Give 'em Some Air!

Before I go into this column on my opinion about the legalization of clenbuterol (trade name Ventipulmin), I want everyone to know I am personally prejudiced in this area of discussion. Clenbuterol is a legal drug for horses with airway constriction. The smooth muscles surrounding the small airways constrict in some horses--ranging from very mild to chronic heaves--causing them to struggle to breathe normally. My daughter has asthma. The smooth muscles in her small airways constrict, causing her to struggle to breathe (ranging from very mild to not so very mild; in other words, scary to a mother).

While I have never had a horse with small airway disease, I think I can pretty clearly understand what that horse is going through. In mild cases, he sometimes is fine, worsening when weather, environmental conditions, or physical stress and exercise compromise his respiratory system. In severe cases, he stands and his whole being is focused on trying to get enough oxygen to keep his body alive.

Research has shown that environmental conditions are extremely important to respiratory disease. In other words, cleaning up a horse's environment will help, and keeping horses in environments with poor air quality and ventilation will increase problems. It's as simple as that.

So, how can we force horses to live in an environment that produces small airway disease (in other words, being stabled up to 24 hours a day, such as happens with Thoroughbreds on the racetrack and some show/pleasure horses), then turn around and refuse those same horses treatment for the respiratory condition we caused?

I don't have the answer. In fact, I don't understand the problem! There are Thoroughbred racing jurisdictions that are forbidding any traces of clenbuterol in a horse's system. Doesn't matter how long before a race the horse was treated, it's illegal if the labs can find it. And according to the laboratories and attendant veterinarians, the labs are using every device available.

Should clenbuterol use in performance horses be regulated? That's up to the regulatory bodies. But forbidding the use of a drug that research has shown cannot enhance performance in normal horses is ridiculous.

My daughter uses an inhaler to control her asthma. Sometimes she uses stronger medicine and a nebulizer that we keep at home. A couple of times, we have ended up at the doctor's office or in the hospital.

Human athletes are allowed to perform in Olympic-caliber events with the use of medications for asthma. Why are equine athletes penalized for the same type of conditions? Are we so afraid that one person will figure out a way to cheat that we refuse to help all the horses which could benefit? Does that seem like overkill to anyone else?

If this were a new drug and no other regulatory bodies had ever faced trying to regulate it, I would have more sympathy for those in charge. But, clenbuterol has been legal in Europe since 1979, and in Canada for more than a decade! Did any of the regulators in this country bother to see what kind of regulatory options other countries are using and if they have had problems with illegal use?

Lest you think that I have some personal gain in this whole situation, the manufacturing pharmaceutical company is Boehringer Ingelheim, which is a family owned corporation. (In other words, no one but the 18 family members owns any stock.)

I do have a personal agenda.

It is tough to get pharmaceutical companies to devote money and time to bring needed equine products on the market. Why do some people (who, I would guess, have never owned a horse, much less one with respiratory problems) want to give that product, and that company, a bad rap? The equine market is smaller than the human, livestock, or companion animal market for pharmaceuticals. We need new drugs, improved vaccines, and physiological research to help our horses. In this day and age, pharmaceutical companies pay for much of that research.

That's kind of like your dog bringing you the newspaper every day, and when you get the paper, you slap him on the head with it. Think that dog isn't going to go looking for another job, or another master?

It's time for horse owners to speak out against regulators running, and ruining, the health of our horses. This is a proven drug that has been used in competitive horses around the world for years. Let's not reinvent the wheel. Let's not slap our friends on the head. And for heaven's sake, let's not let our horses be forced to live and work under adverse physical situations that we caused, and we can control.

More Understanding

In the last couple of Viewpoint columns, you were told about books that our company publishes. The Horse Health Care Library has not only the two books mentioned the last two months--Understanding Laminitis and Nutrition--but four more already in print, and several more in various stages of being published. These will be out in the next few months.

Those already published are Understanding EPM, The Equine Foot, Lameness, and Equine First Aid. To appear in the near future are Understanding The Broodmare, The Foal, Equine Behavior, Basic Horse Care, The Stallion, and The Older Horse.

These are references for the knowledgable horse person to use in the real world of raising and campaigning horses. In other words, for people just like you.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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