Other veterinary concerns
White thinks it's important that whenever a veterinarian treats a performance horse, no matter what the issue is, there should
be an examination, a diagnosis and then an appropriate time to be able to evaluate the animal for response to the treatment.
"We feel it's important that maintenance therapy be based on a diagnosis," says White. There should be a recheck examination,
rather than just retreating a horse for a problem that might have occurred in the past.
"Those are some of the main points we'd really like to get out to veterinarians, as well to horse organizations and owners,"
says White. "We feel there's some overtreatment, and in some cases we fear there's treatment with no real diagnosis or no
real validation of the medication."
Many different professionals are involved in caring for non-racing performance horses, and everyone understands that when
there is competition, you want the horses to do the very best they can.
"Often horsemen and veterinarians look to medication to help them achieve their goals," says Palmer. "We, those veterinarians
involved in writing the white paper, feel you have to speak for the horse in this process and put the horse's welfare up there
as part of those considerations. The current focus on the appropriate use of medication in both racing and the non-racing
performance horse is justified."
The white paper includes discussion of the possible abuse of intra-articular injections, possible use of more than one NSAID
or the overuse of analgesics and a concern for the maintenance use of drugs on a regular basis regardless of a diagnosis of
disease directing their use.
The routine use of joint injections is a common practice both at the racetrack and in the horse-show circuit. For example,
hunter-jumpers and dressage horses commonly have degenerative arthritis of the lower hock joints. As the show season approaches,
many horsemen and veterinarians recommend injection of the hocks on a "prophylactic basis in hopes of ensuring a good performance."
White also noted a concern that multiple joint injections are being completed as a maintenance therapy. "This is being done
as a maintenance regimen requested by the owner or recommended by some veterinarians," he says. "Yet there's no real reason
for some of the joints to be injected, other than it's just done to make sure everything is OK. We don't think is in the best
interests of the health of the horse."
White further notes that veterinarians shouldn't be administering analgesics during competition. "That's not fair to the horse
and may lead to injury or increased health risks. It's important, as is stated in the document, that only one NSAID be used
prior to competition, and no NSAIDS should be given within 12 hours of a competition. This is a logical medication schedule,
so we don't have a lack of pain covering up a lameness problem, or of some painful problem that might result in injury to
Veterinarians must take responsibility for the creation of the concept of maintenance use of certain drugs, says Palmer. "At
this point, I think it's fair to say we need to look at that practice in a critical way and decide if it's really necessary,"
he says. "That was a core concept in the racing guidelines, that first we make a diagnosis, then we treat the condition and
then we evaluate that treatment before the horse enters further competition. The same thing applies to the non-racing performance
horse. Maintenance treatments without a medical diagnosis may be unnecessary and are inappropriate. If the horse is sound,
why do you take the risk of treating that horse with an invasive procedure, just in the anticipation that in a month or so,
it might get lame?"
Ed Kane, PhD, 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. Kane is based in Seattle.
1. Clinical guidelines for veterinarians treating the non-racing performance horse. Lexington, Ky: American Association of Equine
Practitioners, 2011. Available at