Staying on the right side of forbidden substances rules for competition is becoming more and more difficult. It’s frighteningly easy to break the rules without meaning to and random dope testing is standard at affiliated competitions in all disciplines.

It’s particularly difficult where products to promote calmness are concerned. Calmers can’t work miracles – and to be honest, some people who buy them might be better off giving their horses more turnout time and more work – but in my experience, some products can be useful in certain situations.

I’ve just started hacking out my four-year-old, who I’ve backed over the past few months and who has a lovely attitude. But when the wind’s blowing across our open Fen landscape, there’s a lot for a young horse to put up with and something to help keep her equilibrium seemed like a good idea. In fact, after a ride where we met idiots on racing cycles who refused to slow down and had two deer shoot across the road in front of us, it seemed like a brilliant idea!

Because she isn’t competing, I was able to use Val-Kalm®. It was effective and, as an extra bonus, cost-effective. But because it contains Valerian, it would contravene the banned substances regulations, even though it doesn’t act as a sedative when fed at the recommended amounts. I was happy to use it because I’ve taken herbal tablets containing Valerian when I’ve been stressed and found them helpful – so what a shame I won’t be able to use it for my mare when she starts competing.

Why is Valerian a banned substance? Being cynical, you have to say the reason is that it works. That’s why riders spend a lot of time looking for products that are currently supposed to be legal and why the banned substances list is so long: you can find out more at

We all accept that no horse should be competed on substances which could be used to mask an injury. But when a product helps a horse cope with stress without affecting his reactions in a way that could compromise his safety, where’s the harm?

The much bigger danger is that some people will look for alternatives that, at the moment, slip under the FEI radar but which could actually turn out to be harmful. I’m not talking about the many calmers on the market, but about drugs from the field of human medicine which are known to have been administered. A reliable source told me that some competitors have administered a drug sometimes prescribed for hyperactive children – that may be a debate in its own right, but it certainly shouldn’t be given to horses.

Personally, I’d rather use something that has been formulated by someone I trust, and which my vet is happy with because it’s not being used for competing, than a product where the manufacturers have made vague statements about it being ‘competition legal’ even when they haven’t listed what’s in it.