Use of guidelines
A trainer might be preparing a horse for a particular race, perhaps the Kentucky Derby. There are races leading up to that
race that a trainer has to condition the horse for, and the trainer must maintain that condition. The art is training the
horse and keeping it well enough to be fit and competitive—preventing the horse from getting hurt or worn out by overtraining.
"There is an art to training horses, and, in part, that art includes managing conditions that develop, whether it's arthritis,
inflammation, a sore or sprained ankle or whatever it might be that comes along the way—just like you would with any other
trained athlete," Palmer says. "The challenge is to do things properly in a way that the horse's benefit is really uppermost
in everybody's mind. Our goal is to make that affirmation. We did that throughout the document."
"It doesn't change our practice philosophy or routine in any way," Dowd says. "The document references that most practices
revolve around the entry date of the horse because so much of our racing industry revolves around withdrawals. But, fortunately,
because of where we are in New Jersey (from Monmouth Park Racetrack to Belmont), most of our clientele is educated and experienced.
Many of our horses have a high value; therefore, medicating strictly to run is not a routine part of our practice. This is
what the document speaks to—the welfare of the horse and keeping the horse healthy. Fortunately, we are working with competent
trainers and owners with good intentions and horses that are healthy and productive. There are always exceptions, and it's
helpful that we have guidelines to keep everybody in check.
"The AAEP clinical guidelines actually make practicing veterinary medicine easier. They are clearly spelled out so that you
can reference them as needed," Dowd says. "Clients will be able to understand limitations we set as practitioners regarding
various practices. We are confined to what we can do and what we cannot."
Comprehensive, but evolving document
"The AAEP has had written policy statements on horse medication for many years," says Palmer. "But this is the first time
we've ever tried to write a comprehensive document that really tries to cover all the bases at the racetrack—everything from
how you manage the materials in your truck and how you bill for your services, to efforts that focus on the health and welfare
issues. The purpose is not to ignore the entry date, but not to make that the primary issue.
"This document is designed to provide support for people who are making good decisions and practicing good medicine at racetracks,"
Palmer says. "We really wanted to emphasize throughout the document that whether it's hyperbaric therapy, corticosteroid injection,
flunixin or whatever you're treating the horse with, it is important that those treatments be based on a medical diagnosis,
which determines a treatment plan, followed by an appropriate period of time to evaluate the effect of that treatment plan
before you race the horse. These are the fundamental concepts that we all learned in veterinary school."
An area that still needs to be addressed to improve the consistency of veterinary care on racetracks is the issue of medication
withdrawal times. "We're really looking forward to uniform withdrawal times for medication," Dowd says. "On the east coast,
veterinarians cross several racing jurisdictions everyday. Horses are going to Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York.
To have uniformity would be outstanding. It would be more economical for our industry, too. The individual racing commissions
spend a fortune to test in state, when they should just have a big, regional pool. All states could share resources, potentially
cutting the overhead costs. Ultimately, this would increase testing proficiency and accuracy; it would be advantageous to
"This document, in some sense, is always going to be incomplete and evolving because we didn't put every single medication
in here," says Palmer. "One of the things we're looking to include as an upgrade would be recommendations about NSAIDs, clenbuterol,
omeprazole, etc.—therapeutic medications that some people feel may be overly used or abused at the racetrack, particularly
if their use is not based on a scientific diagnosis, but simply to try to gain a competitive advantage. We plan to address
a number of these issues as we proceed."
However, Palmer thinks AAEP's guidelines are a comprehensive document. "We tried to address all of the major areas that we
felt were appropriate," says Palmer. "We also want to emphasize that this is a living, breathing document. It will evolve
as more scientific information becomes available and we can make more specific recommendations in any particular area."
The guidelines can be downloaded at
Kane is a researcher and consultant in animal nutrition. He is an author and editor on nutrition, physiology and veterinary medicine
with a background in horses, pets and livestock. He is based in Seattle.