Apply with Caution: Is Your Topical Treatment Show-Safe?

Apply with Caution: Is Your Topical Treatment Show-Safe?

Many owners and trainers employ liniments, rubs, poultices, and more to keep their equine athletes feeling their best after hard works. But remember to check the label to be sure there are no illegal substances in the product of your choice.

From barrel racers to hunter/jumpers, the performance horse world unanimously agrees: A sound horse performs better. While veterinary care should be the first line of defense in keeping horses pain-free, many owners and trainers employ liniments, rubs, poultices, and more to keep their equine athletes feeling their best. But before you slather on your product of choice, be sure to read the label: Some topical therapy products contain illegal or banned substances and might result in a medication disqualification at your next show.

Richard Markell, DVM, MRCS, owner of Ranch and Coast Equine Practice Inc. in Encinitas, California, and an official Fédération Equestre Internationale and U.S. Olympic show jumping team veterinarian, is very familiar with medication rules and regulations, including those that apply to topical therapies.

“We need to remember that anything applied to the skin has the potential to enter the bloodstream and test,” Markell says. “And that doesn’t necessarily mean it is absorbed through the skin—if the horse licks the area where the topical was applied it can also be absorbed orally. Additionally, if the product comes in contact with any tack and/or equipment it can also contaminate the horse.”

All-Natural and Homemade

Markell cautions that just because a product claims to be all-natural does not necessarily translate to “show-safe.”

“Many plant oils and extracts are illegal substances for use in the show horse,” he says. “Owners and trainers should cross-reference all ingredients with their show circuit’s medication regulation rulebook, even if the product claims to be all-natural.”

Markell says the same principle applies to homemade liniments, rubs, and poultices. He says he's seen homemade products that contain drugs like phenylbutazone, dimethyl sulfoxide (commonly known as DMSO), dexamethasone, and aspirin, all of which are illegal on show day at United States Equestrian Federation-governed events.

If you choose to use topical therapies that are not show-safe, Markell advises discontinuing use at least one week prior to the show. If the product is being applied to an open wound, consult your veterinarian for withdrawal timing as open wounds can significantly increase absorption levels.

Show-Safe Alternatives

So what can we use to help our horses feel their best during competitions? Markell says several therapeutic remedies to relieve stiffness, swelling, and heat are both effective and safe for use in show horses.

“Ice is the best ‘medication’ ever invented as far as I am concerned,” Markell says. “Massage and cold-hosing are also great options for show horses that suffer from fatigued and sore muscles and joints.”

Take-Home Message

There are many options to choose from when it comes to topical therapies to help keep your horse comfortable, but not all are approved for use in show horses. If you are in doubt, don’t chance it. Contact your show circuit’s governing body and/or your veterinarian to determine if the topical product you are applying to your horse’s muscles and joints could result in disqualification.

About the Author

Lindsay Keller

Lindsay Keller is an equine freelance journalist and consultant based out of northwest Oklahoma. She also is an avid barrel racer who enjoys starting and training her own horses on the barrel racing pattern.

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