanded our evaluation to include drug sample collection.  This will include a change in the type of kits the Testing Teams use as well as conducting additional training for the testing teams, including one-on-one training, to ensure the protocols are well understood and followed and to ensure a positive interaction between the exhibitor and testing team. In addition, USEF will provide opportunities at competitions for members to witness sample collection while the process is explained.
  7. Employee Whistleblower Policy – As I already stated, it was the lack of disclosure that most upset me in this process.  We must have an environment where employees report to leadership anything they think violates USEF policies and procedures or is otherwise improper.  This program already exists but needs reinforcing.  This is underway.
  8. Integrity Program – Finally, we are excited to announce that today we are launching an Integrity Program that will provide members with the opportunity to report issues in the field regarding testing as well as intelligence regarding conduct and practices that are contrary to the USEF rules and regulations.  Those reports should be directed to [email protected]

As I said when I volunteered for this job one year ago, “Getting Our Own House in Order” was the first step in our Strategic Plan.  This is a great example of what I meant.  I hope the actions above reassure you that we are fixing the mistakes that were identified in our laboratory.  I also hope we have demonstrated that Bill Moroney, CEO, his leadership team and the Board will always operate with integrity and in fairness to all members.  Importantly, our commitment to ridding our sport of cheaters and abusers remains fully intact.  The Board, Management and I will not relent on this paramount objective.  We made great progress in this area in 2017 with a 22 percent decline in positive doping tests.  That change, combined with all of the great results USEF is having, bode well for our organization’s future.

We will continue to give you updates on the lab and our actions to ensure this program operates in accordance with policies and procedures and regains your confidence.  We have much to do to “Share the Joy of Horse Sports with as Many People as Possible” as we go in to year two of our Strategic Plan.  We look forward to going through this journey together with our membership and doing so with the utmost integrity.

Sincerely,

Murray S. Kessler, President