New AQHA Drug Testing and Welfare Initiatives Announced

The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) is implementing a drug testing and show processing fee that will go into effect January 1, 2010. Starting with shows in January, show management will begin collecting a $5 per horse per show fee that will go toward increasing the breadth and depth of drug testing and the development of a stewards program.

For more than 40 years, AQHA's welfare and competition policies have been set in place to protect the horse. In keeping with what was best for the horse, AQHA followed the lead of the United States Equestrian Federation and guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners to establish therapeutic medication rules in the mid-1990s.

To enforce the rules, AQHA dramatically increased its drug testing of horses at shows in 2006 with the goal of testing more than 300 shows per year. This expense has been offset by a drug testing fee of $3 per horse, which totaled $875,000 in 2009. However, total costs for drug testing at AQHA shows and the world championship shows total more than $1 million in testing fees alone. This amount does not include administrative costs or expenditures for hearings or addressing positive tests.

"Due to the importance we place on ensuring the welfare of the horse and the integrity of AQHA competition, the Association has been subsidizing the drug testing program to this point. Those more directly involved in show competition will now accept a larger share of the burden. This fee increase is necessary to ensure we have a sound testing program and to develop a way to monitor animal welfare at AQHA events," said Gary Carpenter, AQHA executive director of breed integrity and animal welfare.

During the March 2009 AQHA Convention, the AQHA show council voted to increase drug testing, in addition to developing a stewards program to monitor humane welfare at AQHA shows. To finance these essential programs, the council recommended a $5 fee per horse per show, excluding exhibitors from Canada, international, and California, who pay a $4 processing fee.

As competitors voice greater concerns about the health and welfare of the horse and the need for a level playing field in our events, the show council felt it necessary to implement these changes, Carpenter said.

While AQHA can implement rules regarding proper use and administration of therapeutic medications and banning performance-enhancing substances, no policy is valid unless it is enforced through a comprehensive enforcement plan.

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