10 Sep 2021
NOPS and your horse

Naturally Occurring Prohibited Substances & Your Horse

NOPS and your horse

Naturally Occurring Prohibited Substances is “any substance that can exert an effect on a horse”.

A naturally occurring prohibited substance (or NOPS) is one that is either naturally present within certain ingredients or that occurs as a result of inadvertent cross contamination during processing.

Where do they come from?

The main NOPS and their sources are:

Caffeine – (cacao)
Theobromine – (cacao)
Theophylline – (tea)
Morphine – (opium poppy, Papaver somniferum)
Hyoscine – (nightshade, Datura)
Atropine – (nightshade – Atropa belladonna)
Cannabinoids – (Hemp fibre and plant material)

It might come as a surprise to horse owners that coffee and tea can be toxic to horses (it is probably less of a surprise that morphine is).

Although small doses can affect performance, these substances can have other, far more serious consequences.  For instance, coffee and tea contain a stimulant which can cause an irregular heartbeat, while cacao contains a substance that in large doses can cause colic, seizures, and internal bleeding.

Now that the cultivation of poppies in the UK has been ceased, the risk from this type of morphine contamination should reduce in the longer term.

Although unscrupulous deliberate usage of NOPS have been documented in the past, some contamination have occurred more frequently as a result of certain weeds containing these substances naturally, starting to occur more frequently in certain crops used as ingredients in horse feed.

Herbal NOPS

The list of herbal NOPS was introduced in 2016. These are substances either naturally present in certain herbs that could lead to a positive test in competition, or are substances that originate from weed seeds contaminating herbal supplies.

Equine sport regulating bodies all have their own individual approach to banned substances.

Let’s take a look at the FEI (the world governing body for Jumping, Dressage and Para Dressage, Eventing, Driving and Para Driving, Endurance, Vaulting and Reining) and the British Horse racing Authority’s take on this topic.


High Priority NOPS

The substances listed on the high priority herbal list are not permitted in equine feed or supplements.

SubstanceTypical SourceFEI status
DigitoxinFoxglove (Digitalis sp)Banned
Ephedrine/PseudoephedrineEphedra sp.Banned
ReserpineIndian snakeroot,
Devil’s Pepper (Rauvolfia sp.)
Synephrine“Bitter” orange cultivars
(Citrus sp.)

Low Priority NOPS

The substances included in the low priority list are permitted but are limited to horses NOT competing. Inclusion of raw materials that may naturally contain these substances must be highlighted on product packaging together with an indication of a withdrawal period.

SubstanceTypical SourceFEI status
HarpagosidesDevil’s ClawControlled
Salicylic acidWillow bank, Meadow SweetControlled
Valerenic acidValerian

(Valeriana Officinalis)

YohimbineYohimbe tree (Rauvolfia sp.)Controlled

The FEI provides a handy FEI Equine Prohibited Substances Database online tool to help identify which substances are prohibited under FEI regulations:

  • Information such as substance definition, common usage and common trade names are available.
  • The list of trade names is not exhaustive, but it reflects the most popular trade names in certain countries.
  • The trade names used may be different per country therefore it is imperative to always use the database to check for active substances rather than trade names.
  • Please be aware, if a substance has a similar chemical structure or biological effect as a substance on the List, it is also prohibited just as if it were on the List.


By 2014, 2000 substances were banned in British horse racing, including any kind of stimulant, tranquilizer, behavioural modifier, and bronchodilator.

With so many specific drugs banned, knowing what you are allowed to administer to your horse is a bit of a minefield. The list of prohibited substances is extensive and now covers all antihistamines, diuretics, local anaesthetics, masking agents, sex hormones and substances affecting blood coagulation.

In fact, any substance that affects the

  • nervous,
  • cardiovascular,
  • respiratory,
  • musculoskeletal,
  • digestive,
  • urinary,
  • reproductive,
  • blood or
  • endocrine systems are banned in training and competition unless given for medical reasons ahead of race day.

Where natural products do affect a specified body system, they are also regarded as prohibited substances.

BHA Guidance on Prohibited Substances

NOPS At-risk Materials

NOPS At-risk Materials are divided into two categories – “Excluded” and “Sensitive”.

Excluded At-risk Materials must be excluded from feed due to the material being at high risk of containing a high priority or high priority herbal NOPS contaminant.
Sensitive At-risk Materials are materials that may be used, but with caution. This category is in turn divided into two groups.

Excluded List

  • Bakery and biscuit products and by-products, including biscuit meal.
  • Confectionery waste
  • Traded grain screenings (Grain screenings are a by-product of cleaning rice, wheat, barley, or oats for seed. It may include light, broken kernels, weed seeds and chaff etc.)
  • Coffee and tea products and by-products
  • Chocolate products and by-products
  • Herbal raw materials appearing on the high priority herbal list and/or known to contain a banned
  • Analyte e.g. Indian Snakeroot or heads, and straw (which may be pelleted) from opium poppies
  • (Papaver somniferum)

Sensitive A List: Material being at high risk of containing a low priority NOPS or low priority Herbal NOPS contaminant.

  • Lupins
  • Canary reed grass
  • Herbs: Devil’s Claw
  • Willow Bark
  • Meadow Sweet
  • Valerian

Sensitive B List: Material being at low risk of containing a high priority

  • Cereals
  • Cereal by-products
  • Forage products
  • Linseed (added April 2015)

Whilst it is impossible to be absolutely certain that a feed material is completely free from Naturally Occurring Prohibited Substances (NOPS) it is fair to say that the risk can be substantially reduced.

For more information on NOPS, visit the British Equestrian Trade Association

Please note:  The NOPS Code is currently under revision.

Elite Equine Organic Rosehip Supplement NOPS Guarantee

As a company signed up to the BETA-NOPS code, The Rosehip Co. (manufacturer of Elite Equine) is audited against this code every 12 months.  The audit addresses several procedures that must be adhered to, including monitoring and regular assessments of the supply chain, from high up in the Lesotho mountains where our rosehip grows organically, to transport, storage, and processing.

BETA-NOPS certification puts Elite Equine rosehip supplement a giant leap ahead in terms of product safety and customer care in the organic feed and supplements marketplace.

Elite Equine rosehip supplement is not on any prohibited substances list and is safe for use in all FEI and BHA events.

Is your rosehip BETA-NOPS certified?

For more information, or to request your *FREE Elite Equine palatability sample, contact [email protected]

🇺🇸 www.elitequineus.com

FREE delivery to Mainland UK

For more information, contact +44 79 51 999 235

Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm

*FREE to Mainland UK and the Isles


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