The United States Equestrian Federation’s (USEF) Annual Meeting is a time when committees come together, decide new directions and make new rules. This year’s meeting in January saw several important rule changes that will have a positive impact on the safety of both horses and riders in competition.
Drugs and Medications
Fair play and the welfare of horses govern the use of drugs and medications for show horses. And when it comes to making the rules, the task falls to USEF, which has overseen the process since 1970. The rules (Chapter 4 of the USEF Rule Book) affect horses in the stable, in transit and at a show.
“We continue to look for medications that affect the level playing field. We test all the time, and we can change our testing,” says Kent Allen DVM, and the chair of two USEF committees: Equine Drugs and Medications (D&M) and Veterinary.
Allen commended the USEF’s laboratory, located in upstate New York, as a model respected throughout the world. “We are the only national federation that owns its own lab. We have the largest testing lab in the world for performance horses.”
And what will the lab be testing for this year? The answer will come from overseas from now on. The biggest change in the drug rules and the No Foreign Substance list (USEF Article 409) is that instead of reviewing different drugs every year, USEF will simply adopt and reflect the international rules of the FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale) and its findings. John Lengel, DVM, who oversees the day-to-day operation of the D&M program said, “When the No Foreign Substance rule went in the rule book in the mid ’90s, the intent was that it would be identical to the FEI’s rule.”
However, unlike most countries, the U.S. does allow certain foreign substances that it deems are therapeutic drugs, namely six different non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs (see sidebar). The intent is to help horses, not to encourage barns to adopt a “polypharmacy” approach of treating every horse with multiple drugs.
Allen explained, “We have the single most liberal drug rule in the world. It allows our older equine athletes to compete, so we put dosage limits on the non-steroidal drugs.”
The result is that USEF has two classifications of drugs, the therapeutic class, which is unique to the U.S., and the prohibited class. The FEI rules will govern the prohibited substances.
And what illegal drugs are still popping up in tests? The USEF lab tested 9,500 samples in 2004 and Lengel reported that of tests showing rule violations, “most are for multiple NSAIDs or significant overdoses of therapeutic medications.”
Allen cited the tranquilizer fluphenazine. “This is truly a drug with limited use in the horse market. It is not to be used for horse behavior issues. I’m amazed we’re still seeing fluphenazine positives.”
Lengel noted that the positives for reserpine are fewer. In 2003, 13 horses tested positive for it; only two showed up in 2004.
Another drug that shows up in testing is valerian, an ingredient in herbal supplements. “Be very careful about the herbal tranquilizers you use on your horses,” cautioned Allen. “If it contains valerian, we will catch that.”