In a year that saw increased public scrutiny of equine welfare and medication issues both on the track and in the competition field, veterinarians at the 2008 Annual Convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) in San Diego, Calif., gathered in a forum to discuss these and other performance horse issues.

Forum leaders Stephen Soule, VMD, of West Palm Beach, Fla., and Mark Baus, DVM, of Fairfield Equine Associates in Newtown, Conn., facilitated the discussion that covered drugs and medication, veterinarians' roles at competitions, welfare, insurance, and prepurchase exams.

They started the forum by showing two easel pad pages, both filled with some of the drugs and medications a single show horse could potentially have on board at a competition. These included everything from anti-inflammatories and joint injections to anti-ulcer medications and corticosteroids.

"With the combinations of the NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and the other things we're doing, we're tearing these horses up," Soule noted.

The veterinarians in attendance freely discussed the medication issue, raising several points:

  • The mindset seems to be "that day, that class," rather than looking at long-term effects for the animal.
  • Judging standards are perhaps out of line with what's healthy for the horse--if these medications are required to get what's considered a good round or class, does that definition need to change, and does the AAEP have a place in making that change happen?
  • Reliable tests are not available for some of these drugs, making guidelines for their appropriate use difficult to write and impossible to enforce.
  • Some veterinarians will prescribe medications to all of a trainer's horses, without examining individual animals, perhaps creating grounds for state regulatory action.

The issue of horse owner education was also raised. If, as in many cases, the veterinarian works directly with the trainer, the owners might not know what medications the horse has on board (as well as their effects and potential contraindications). The only thing they see is the bill, after the fact (sometimes leading to an angry phone call!). In other situations vets must balance the requests of the trainer and the owner. When both have authority over the horse's care, this can create a sticky situation for the vet.

Insurance was another hot topic among members of this group. Some attendees recounted instances in which they acted as an advocate for their clients, such as a case where a horse had a specific treatable problem in one leg. While the insurers agreed to cover the treatment, they also wanted to eliminate all future issues with that leg from coverage--whether related to the initial issue or not. The veterinarian was asked to intervene.

The moderators concluded that this sort of dialogue between insurers and veterinarians is likely to become more necessary as the costs of diagnostics and treatments increase and policies become more specific.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. She owns a portly gray gelding named Duncan and dabbles in several equestrian disciplines, with an emphasis on dressage.

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