FEI General Assembly: NSAID Use Definitively Prohibited

The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in international equestrian competition is definitively prohibited, following a unanimous vote by the members of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the governing body for international equestrian sports, during its General Assembly meeting Nov. 1-5 in Chinese Taipei.

However, the FEI has agreed to pursue efforts to provide national federations with data indicating the exact amount of time low doses of common NSAIDs--including phenylbutazone (Bute) and flunixin meglumine (Banamine)--are detectable in a horse's blood or urine. This information would allow team veterinarians and riders to accurately time the administration of NSAIDs for therapeutic purposes between events, according to John McEwen, BVMS, MRCVS, team veterinarian for the British Equestrian Federation, FEI Veterinary Committee chair, and chair of the FEI List Group, which developed the now-approved proposal in September.

The decision follows an intensive two-day congress on NSAIDs use in equestrian events, hosted by the FEI in August in Lausanne, Switzerland. At the event, more than 200 international participants convened to discuss and debate the latest research, theories, laws, politics, and public opinion concerning NSAIDs use in horses.

The General Assembly's vote officially defuses the spark of the previously proposed "Progressive List" from November 2009, in which proponents--primarily FEI members from North America--urged the FEI to consider tolerating the presence of certain NSAIDs in horses during drug testing at international competitions. NSAID use is illegal in equestrian events in nine European countries, and that law is most stringent in France and Sweden, according to Lisa Lazarus, JD, FEI general counsel.

"NSAIDs could threaten horse welfare by masking pain and lameness," said Peter Kallings, DVM, PhD, director of research at the Swedish Foundation for Equine Research, during a question-and-answer session at the NSAIDs congress. "We're not talking about fatal injuries, but it's the wear and tear and everyday increased injury risk, stress fractures, delayed muscle soreness, or muscle strains with damaged muscle fibers and connective tissue damage, that will not be supported with non-steroidals."

Tim Ober, DVM, U.S. Equestrian Federation team veterinarian, said during the congress that he did not approve of NSAIDs use for competitions themselves nor for covering an injury, but that they were useful in reducing inflammation that can result from traveling and competing, much as a human athlete might take an aspirin after a hard run. This is particularly necessary for Grand Prix-level horses going through very tight show season schedules, he added. "Right now I don't have the opportunity to help that horse who's finished showing on Sunday prepare for the following week," he said. "We want to put (the horse) in the ring as happy and fit and comfortable as possible. Regulations that are too restrictive don't allow that."

Both Kallings and Ober agreed that in any case, NSAIDs should not be used to compensate for poor management and scheduling.

The newly approved decision, which was met with spontaneous applause from the General Assembly voters, is a "good compromise," according to Canadian Equestrian Federation president Mike Gallagher, who co-led the congress' organized debate in favor of NSAID use. The decision also allows for a modification in the detection level of salicylic acid (aspirin), raising it to the same level used in international racing events, according to the FEI.

A summary of the General Assembly can be found on the FEI website.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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