Understanding the USEF Equine Drugs and Medications Program

The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) is the national governing body for equestrian sport and is a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee. The USEF is responsible for enforcing the rules of 27 breeds and disciplines. Formerly this organization was known as the American Horse Shows Association (AHSA). The name may have changed, but the mission of its Equine Drugs and Medications Program has stayed the same since the program's inception in 1970.

Over the past 38 years, the Equine Drugs and Medications Program has worked to protect the welfare of equine athletes and ensure the balance of competition. Currently, the program utilizes veterinarians and technicians around the country to collect blood and urine samples from horses competing at USEF events.

The USEF also contracts with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) to enforce the AQHA'S drug rules by collecting samples at Quarter Horse competitions for analysis. Additionally, the USEF is responsible for testing competitions throughout the United States that are operated under the rules of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international governing body of equestrian sport headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland.

In 2007, almost 17,000 blood and urine samples were collected and analyzed by the program, representing nearly 13,000 horses randomly selected for testing. Since 1995, the USEF has operated its own equine drug testing and research laboratory.

Drugs and medications are classified by the USEF's Drugs and Medications Rule as being permitted, restricted, or forbidden.

Permitted substances include dewormers, antibiotics (except procaine penicillin), anti-fungals, antiprotozoals, vitamins, electrolytes, and anti-ulcer medications. Caution is urged if one is using so-called herbal or natural products, since plants are commonly the source for pharmacologically potent, forbidden substances such as cocaine, reserpine, and marijuana.

Restricted medications include specific non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), methocarbamol (muscle relaxant), and dexamethasone (corticosteroid). Restricted drugs are allowed to be present in the horse at the time of competition provided they do not exceed the levels specifically set for each drug.

Currently, no more than two approved NSAIDs are permitted in a horse's system at the same time, as long as neither is found in excess of respective restrictive levels. One exception to this regulation is flunixin and phenylbutazone, which are not permitted in a horse at the same time. A seven-day withdrawal from one of these two NSAIDs is recommended before initiating treatment with the other. In addition to flunixin and phenylbutazone, other NSAIDs that are allowed below restrictive levels include: naproxen (Naprosyn), meclofenamic acid (Arquel), firocoxib (Equioxx), diclofenac (Surpass), and ketoprofen (Ketofen).

Very specific dose and time recommendations are published for all restricted medications to aid competitors, trainers, and veterinarians in maintaining compliance with the USEF's drug rules.

Forbidden medications and substances include those that may affect the cardiovascular, respiratory, or central nervous system or have a behavior-altering affect. This includes any stimulant, depressant, tranquilizer, local anesthetic, psychotropic substance, or drug that might affect the performance of a horse and/or pony, including corticosteroids and analgesics. Some forbidden medications may be used for legitimate emergency treatment if proper steps are taken.

In 2007, the USEF Drugs and Medications Program tested 802 days of competitions held under USEF rules, with slightly more than 150 positive findings. Violations included 26 for sedation and long-acting tranquilizers, 34 for excessive amounts of restricted medications, six for antihistamines, and violations for a lengthy list of miscellaneous substances. Penalties can include suspensions and/or fines and the return of all winnings. Fines for the above cases ranged from $750 to $5,000, and suspensions were for up to five months. The statistics for these positive findings do not include those of the AQHA. Including the testing done for the AQHA, more than 1,000 days of competition were tested.

Not all positive findings may be violations. If conditions for the therapeutic administration of a forbidden substance have been met, a positive finding can be considered compliance with the rule.

The USEF strongly encourages its members to review the current USEF Drugs and Medications Rule and to be aware of the published recommendations for treating a horse in competition. These recommendations can be found in the Federation's Drugs and Medications Guidelines pamphlet (link directs to a PDF on the USEF site).  


Contact: Dr. Stephen Schumacher, 800/633-2472; USEF Drugs and Medications Program; Hilliard, Ohio.

This is an excerpt from Equine Disease Quarterly, funded by underwriters at Lloyd's, London, brokers, and their Kentucky agents. More articles from Equine Disease Quarterly...

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