In September, the American Association of Equine Practitioners' (AAEP's) Task Force on Medication in the Non-Racing Performance Horse released its clinical guidelines for veterinarians treating such animals.1 The guidelines are meant to enable practitioners to provide appropriate care of the horses involved in non-racing performance activities.
Welfare for all: The AAEP guidelines emphasize the fact that non-racing horses need the same considerations as those previously outlined for racehorses.
According to the guidelines, the AAEP thinks appropriate treatment of performance horses requires accurate diagnostics and the development of evidence-based therapeutic regimens. There's a concern that some non-racing performance horses are being treated with "under diagnosis and over treatment," and, in addition to veterinary care, "some horses may require periods of decreased activity as part of appropriate medical management."
What seemed most important to the task force was a concern for the well being and best interests of horses and that "the current use of medications to manage competition horses is often permissive and excessive."
Regardless of the treatment regimen, the guidelines state that treatment should be "based on thorough examination, the subsequent development of a differential diagnosis and a thorough understanding of the athletic and scheduling demands of the particular discipline in which the horse participates."
Task force member Scott Palmer, VMD, Dipl. ABVP, New Jersey Equine Clinic, Millstone Twp, N.J., notes, "When the AAEP Executive Committee reviewed the clinical guidelines created by the Racing Committee, it felt those concepts were applicable and relevant to other sport-horse disciplines. There are common concerns for non-racing performance horses and racing horses. Both are in competition and asked to perform at their best. Veterinarians are involved to help them do so. That's what stimulated the interest to create separate clinical guidelines for veterinarians treating the non-racing performance horse."
The task force included a number of equine veterinarians and specialists from around the country. In his role as chairperson of the AAEP's Racing Committee, with a sport-horse background, Palmer could lend perspective and bring additional insight to the committee on how the previous guidelines were drafted and how their similar concerns were addressed.
"The primary goal is to take care of the horse and put its welfare uppermost when you're making these medical decisions," says Palmer. "This concept should be the basis for the discussions in the owner-trainer-veterinarian relationship, both for racing horses and non-racing performance horses."
Summary of medication, treatment guidelines
The new guidelines advise:
- All therapeutic treatments for performance horses should be based on a specific diagnosis and treatment regimen.
- A valid and transparent owner-trainer-veterinarian relationship must be present.
- All therapeutic medications need to be administered under the direction of a licensed veterinarian.
- All therapeutic treatments should be given adequate time post-treatment for evaluation of their effectiveness before competition.
- All treatments are to be based on a concern for the well being, wellness, health and safety of the horse.
- No one should administer nontherapeutic or nonprescribed medications.
- Veterinarians should not use surgical procedures or injections of a foreign substance that could affect a horse's performance, except for those therapeutic treatments that protect the horse's health.
- No medication should be administered within 12 hours before a competition.
- Only one NSAID should be given and permitted in plasma and urine samples collected for testing purposes from performance horses.
Documentation of veterinary procedures
The new guidelines also advise:
Medical records: All medical treatments and procedures performed on a horse in competition or training should be documented in the horse's medical record.
Infectious disease control: Management of infectious disease at competitions and horse sales is a high priority for the general health of the horses (
Iatrogenic transmission of disease: With the potential of transmitting various infectious diseases (e.g., piroplasmosis, equine infectious anemia, equine influenza, equine herpesvirus, strangles), the AAEP recommends practitioners not reuse syringes, needles, etc.
Drug compounding: Legal drug compounding requires a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship. Compounded medications can be used only when no equivalent FDA-approved drug or medication is available (
Extra-label medications: Off-label (extra-label) medication is the use of an FDA-approved product for a condition other than that for which it's labeled or for use in another species. All the criteria for appropriate use of therapeutic medications apply to off-label use (