On Friday June 30, 2017, just a half a day before suspensions were set to go into effect, the US Equestrian Federation issued a formal statement standing by their judgment to penalize trainer Larry Glefke and rider Kelley Farmer for the use of GABA in the hunter Unexpected.
Unexpected, a big Sorrel horse, was found with the drug in its system on July 28, 2016 at the Kentucky Summer Horse Show. Farmer, the owner and rider, was competing with the horse in the Hunter Derby as well as other classes. Glefke was the trainer on record.
GABA, or gama aminobutyric acid, works as an inhibitory neurotransmitter and has been used as a calming agent in horses. It’s mainly known as an ingredient in Carolina Gold—a supplement banned by the USEF in 2012 because, according to the Federation, it doesn’t represent the spirit of the sport.
When the Farmer/Glefke case first broke in January 2017, it made headlines both for the high profile nature of the defendants—Farmer holds 77 hunter derby titles on 30 different horses; Glefke is her long-standing business partner—and for the timing of the suspension. The duo were among the first competitors to be punished under the new stricter doping guidelines set forth by the USEF as of January 1, 2016.
The original hearing for the doping violation was held in November 2016. Neither Glefke nor Farmer attended the proceedings as they allegedly had not been notified of either the GABA violation or the hearing. The USEF, for its part, denied that proper notification protocol had not been followed but granted a rehearing given that it “was the first case in which the new Board of Directors’ approved penalty guidelines were utilized, the extremely serious nature of the violations, and the substantial penalties imposed.”
Now, after an ordeal that took almost a year, the penalties for Farmer and Glefke remain: suspensions and fines.
For Glefke, it is a 24 months suspension and 24,000 dollars. For Farmer, it went up from 12 months and 12,000 dollars after the original hearing to 18 months and 18,000 dollars.
Factoring into the Committee’s verdict, reported the USEF, was “Farmer’s prior reserpine doping offense, as well as Glefke’s prior reserpine doping offense and recent Acepromazine violation coupled with the filing of false medication report forms for several horses at an April 2015 competition.” .
The official Transcripts from the case, available on RateMyPro.com, show meticulous care and consideration on the part of everyone from the Committee and attorneys to the witnesses and respondents. Those witness included Dr. Connie Brown, the veterinarian who took the samples from Unexpected, Dr. Cornelius Uboh, the lab director that tested the samples and several others.
The defense sought to discredit the case by showing a mishandling of the samples. Questioning about procedure, affidavits, and contamination made up most of the first day’s hearing. Everything from what refrigerator each sample was stored, to who witnessed the removal of the safety seals, were all laid out for the Committee to hear.
Overall, the lab professionals and veterinarians in the case demonstrated how careful they were with the samples, despite a few human lapses of memory. Of the two samples in the case, Sample A both tested positive and followed exact protocol. Sample B, however, was called into question. It had to be run through the lab a second time after the first set of results weren’t clear. The issue of a missing vial that was dropped in the shavings also kept popping up throughout the two-day hearing, but it could never be proven.
When Farmer came to the stand, it was hard to ignore her prowess in the hunter ring—she’s one of the most decorated professional hunter riders currently competing on the circuit. Glefke has a similarly impressive career. A member of the USEF since the late 1950s, he has worked with top horses and riders all over the world.
Accolades aside, Farmer denied administering or knowing of anyone who did administer GABA to Unexpected during the horse show. She was also asked if she or Mr. Glefke owned the horse during the incident. After some confusion, it became apparent that she owned Unexpected during the Kentucky Summer Horse Show and again after the case broke. Unexpected had been sold prior to the GABA finding as a Junior show prospect but was returned to the farm.
Glefke was last to take the stand.
Though on the defensive, he was also very familiar with those he was speaking to and noted the good work of both the professionals at the event and USEF. He talked about how he imported Unexpected and how Farmer had been showing him. He too denied even carrying GABA and noted the vial allegedly dropped in the shavings. He also repeatedly brought up how the rain that fell on the 28th of July and how it created chaos inside the barn.
Whether it rains or not, this year’s Kentucky Summer Horse Show will not be a concern for Glefke and Farmer—their suspension began on July 1 of this year.
About the Author
Gretchen Lida is a Colorado native and nonfiction MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago. Her work has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Horse Network, Mud Season Review, and others. She also rides horses and thinks about Aldo Leopold in Wisconsin.