Horsemen Learn about Equine Corticosteroid Use

Corticosteroid injections are overused on racehorses but don't contribute to catastrophic breakdowns, a medication consultant said June 27 during a continuing education (CE) program for licensed Thoroughbred horsemen in Indiana.

The CE program is required for 2013 licensing under an Indiana Horse Racing Commission (IHRC) regulation. More than 70 horsemen attended the three-hour program held at Indiana Downs in Shelbyville.

Scot Waterman, DVM,, a consultant on equine medication policy who formerly served as executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said research into the more popular corticosteroids--betamethosone, dexamethasone, methylprednisolone, and triamicinalone--is ongoing. The objective is to determine uniform withdrawal times for the therapeutic drugs.

Waterman said injections of corticosteroids used to treat joint inflammation are often given to close to races, and repeated injections can impact the health of horses' joints. But he said there isn't evidence the drugs can lead to breakdowns.

"That's the perception, but these things aren't true," Waterman said. "There's no objective evidence. Proper use of corticosteroids can have a beneficial effect on osteoarthritis."

Waterman said corticosteroids can have a longer effect on a horse's system--50 to 70 days for one injection--than people believe. He said they can also affect behavior and suppress the immune system.

The most popular corticosteroid is methylprednisolone because it lasts almost 40 days and is relatively cheap, Waterman said. But repeated use can erode arterial cartilage, he said.

"Never administer (corticosteroids) to a normal joint," Waterman said. "I've seen vet bills where every joint was injected. You're doing unbelievable damage (by shotgun administration)."

Racing jurisdictions have different withdrawal times for corticosteroids. In Pennsylvania it is seven days, while New York is considering a rule that would set a withdrawal time of 15 days, Waterman said. In Indiana, withdrawal times range from 10 days to 48 hours.

IHRC regulations on employment eligibility verification and workers' compensation also were discussed during the CE program.

About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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