Sunday, Apr. 21, 2024

Include Drugs And Medications In Your Equestrian Education

Don’t forget this crucial piece of your competition preparation.

As this New Year begins, I think it’s time to address, as trainers and owners, the issue of medicating our
horses safely and within the guidelines of the U.S. Equestrian Federation drugs and medication rules.

As the USEF rules have evolved, they’ve become more complicated for those of us who are not veterinarians. So it’s important to remember that educating ourselves is the safest and most intelligent way to understand how to best medicate our equines.
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Don’t forget this crucial piece of your competition preparation.

As this New Year begins, I think it’s time to address, as trainers and owners, the issue of medicating our
horses safely and within the guidelines of the U.S. Equestrian Federation drugs and medication rules.

As the USEF rules have evolved, they’ve become more complicated for those of us who are not veterinarians. So it’s important to remember that educating ourselves is the safest and most intelligent way to understand how to best medicate our equines.

Let’s begin with the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, better known as NSAIDS, which are a way of keeping our equine athletes comfortable while showing. I don’t think that there’s anyone who intentionally wants to show a lame horse. I also don’t believe that there’s any amount of medication (within the rules) on which to show a lame horse. Most of the time, in my experience as a trainer or as a judge, a lame horse is shown because an injury just happened—it’s not intentional on the trainer or owner’s part.

When veterinarians and researchers across the country decided that combining bute (phenylbutazone) and Banamine (flunixin) was dangerous, the USEF moved forward to adjust the rules to allow one or the other within a certain time period. I have never heard anyone complaining since.

The USEF team did a great job educating and helping us understand the potential dangers of combining the two NSAIDs, and they involved the veterinarians who are out in the field treating our horses.

But this rule also presents a problem to the people who manage and care for their horses at home. Owners must be careful to keep track of medications they or their veterinarians have used to treat medical situations or emergencies at home. Any medication administered to a horse or pony to diagnose existing injuries or illness or to treat colic should always be documented and disclosed when the client joins their trainer at a show.

In not fully disclosing all supplements and medications, owners commonly place unknowing trainers in jeopardy. Care and custody is something a trainer must carefully consider. All medications given to a horse within a three-month period should be disclosed as there are some medications that can remain in the horse’s system for a very long time.

Any horses not under a trainer’s care 24/7—and full time during the show season—must be treated differently. It becomes the owner’s responsibility to be educated and to monitor her horse’s medication and care. It’s too easy for mistakes to occur, for trainers not to be told of each supplement and each treatment.

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On each horse show entry blank (at USEF-recognized competitions) there are spaces that must be signed by those responsible for the horse, including owner, trainer and coach. It’s important that all exhibitors understand who is responsible for the horse at each show and fill in the blanks accordingly.

I’ve always believed that the owner and trainer must work closely with their veterinarian to safely medicate their horses at home or at the shows. It then becomes so important for the owner, the trainer and their veterinarian to know the USEF drugs and medication rules.

For several years the USEF Drugs And Medications Committee has had a medication report that the exhibitor may fill out. And the office in Columbus, Ohio, is always available for questions—(800) 633-2472 or e-mail medequestrian@aol.com. The USEF Drugs And Medications Guidelines pamphlet is available online (www.usef.org) and in a printed format. 

We’re fortunate to have one of the most sophisticated drug testing systems in the world. All competitors pay a drug fee for each horse that shows in all rated competitions, and that fee has been used to maintain the USEF laboratory in Ithaca, N.Y., and the office in Ohio. The USEF has worked hard to develop a level playing field for its competitors.

Most illegal drugs that can alter the performance of a horse can now be detected. If a new drug comes onto the market it won’t take those at the laboratory long to detect it. Many people have decided that herbal
supplements are the way to medicate horses, and they’ve become widely used. The USEF lab is always on top of new trends, however, so be careful to know all the ingredients that make up the herbal supplements that you use. It’s possible that an ingredient in that new supplement you’ve discovered may be forbidden in the show ring. Again, the USEF Drugs And Medications pamphlet is a great resource to keep in your tack trunk.

But with this great system of ours comes the downside–trace levels.

Many people believe that trace levels are just that, trace levels. Nevertheless, even if trace levels don’t affect the performance of the equine they’re still detectable. If your horse is drug tested and a trace level of a forbidden substance is discovered, you still face the consequences.

With this in mind, we still have to remember that our horses and ponies are athletes, and they need safe and reliable NSAIDS to help them perform comfortably and within safe limits.

In past years there’s been an influx of European drugs that were thought to be undetectable by the USEF lab. While these drugs seemed to be popular with certain trainers, they were later found to be dangerous to the welfare of our horses and ponies. This is where good horsemanship and good horse management comes into play. If you have to use these unknown drugs, then you need to go back to better training methods.

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Just as with human medications, it’s best to go with the approved medications rather than venturing into uncharted waters. As I’ve said previously, it’s only a matter of time before the lab will pick up these drugs too.

USEF President David O’Conner said at this year’s USEF Annual Meeting in January (Jan. 25, p. 8) that he would like to see NASID use be reduced to one medication per horse in future years.

We’ve come a long way in drug testing in the past few decades, but in that period we’ve also had more shows, more qualifications for shows and more people wanting to show on all levels from the beginners to the High Performance.

The High Performance group is a small percentage of our membership, and the Fédération Equestre Internationale rules under which many of our High Performance athletes compete are very different than our national rules. And the FEI drug rules have been developed to coincide with their high-performance requirements, which may include fewer classes over a longer period of time.

We must be careful to realize that our national divisions are very different and have distinct needs. Many issues arise at our national shows that don’t occur at major FEI competitions, including problems with poor footing, inclement weather, inadequate stabling, communicable diseases, etc. In addition, the older horse or pony, often found on our national circuits, is our teaching tool to better riding and allows more people to enjoy our sport.

I hope we can continue to find that balance—to protect our horses with safe drug rules and retain the therapeutic levels that keep our equines comfortable and happy. Let’s discontinue longeing for hours, removing a horse’s water bucket for hours and using unsafe and unproven drugs found on the black market.

With age in humans and horses comes pain—there’s no denying it. It’s the job of our veterinarian and the USEF Drugs And Medication Committee to find safe ways to allow our equine athletes to show. And it’s up to us to know the rules and practice good horsemanship.

Susie Schoellkopf



Susie B. Schoellkopf serves as the executive director of the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, which is the home of the Buffalo Equestrian Center and SBS Farms in Buffalo, N.Y. An R-rated U.S. Equestrian Federation judge, Schoellkopf has trained numerous horses to USEF Horse of the Year honors, including Gabriel, Kansas, Big Bad Wolf and GG Valentine. She started writing Between Rounds columns in 2002.

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