Reduction in Allowed Medication Ahead for US Equestrian Federation Competition Horses

by Fran Jurga | 16 January 2010 | The Jurga Report at

Horses showing in USEF-sanctioned horse shows will be subject to new drugs and medications policies beginning at the end of 2010 as more than 30 years of permissive use of pain medication is being restricted under a more conservative rule. Even with half the medication formerly allowed, USEF-sanctioned horse shows still have a liberal policy compared to most countries.

Big news from Louisville, Kentucky tonight: At the annual convention of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), the governing body of most equestrian sports in the United States, a significant rule change is being agreed upon which will reduce the number of medications that a horse can have in its system when competing.

Various committees within USEF have been working toward a compromise on this issue throughout the convention, which began on Wednesday. Current USEF rules allow two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to be used simultaneously; that policy has been in place for more than 30 years.

The change was not without its opponents; the US Hunter Jumper Association’s Open Hunter Task Force had filed for a rule change (GR410.1) that would have allowed two medications if written notification was given, but then withdrew its proposal on December 9.

Some breed and sport representatives felt that limiting medication is a penalty to older horses or to lower-level shows that do not have the best footing. Perhaps some horses will now show in fewer shows, or be entered in fewer classes. Some arguments were made that the current low value of horses makes it a hardship to sideline horses that could be competing if medicated. It remains to be seen if the new rule will affect horse show revenue; it is not expected to take effect until December 2010.

In most European countries, no medications are allowed; no medications are allowed in competitions sanctioned by the Federation Equestre International (FEI), the world governing body of horse sports. A recent vote to change the FEI medication policy caused an international uproar.

There is a lot to this story, and more will emerge in the days and weeks to come as the official final wording of the rule and dates are made public. One thing is known, and that is that the push to make the change came from veterinarians, who are often accused of promoting drug use in show horses.

Dr. Kent Allen, longtime chair of the Drugs and Medications Committee for USEF, commented on the obvious rise in joint injection that may be the result of a limit on medication. In a document available on the USEF website he offered this insight: “First, it is important to understand that a joint injection properly performed in experienced veterinary hands is the single most effective anti-inflammatory treatment we have for (an) equine joint.

“Secondly, there are numerous medications to inject into joints. Often it is hyaluronic acid in combination with a variety of cortisones, or bioregenerative therapies such as IRAP. Some of these medications are extremely safe and all of them will significantly reduce joint inflammation.

“On the question of ‘are joint injections going to be overused’, the answer is that is already happening today! In some cases joint injections are being used as treatments in 4, 6 or 8 joints without a diagnosis of joint inflammation ever being established. This is dangerous not only from the standpoint of increasing the number of joint injections in the horse and potential side effects but you may or may not be treating the real problem. Accurate diagnosis, including lameness examination, nerve blocks, joint blocks and diagnostic imaging is the most effective method of determining what the problem is and if the horse needs joint injections. This also has the benefit of reducing the cost to owners as well as the risk to the horse.”

USEF approved the use of Surpass, a topical anti-inflammatory recently; there’s no prediction so far if there will be a trend to more specific treatments rather than generalized medication for pain, stiffness or soreness.

While rumors of a compromise were circulating today, equestrian journalist Nancy Jaffer broke the news tonight in her column for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey that the new medication policy would be adopted. More insight into the process of the rule change can be found in Nancy’s article.

The new rule will affect most breed shows, including Arabians, Saddlebreds and Morgans, plus USEF-sanctioned hunter-jumper, dressage, driving, endurance and eventing competitions and individual breeds and sports who are under USEF’s umbrella. It will not affect Quarter horse, Paint, Tennessee Walking horse or Appaloosa shows, as well as many other breeds, or the sports of reining, cutting and barrel racing, unless they are held at a USEF event or as part of a USEF-member breed show.

The medication policy change is endorsed by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Veterinary Medical Association and by the Humane Society of the United States.

USEF assembled an impressive bank of articles and information on medications in sport and performance horses for the delegates to the convention. Since medication policy is sure to be a topic of conversation throughout the coming months, you might want to save some of those documents for reference.

Follow @FranJurga on for more news, links and media for equestrians!




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