Our columnist discusses some rule change proposals regarding therapeutic medication and doping and calls for changes in the way trainers, riders and owners approach competition.
In this age of instant information via the Internet, social media and newspapers, every part of our sport is under constant scrutiny. Anything we’re doing to our horses is being watched, reported and talked about. If what we’re doing is not in the best interest of our horses, you can be sure it’s being watched and discussed, as it should be.
So it’s important that we address any negative issues within our sport ourselves. If we don’t regulate ourselves, somebody else is going to do that for us. There are certainly other horse sports that have not regulated themselves well and as a result are now facing regulation by different state and even national government agencies.
The most important issues facing the horse show industry today are the doping of horses (the use of prohibited drugs or illegal substances) and the mismanagement of beneficial and therapeutic medications. What’s happening out there is not only detrimental to our horses but in some cases has even led to equine fatalities. This, in turn, is hurting our sport.
Because of the importance of this issue, when I was asked to be part of a special task force for the U.S. Equestrian Federation to look into the collapses and deaths of our animals related to doping, I agreed to serve. Consequently I was asked, and agreed, to also serve on the USEF Drugs and Medications Committee. I was very interested in finding out as much as I could about this issue from the people I felt were best able to give me the correct information.
The task force is made up of people who represent many different views on the subject. From the veterinary field we have Stephen Schumacher, DVM, and Kent Allen, DVM. From the USEF we have President Chrystine Tauber and CEO John Long as well as the USEF’s legal counsel, Sonja Keating.
Add to that mix U.S. Hunter Jumper Association President Bill Moroney and other respected colleagues of mine from the field, including Karen Healey, Max Amaya, Shelley Campf, Jeff Campf and Mary Babick, and you have a very complete and informed group of people. In any meetings we’ve had, each and every one of us has had a different and valuable viewpoint to bring to the table.
The Disconcerting Truth
I’ve learned through this process that there’s much more science behind the USEF Rules and Regulations than I realized. More importantly, this science is in most cases very different than what the average horseperson believes to be true.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners created “Clinical Guidelines for Veterinarians Treating the Non-Racing Performance Horse,” an incredibly concise, thoughtful paper that speaks to almost all issues pertaining to the therapeutic medication and treatment of the show horse today. In this publication a group of our best veterinarians make recommendations on how to use common beneficial medications and other therapeutic treatments with the best interests of our horses in mind.
It was disconcerting to me to learn how, in many cases, we’re inadvertently injuring our horses in the long term by the way we’re using certain therapeutic medications. It was also interesting how many misconceptions we have about how these beneficial medications and treatments actually work and the best time frames in which to use them to get the best therapeutic result for our horses.
In an effort to start the self-regulating process the USEF is going to bring forward new rule changes and changes in policy, all related to the therapeutic medication and treatment of horses as well as the illegal doping of horses. These changes are based on the long-term welfare of our horses. They are also based on science, not myth. The USEF has closely followed the recommendations made by the AAEP. A lot of time, effort and thought have been put into the changes coming forward.
The first rule change the USEF will be considering, in its simplest form, is to restrict any injection from being given to a horse less than 12 hours prior to competition. There will be three exceptions that will be allowed only for therapeutic reasons, to be given by a licensed veterinarian only within six hours of competition. A USEF Medication Report will have to be filed in these cases.
The purpose behind this proposed rule change is to put an end to the dangerous and illegal drugs that are being administered by injection very close to the time of competition. In addition, it will bring the administration of therapeutic drugs in line with the recommendations of the AAEP and the companies that manufacture these beneficial drugs.
The second major rule change the USEF will be considering, again in its very simplest form, will be to require any owner, rider, or trainer to report any collapse of a horse under their care at a USEF competition to the USEF steward within one hour. The main purpose behind this rule change would be to make sure that the USEF is aware of any collapses at one of their shows and therefore be able to immediately investigate any situations that may require it. Again, the underlying focus on this change is the welfare of the horse.
In addition to these proposed rule changes the USEF is also planning on making changes to their drug-testing protocol and to the handling of drug-related infractions. There will be an increase in drug testing at all horse shows, and the testing will target the major competitions, in particular the winners and top-placed horses.
Random testing will still occur, and any horse entered at any USEF-licensed competition may be tested. If you’re using permitted medications incorrectly or are administering illegal or prohibited substances, chances are much greater now that you will get caught.
The USEF is also looking into the penalties assigned to members who violate the rules, with a range of penalties to match the severity of the infraction. A slight overage of a permitted therapeutic medication will more than likely get a lesser penalty, while the use of a forbidden or illegal substance will sustain the highest penalty. Larger fines and suspensions much longer than we’ve seen in the past are being considered for infractions that involve forbidden substances or “designer drugs.”
The USEF Hearing Committee is also committed to finding the people who are truly responsible for infractions. They’ll look into all involved in each case, not just the person listed as trainer on an entry blank. Veterinarians who are coming up with new and more dangerous drugs will also start to be held accountable for their actions.
As members of the USEF and participants in the world of showing horses we’re going to have to take responsibility for changing our own culture. As judges we’re going to have to be sure we’re not penalizing horses that make mistakes caused by enthusiasm or exuberance. We’ll also have to make sure we’re rewarding athletic ability, talent and brilliance above everything else.
As course designers we need to be sure we’re building courses that showcase good jumping and good riding, not making the job at hand so easy that overmedicated horses shine. As riders and trainers we’ll need to be looking for horses that are able to do their jobs without help from illegal substances and also take the time to teach both our horses and riders the skills they need to perform well.
Our culture may also need to be altered to the point where we aren’t required to show too often either to qualify for the top shows or to earn our living. And as owners we’ll have to keep our expectations in alignment with reality so we don’t push the animals in our care past what they’re able to do. I don’t think any of this is easy, but I do think the time has come to make some serious changes in our sport.
The most encouraging thing that I’ve learned over the past several months is that the overwhelming majority of horse people out there are very much in favor of cleaning up our sport and most importantly doing what is right for our horses.
Prior to the first town hall meeting the USEF held on this topic I was approached by many, many top young professionals in our sport asking for us to please do whatever it takes to get the use of illegal forbidden substances as well as the misuse of therapeutic medications under control. Since that meeting, I’ve also been approached by many, many top older professionals in our sport asking for exactly the same thing.
Most people want to do what is right for the horse and for competition. As we begin to make changes to facilitate this it’s critical that we keep this thought in the forefront of our minds.
Geoff Teall, of Wellington, Fla., trains in the hunter, jumper and equitation divisions—with an emphasis on amateur and junior riders—and shows in the professional hunter divisions. An R-rated USEF judge, he has presided over the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals, USEF Pony Finals, USEF Pony Medal Finals and prestigious shows such as the Washington (D.C.) International and National Horse Show. Teall also serves on the USEF’s National Hunter Committee and Equine Drugs and Medications Committee and chairs the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Working Group WCHR Task Force.