"The use of medication in horses competing at equestrian events is a very polarizing topic," said Marjorie W. Miller, DVM, an equine veterinarian from Bradenton, Fla., with 20 years experience in performance horse practice."Some people believe that medication has no place in equestrian sports, and others believe that the judicious use of medication is in the best interest of equine health and welfare."
At the 2010 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 4-8 in Baltimore, Md., Miller discussed medication rules from several equestrian governing bodies as well as the role of veterinarians in equestrian sport.
National and International Rules
Miller began by reviewing the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) medication definitions. A forbidden substance is anything that "contains an ingredient or a drug that might affect the performance of a horse or pony by acting as a stimulant, depressant, tranquilizer, local anesthetic, or psychotropic (a mood- and/or behavior-altering substance), is potentially dangerous to the horse, or interferes with drug detection procedures." By definition, even products claiming to be nontestable at USEF competitions are illegal by virtue of their claims to alter performance.
Restricted substances are medications allowed for use with quantitative limits and "require a medication form to be completed and turned into the appropriate show official." These are the drugs that have the greatest potential for misuse as owners, exhibitors, and trainers mistake "legal" with "safe." Restricted substances include certain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), dexamethasone, and methocarbamol.
In addition to the national governing body's medication rules, Miller discussed how the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) approved its 2011 Prohibited Substance List in early November 2010 at the organization's General Assembly in Chinese Taipei. The list does not allow the use of NSAIDs in competition, but the FEI agreed to provide a greater level of guidance regarding the detection times for the post-event usage of certain NSAIDs, specifically phenylbutazone (Bute) and flunixin meglumine (Banamine), in commonly-used low dosages. The list also bans the use of salicylic acid (the root compound in aspirin) at events.
The Veterinarian's Role
"Veterinarians have a primary role in protecting the health and welfare of the horse, and decisions regarding the dispensing or administration of therapeutic medications should be based upon the specific health concerns of each individual horse," Miller said. "All medication should be dispensed within the context of a valid client-patient relationship."
A valid client-patient relationship requires the veterinarian to take responsibility for medical and treatment judgments for the horse, the client to agree to follow the veterinarian's instructions, the veterinarian to have knowledge of the horse and its medical condition obtained by examination, and the veterinarian to be available for follow-up and have emergency coverage in the event of adverse reactions or failure of the therapy.
"Veterinarians have a responsibility to maintain the integrity of their profession and not dispense bottles of medications just because these medications are 'legal' at the horse show," Miller said.
Miller added that veterinarians are responsible for educating the client about the medications they prescribe and for helping clients understand when medication is safe for the horse to be used in competition.
She also said that she is adamant that "a lame or sick horse should never be asked or allowed to compete, and it is the responsibility of every individual involved in equestrian sport to preserve the health, safety, and welfare of the equine athletes."
Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.