LEXINGTON, KY. — Monitoring the use of medications in performance horses is no easy task. Different regulatory bodies have different rules,
and different breeds have different needs. Despite the challenges, there is a growing push toward tighter drug-regulation
in various fields of equine competition.
Most recently, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) — the national governing body for equestrian sport — passed
a rule aimed at curbing the practice of stacking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or administering two such
drugs simultaneously. Up until now, horses competing in events governed by USEF could be given two NSAIDs, so long as phenylbutazone
and flunixin were not given concurrently. Under the new rule, only one NSAID can be present in a horse's system at the time
The change is slated to take effect Dec. 1, 2011, but starting April 1 of this year, anyone administering two NSAIDs to a
competing horse will be required to file an NSAID disclosure form.
Phenylbutazone and flunixin, however, still cannot be administered simultaneously, regardless of whether an NSAID disclosure
form is submitted.
"This is a pretty significant change from what some members are used to," says Stephen Schumacher, DVM, the chief administrator
of the USEF's Equine Drugs and Medications Program. "The goal is to take this time to provide information and education, and
get feedback from our membership that will allow for a seamless transition to the rule."
Schumacher notes that the debate over stacking NSAIDs dates back to 1998, but support for the ban only recently gained traction.
While the rule change faced opposition from groups such as the United States Hunter Jumper Association, it garnered support
from the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the Humane Society,
"There's always the concern that by using [NSAIDs] you might show an animal that has a lameness that otherwise would not be
allowed to show, which could worsen the injury," says Elizabeth Carr, DVM, a professor at Michigan State University who focuses
on equine medicine. "Then there's the possible toxicity, so that's why these drugs are tested for."
Outside of the USEF, other groups have taken steps to bolster their drug-screening programs. As DVM Newsmagazine reported this summer, the Racing Medication And Testing Consortium (RMTC) approved national laboratory standards for drug
testing and created an accreditation program for labs. However, the RMTC still faces significant hurdles when it comes to
"Racing has been regulated by the state for close to 100 years, and certainly one of the largest budgetary expenditures for
every state racing commission is for the control of drugs, both permitted and prohibited," says Scot Waterman, DVM, the executive
director of the RMTC. "The lack of uniformity in rules and testing state to state presents challenges to the popularity and
participation in the sport. We have no national organizing body like USEF in racing, so sometimes it's a matter of moving
for rule adoptions in 38 different states, but we are making progress on this front."
Veterinarians and trainers should keep in touch with the applicable governing bodies for up-to-date information on drug regulations.
Information on USEF's rule change can be found at
Chris Sweeney is a freelance writer based in Chicago.