Monday, December 28, 2009

Are NSAIDs the newest form of horse abuse?

According to a recently published article in Practical Horseman, the U.S. Hunter and Jumper Association is challenging recently implemented USEF restrictions on the use of double NSAID medications in show horses. The USEF's intention is to ensure the highest level of sportsmanship within its competitions, especially in the wake of the doping scandals that plagued the Olympics and several other high profile equestrian competitions. Dr. Stephen Schumacer, administrator for the USEF's drugs and medications programs, even likened improper use of such medications (and, presumably any unnecessary medications) to "a form of abuse people don't see." The USHJA, however, argues that NSAIDs are relatively harmless
and necessary for allowing older "achy" horses to compete. Drug use in equine athletes is a contentious consideration across industries, with several new regulatory initiatives implemented even this year by entities such as the AQHA, FEI, USPA and NTRA. Some of the regulations even appear to be contradictory, with the FEI, for instance, permitting multiple NSAIDS while the USEF now prohibits them.

It is clear that the use of performance enhancing drugs such as steroids, or drugs that mask pain and enable unfit horses to compete should be outlawed. But anyone who has owned even a weekend campaigner has likely encountered the need to inject a joint or administer a bit of anti-inflammatory to keep chronic conditions or minor swellings at bay. Where do equestrian competitors draw the line when it comes to substances that help a horse compete at its best and most comfortable, and those that provide an unfair advantage? Should any horse even be allowed to compete if he's not already at his best?

And if new standards are implemented, who is to guarantee the efficacy of the testing procedures? The racing industry's quest to standardize the administering of and testing for medications encountered just this conundrum after a recent veterinary study revealed widespread contamination of drug testing samples due to the variety of medications present in the racing stable environment. I'd assume that the development process for these regulations will be stymied as more groups emerge to push for liberal standards.

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