AAEP's guidelines for veterinarians focus on medication use at the racetrack

AAEP's guidelines for veterinarians focus on medication use at the racetrack

Jan 01, 2011

Protecting the racehorse: The AAEP's guidelines emphasize medication and business practices that ensure each racehorse is at its healthiest.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Clinical Guidelines for Veterinarians Practicing in a Pari-Mutuel Environment are designed as an evolving document to recommend various veterinary procedures "to put the health and safety of racing horses first."

As racing reform progressed after the incident of Eight Belles' death during the 2008 Kentucky Derby and the congressional hearings regarding horse safety thereafter, "we wanted to champion the horse's point of view," says Scott Palmer, VMD, of the New Jersey Equine Clinic who is the chair of the AAEP Racing Committee. "Someone had to speak for the horse."

In 2009, the AAEP Racing Committee created three white papers with recommendations for protecting the welfare of Quarter Horse, Standardbred and Thoroughbred racehorses. To a large degree, the guidelines evolved from those white papers.

"The context of this document is the white papers," Palmer says. "We are building a foundation upon which we can then move forward to address certain specific issues—some fairly controversial in the racing environment—and do it with a really sound medical philosophy as the core issue.

"For example, we don't say, 'You cannot inject a joint within five days of a race.' Some may say, 'Well, you really should state things like that.' But the truth is, there is no science to document that that practice is harmful for the horse. Wherever we had science, we included it in the document. Where we didn't have science, we then relied upon the clinical experience of the veterinarians on the committee. We tried to make the most appropriate recommendations, based on that experience. Individual veterinarian experience is really valuable. However, anecdotal experience is not as helpful as scientifically controlled studies are to give us information upon which to make decisions.

"In the discussions of what was 'wrong' with racing, there were a lot of people pointing fingers at medication, saying that 'medication was the root of all evil,' and since veterinarians are the ones who control medication, by inference, veterinarians were the 'root of all evil'—guilt by association with medication," Palmer says.

"But the truth of the matter is that the medication of racehorses did not occur in a vacuum, and veterinarians are not the only ones administering medication," says Palmer. "In order to put the medication issue in its proper perspective, we needed to consider, first of all, the societal perception of the animal. People look at horses differently today than they did 100 years ago. We needed to consider the business model of racing and how that business model creates a schedule that dictates the way people medicate horses to get them ready for these races. Third, the owner-trainer relationship drives this issue quite a bit, in terms of the owner-trainer philosophy on medicating racehorses. Finally, the veterinary business model itself influences the medication of racehorses."

Throughout the process, the AAEP Racing Committee made recommendations about many aspects of racing, such as track maintenance, claiming protocols and scheduling. "We recognized right from the very beginning that the response we were going to get from the industry was, 'Well wait a minute here, how about cleaning your own house? What are you doing about veterinarians practicing at the racetrack in terms of the use of medication?'" says Palmer. "So the committee wrote the clinical guidelines to address the way that medication is administered to horses at the racetrack or the pari-mutuel environment." (Pari-mutuel environment includes horses in training at training centers in addition to those at the racetrack.)