The use of racehorse medications and importance of owner education were among the topics discussed during a trainer panel comprised of Kellyn Gorder, Tom Proctor, and Phil Sims at the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit at Keeneland Oct. 16.
In light of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's recent approval of an administrative regulation that would ban the use of furosemide on race-day in graded and listed stakes, the Kentucky-based trainers shared their thoughts on the subject.
Both Proctor and Sims proclaimed they were in favor of the use of furosemide, an anti-bleeding medication also known as Lasix or Salix.
Under the regulation—which now must make its way through a lengthy legislative review process—furosemide would not be permitted in graded or listed stakes for 2-year-olds in 2014. The prohibition would expand until it includes all horses in graded or listed stakes in Kentucky by 2016.
"Horses do bleed, and Lasix does help that," said Sims, who claims he has never had an owner request him to take his or her horse off the medication. "(Lasix) is a hot topic right now...I don't use a lot of medication, but Lasix is one thing I use every day. I'm going to bet with a lot of confidence on horses that do run with Lasix versus those that don't run on Lasix."
Proctor said while he is also pro-Lasix, he tries to give his horses time to adjust to racing before deciding whether they regularly need the medication. He added that he had witnessed many cases of trainers overusing the drug by giving their horses multiple injections prior to races.
The bronchodilator clenbuterol, which has been rumored to be misused for its anabolic steroid properties, was also discussed.
Both Sims and Proctor said they use the drug sparingly and only for therapeutic purposes. In California, the withdrawal time for clenbuterol was recently restricted to at least 21 days before races, a move Proctor doesn't agree with.
"You might as well not use it at all," he said, indicating that some trainers might start running horses in a compromised state of health without the aid of the drug. "I do think there needs to be some withdrawal time, but I'd say you need more like five days."
Added Gorder: "In some cases (clenbuterol) is misused. If you have a stable of 100 horses and every horse is on it every day, that's probably a little sketchy. But it is a therapeutic drug. If a horse comes back (from a race) and scopes bad, you want to get him cleaned up and get him back (to racing)."
The three trainers indicated they had also suspected misuse in medications during sales, judging from the unnatural muscle mass in some of the young horses. There are currently no strict rules in place against using specific medications in horses at auction.
Proctor added that the stress a young horse is put through while preparing for a sale—especially a 2-year-old in training sale—can have a major effect on the animal in the future.
"A lot of horses have been through three sales before they even get a saddle on their back," said Proctor. "I prefer a horse that has never been through a sale; they ruin a lot of horses. The horses I get from 2-year-old in training sales, some of them might be really prominent and you'll hear about those, but the other 80-90% might be destroyed."
Other instances of poor horsemanship in which the health and safety of the horse was being compromised were also discussed.
"You can detect (poor horsemanship) when a horse looks ragged, has bad exercise riders, or is always out of control," said Proctor. "Certain outfits tend to have horses that always act bad in the gate and in the paddock, are always running over you (in the morning), and are always in the wrong spot."
Proctor added that he had also witnessed poor horsemanship in terms of trainers overworking a horse.
Another topic brought up during the panel was how trainers can better educate owners about correct horsemanship while maintaining a positive owner-client relationship.
"The owners and bettors are the business," said Proctor. "If you take the time to explain things to them and if they spend time at your barn, they can see if you are a good horseman and how (the industry) works. The more they're in it, the better horsemen they will become."
Added Sims: "We tell them not to be afraid to ask questions. We tell them what we're doing and why."
Earlier in the seminar, Proctor noted that Thoroughbred owners don't seem as sharp or educated as they used to be. "When a horse becomes a commodity, it becomes a problem," he said.
Other topics discussed included the use of equipment, which the trainers agreed that "less is better most of the time." They additionally talked about how to know when a horse is ready to be retired and listening to the animal's needs.
"The horse comes first, always," said Sims.
"The horse will tell you when it wants to retire," added Proctor. "Sometimes it's physical, sometimes it's mental."
In an earlier session led by Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, who founded the North American Racing Association, the proper use of a riding crop was discussed.
McCarron noted how throughout his career, he had been fined 12 different times for misuse of the whip. "I used to think my job was to make the horses run, but really it was just to coax the horse to run," he said.
McCarron said the biggest problems with the whip are overuse, as well as the placement of the object on a horse's body—it should be used on the horse's rump, not its flank, belly, or girth.
"We need to give the chance for the horse to respond and give him the opportunity to recognize what you're asking," he said. "What I'm trying to teach my students at NARA is to use the crop in the right way so we don't leave welts or cut a horse's tissue."
McCarron said he is not an advocate for taking the whip away or limiting the number of strikes, but rather educating people in its proper use.
"I'm not interested in banning it because I've run a lot of horses in my career that have the tendency of pulling themselves up when they make the lead," he explained. "If I don't have the opportunity to encourage him with the stick, then we're compromising the opportunities for the owner and the trainer."