AAEP Releases Performance Horse Treatment Guidelines

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has developed guidelines for veterinarians who treat horses competing in athletic events other than racing. The document, "Clinical Guidelines for Veterinarians Treating the Non-Racing Performance Horse," promotes medical practices the AAEP believes place the appropriate emphasis on the health, safety, and welfare of performance horses.

Focusing on the highly competitive performance horse environment, the guidelines address the importance of obtaining a specific diagnosis before administering treatment. All medical treatment of performance horses should be based upon a veterinary diagnosis with appropriate time allowed for an evaluation following treatment to ensure the horse is recovered before it competes again. Administering joint injections without specific medical indication is an example of under diagnosis and over treatment. The competition schedule should not be the primary factor when evaluating a horse's need for medical care.

"The judicious use of therapeutic techniques and medications is at the core of all successful veterinary care," said William Moyer, DVM, AAEP president and head of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M. "Just as the AAEP has previously examined the appropriate veterinary care of racehorses, it is important for us, as veterinarians, to equally consider the medical care of the athletes competing in numerous sport horse disciplines."

In addition to medication administration, the guidelines address the use of shockwave therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic therapy, and cold therapy. Also included are recommendations for veterinary medical records, drug compounding, and infectious disease control at competitions and sales. The guidelines will be updated as research provides new data about the medical care of performance horses.

The clinical guidelines were developed by the AAEP Task Force on Medication in the Non-Racing Performance Horse, a group comprised of private and regulatory veterinarians involved in a wide range of sport horse disciplines. Nat White, DVM, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, AAEP immediate past president and Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and Director at Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, served as task force chair.

White explained that the task force was appointed in December of last year and completed the guidelines this May. The AAEP had recently completed their "Clinical Guidelines for Veterinarians Practicing in a Pari-Mutuel Environment" and decided it was time to review their guidelines for veterinarians treating non-racing performance horses.

"Many of the health concerns (between racehorses and performance horses) are the same, but because racing works in a pari-mutuel betting environment, there are restrictions and testing for illegal medications which is different than in most of the performance horse competitions," White explained. "In many cases, there are no regulations about use of drugs and no testing, so it was important to address that."

White also expressed that while the document was written for the treating veterinarian in mind, performance horse owners could benefit from reviewing the guidelines.

"A lot of the pressure to treat horses for competition comes from the owners," he said. "Obviously, they would like a competitive edge, but we really feel it's important that the horse be considered first before treatments are administered. It's partly the owner's responsibility.

"It's also the responsibility of the organizations that sponsor the competitions because they can set many of the (horse health) guidelines or rules. AAEP would like organizations to adopt similar guidelines to improve how therapeutic medications are used in horses."

White relayed that he and the task force were pleased with the finished product and hope that veterinarians, owners, and all those involved in non-racing performance horses will take the guidelines into consideration when considering health care for the equine athlete.

"We felt we took the high road," he said. "It was very important that we did what we felt was best for horses' health and welfare. We are aware of abuses in treating performance horses and feel we need to look after the horse first."

For more information, contact Sally Baker, AAEP director of marketing and public relations, at 859/233-0147 or sbaker@aaep.org.

By the American Association of Equine Practitioners and Erica Larson

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