Kentucky Equine Research

Veterinary Care for Competition Horses While Staying Within the Medication Rules

April 26, 2010

Kent Allen, D.V.M., currently focuses on top-level sports medicine, lameness, and diagnostic imaging in private practice. He has maintained a long-term relationship with the United Stated Equestrian Federation (USEF) and the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), concentrating primarily on medication issues. Horses competing in FEI-sanctioned events are the most scrutinized athletes--including humans--in the world, according to Allen.

Top-tier equine athletes often require medication to stay in competitive form. Not all medications should be thought of as performance-enhancing. Allen pointed to gastric ulcers as an example of a man-made condition that is hard to avoid, based on the transitory and confined lives these horses often endure. Hives, in response to new bedding, is another example of an ailment that requires medication. Administration of medication, however, must be accomplished under strict guidelines

Allen provided an overview of the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, "natural" supplements such as valerian root, nutritional supplements, and contaminated feed.

Substances are divided into three groups: prohibited, restricted, and unrestricted. Permitted substances include antifungal, antiprotozoal, antiulcer, and antiparasitic agents as well as antibiotics. Also allowed are vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and hormonal products for mares so long as they are given for therapeutic reasons.

Forbidden substances are those that might affect performance or might interfere with testing. Drugs that affect performance include psychotropics, stimulants, depressants, tranquilizers, and local anesthetics. Psycotrophic medications are particularly dangerous with unpredictable side effects. Corticosteroids and anabolic steroids are forbidden substances. Legitimate use of prohibited substances is possible as long as certain, though strict, criteria are met.

Differences between the USEF and FEI medication programs were described by Allen.

Allen differentiated between detection times and withdrawal times after drug administration. Detection times do not include a suitable margin of safety, a time period that is necessary to account for individual responses to medications. Withdrawal times include this margin of safety.

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