We Ask the Experts: Opinions of the Current Medication Rules?
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"I think our current medication rules are good but need improvement," says trainer Charlie Cole of Highpoint Performance Horses. Photo © GoHorseShow.com
GoHorseShow asked a variety of trainers their opinion of the current therapeutic medications that are allowed to be administered to horses during competitions. There are different rules for various breed associations--the FEI/USEF rules are the strictest involving drugs administered to horses in high level competitions, whereas APHA drug rules tend to be more lenient. In Europe, many countries and equestrian competitions follow the FEI drug guidelines, but some countries like Germany have the German Animal Welfare Act where basically any type of medication is forbidden.

In the AQHA rulebook, Rule 441(j) it states no person shall be cause to be administered internally or externally to a horse, either before or during an approved event, any medication, drug, mechanical device or artificial appliance which is of such character as could effect its performance or appearance at that event, except for those conditionally permitted therapeutic medications, the use of which is specifically provided for in the therapeutic medication addendum following subsection (i) of this rule and not otherwise prohibited by governmental regulations. 

Some of the approved therapeutic medications include: Phenylbutazone, Diclofenac, Flunixin, Ketoprofen, Meclofenamic Acid, Naproxen, Firocoxib, Lasix, Isoxuprine, Lidocaine, and Dexamethasone. While these medications are allowed, only a certain amount of the drug is allowed to be administered during a specific time frame. For example, according to the AQHA rulebook, for every 24 hours, not more than 2.0 grams of Phenylbutazone (bute) should be given to a horse weighing approximately 1,000 lbs. Neither a total daily dose nor part of an injectable should be administered during the 12 hours prior to competing. 

GoHorseShow explored this issue further by asking trainers their thoughts about the current rules. We also want to know your opinion! Please let us know your thoughts in the comment section of this article.

Jim Searles--I think we should definitely make some changes to the bute rule! Even maybe we can look at combining banamine/bute and also the time frame especially for the all-around horses who show until 8:00 to 10:00 at night and then have to start the first class at 7:00 in the morning the next day. And most importantly, bute/banamine will not cover up or make a horse that is extremely lame sound. I have been training horses for 25 years, I take Advil/Tylenol almost every day, and every four to six hours while at a show, just for the concussion of walking on concrete all day. Give our older horses and all-around horses a break!

Garth Gooding--I think AQHA and NSBA would benefit if they changed their medication rules to match those of APHA. APHA is not as strict on the times most medications are given, and they allow you to stack medications. Having grown up primarily in the Paint Horse industry, I have seen no abuse of these rules, the overall well-being of the horse is still everyone's main concern. In AQHA, if you give your horse bute or Equioxx to ease the aches of a long show or if that horse colics and you give him Banamine; then you're done showing.

Iris Petschenig of Austria--We can´t use anything but "natural" stuff in Europe. No bute or other painkillers at the horse show. The one medication that would work the best, Meloxicam, needs eight days to get out of their system. Bute, for example, is going to test for about 21 days here in Europe. The reason we can't use most drugs is that most of the rules are FEI rules or state rules so we really can't do much about it. The only thing that is a little shocking to me is that the AQHA European Championship uses AQHA rules for the go round and FN or FEI rules for the finals--that doesn´t work very well. I think we should use AQHA rules or just state rules and not mix it up. In the jumpers over here, they are so terrified that if you bring them a new fly spray from the United States, they need to figure out if it will test first before they will let you use it. I do not like the fact that we can´t use anything -- not because I like to drug my horses, but, we all know that after one or two horse show days, we take aspirin or Tylenol ourselves. Why should we not try to prevent them from getting muscle sore and keep them more comfortable? It is also a lot harder to find horses that don't have anything wrong with them soundness and mind-wise since we are unable to take preventative measures like pain medicine to help extend their show career over here in Europe..

Kelly Boles Chapman--Regarding our rules, I don't believe our governance language has kept up with the advancements of science and technology. Regarding therapeutic medications, I think we have to first think of the welfare of the horse and their comfort. Perhaps we need more education on when a competitive advantage is reached relative to amount of medication, and certainly more education on concepts such as cell half-life, the length of time medications and residue remain detectible, etc. Regarding the European rules for medication, yes it is a different scenario on how to view this process. It is important to note, however that at least some of their zero tolerance regarding medication is rooted in the fact that across Europe, horses are a product for human consumption, both legal and culturally acceptable. Of course this is not FEI's paradigm, but speaks to the culture and history of the equine of Europe.

Sherrye Trafton Johnson--The current medication rules are favorable for the older horses and allow many novices to ride and show with confidence a school master rather than a green or uneducated horse. The current rules also allow horses with minor injury or colic to compete before the medication has left the horse's system when a vet report is filed. While this serves our industry, it is scrutinized by FEI who believes that a zero tolerance should be adhered to. Should a discipline wish to be recognized as an Olympic event it would have to follow FEI rules. The general public perception is negative for use of drugs in competition for Olympic and other athletic events. I think as horsemen we must advocate for protection of our horses from pain by use of medications but realize the perception of abuse is there when seen by public, spectators and FEI when misused.

Charlie Cole--I think our current medication rules are good but need improvement. My major problem with them is this--If you show an all-around horse and showmanship is at 8:00 am and your last class western riding is at let's say 10:00 pm--then the next morning, you have showmanship at 8:00 am again-- you cannot safely medicate your horse with two grams of bute. These all-around horses are the hardest working horses at the show and most deserving of a little bute to help them with any aches or pains. I know by the second day of a show I am taking a couple Excedrin or more a day. Seems only fair our horses deserve the same. I think the medicines we are allowed to use now therapeutically are very good. I do not think we should allow any kind of medications like Acepromazine or sedatives.

Holly Hover--I know that every day, I take a few Advil...I firmly believe that the old, loyal 'warhorses' are invaluable to our grass roots people. It is comforting to know that we can keep those great old horses more comfortable through our current drug guidelines. We need to educate those that don't understand and continue to take care of the horse within 'humane' boundaries.

Joni Nelson--I do like that we can give our horses pain/anti-inflammatory medications but I do not agree with the 12 hour rule because our all around horses sometimes go 24 hours from their last treatment of medication. I think it should be allowed four to six hours from showing. I do think that there should still be a limit on how many days any medication should be given due to the health of of the horse. Also, I think it is important that we all know and research or ask a veterinarian about the effects of all medications and how they effect the horses. On another aspect, I think that all these "secret" non-testing drugs some people are giving is a huge mistake! How do you know how it affects these animals that we all rely on to make a living? Do they not care about the horses and how these drugs affect them? Sickening!

Julie Kennedy--When it comes to pain management, most of my horses show on Previcox, I wouldn't have very happy older horses if I couldn't help them stay comfortable at the shows! Between bad footing, concrete, small stalls, no turn out, long hours saddled and extra long show days, most athletes need some sort of relief. I personally can't handle horse shows without ibuprofen and aspirin and I think our horses deserve the same relief. When these medications are used responsibly, I have no problems with their accepted use.

Lisa Ligon--I really like that the paints do not have an hour limit on bute or banamine. I realize that there are people out there who use bute as a masking agent for other substances and would abuse any further leniency to the hour limits in the quarter horses. However, for our all around horses that are showing the first and last class of the day, there is sometimes not 12 hours in between classes. Many of those youth and amateur horses go every day of the horse show and need the use of that medication, just as I take ibuprofen when I have to walk on concrete. The well being of the horse is paramount and I know our associations do not wish for us to abuse medications to keep horses showing who under normal circumstances should not be doing so due to soundness issues. I do not know if it is possible to make an allowance for multiple event horses in reference to the bute hour guidelines but in certain cases I think it would be appropriate.

Jerry Erickson--My spin is that bute or banamine will not make a lame horse sound. Also, I am comfortable saying that these products do not mask other drugs or make other drugs non detectable. I do think that even with the best care and intentions, show horses experience fatigue and muscle soreness. They are hauled, and walk on paved aisle ways and parking lots. They are lounged and ridden more than at home at all hours of the day and night. Consequently, any relief we can give them in the form of basically an aspirin, is not only helping the horse-- it is humane. I would actually be in favor for the rule be relaxed in regards to pain medications but kept in place for mind-altering drugs.

Katy Jo Pickard--I think it is ridiculous that Bute, Banamine and Dexamethazone are illegal in any way. When my back hurts, or I have a headache I don't think twice about taking Advil or Aleve or anything else to help my pain. Why is it that our horses aren't the same? Especially when these people who are for banning them say that they have the horses best interest in mind. Believe me, if we asked the horse, they would take the drug. Further, it's not like any of those drugs mentioned above are so potent that they mask a severe injury that would do harm to the horse if it performed on them. It makes older horses feel better because of aches and pains and arthritis. It makes younger horses feel better because of growing pains. I cannot understand in any way why people wouldn't be jumping up and down to make a horse feel more comfortable and be happier.

10 comments for this article Reverse Comment Order
Added: April 08, 2013. 06:46 PM CDT
Wouldn't it be more humane not to show our horses for 10-12 hours straight?
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Added: January 13, 2013. 04:39 PM CDT
i have to do a report on how the use of drugs on horses is bad.... any tips?
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Added: June 16, 2012. 12:52 PM CDT
We as humans need "Aleve" etc. So our horses do too! What about people who need a nerve pill? Valum,Xanex,etc.? Just saying? MMMMMMMMMMM?
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Added: June 14, 2012. 02:11 PM CDT
It makes me sick to think that people want to give their old horses bute and etc to keep them going. If you have to medicate a horse to keep it going than do the right thing and retire it, before you bute it and keep riding it into the ground. Bute will actually tear right through a horses liver and stomach after a long time frame of being on it. So i do not see how that is safe either!
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Added: April 26, 2012. 12:27 PM CDT
At a recent show that was running abnormally long, I had to make the decision whether too show Western Riding(it was already 8pm and they were just doing warmup) that night and miss the time frame that I could medicate my older gelding(showmanship was at 8 the next morning) or scratch the Western Riding and just to help him feel more comfortable. This would be a great help for those of us who want to keep our older horses going longer and keep them very comfortable at the shows. I know my feet hurt very badly after standing around on the concrete at those shows so it stands to reason that their feet have to bother them too. This really might be something to consider.
Buted or Lame
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Added: April 25, 2012. 02:48 PM CDT
Agreed with Searles, Cole, R=Erikson, and Katy Jo

I find it inhumane not to give the horses a little pain releif, these horses are showing non stop, constantly! If you had a little pain wouldn't you want some medicene. the hour rule should be lifted or go to 4 to 6 hours before showing.. all arounders work so hard and have to deal with tough riding hours. I hope AQHA will understand that the older and younger horses all need a little help here and there just like children and adults!

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Added: April 25, 2012. 11:24 AM CDT
I agree the all around horse really needs to be able to have bute with their morning and evening feedings which is going to be 2-3 hours prior to showing and possibly in between classes in the evening - we all take asprin/tylenol to help us why in the world wouldn't we want to help our horses take the edge off and give them some comfort! My daughters gelding is 14, she shows all day long in the youth classes he gets sore feet after being shown all day long. Get rid of the timeline on bute, and help the horses out!
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Added: April 25, 2012. 10:16 AM CDT
I have to agree with all that commented on the drugs. I have to agree to that horse are no different than human athletes. They get aches and pains too. Why they can't have a little help to make them feel better should be okay. I feel this was a great article and great comments from some awesome trainers.
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Added: April 25, 2012. 09:22 AM CDT
Agree with Cole and Searles
I agree with Cole and Searles...I show my horse in three to five events per day when showing. It would be a great option to use if needed on the last day of showing.
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Added: April 25, 2012. 09:16 AM CDT
RE: medication
I have mixed feelings, on one hand I take medication for my pain issues and totally agree with the trainers about the length of time when horses are at these big shows, moving over cement, long classes etc. they deserve to be made comfortable.
on the other hand, Humans would take advantage of the medication , work the horse in to the ground and dope them up, instead of backing off the work so the horse could rest.

there would no doubt be someone who would abuse the medications. That is the sad part.
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