AAEP Examines Owner-Trainer-Vet Relationship in Racing

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) is developing protocol designed to improve the relationship among owners, trainers, and veterinarians in horse racing.

Scott Palmer, VMD, director of the New Jersey Equine Clinic and chair of the AAEP Racing Committee, said discussions led to the realization that more could be done to improve the owner-trainer-veterinarian relationship in a way that would "improve horse welfare, reduce the cost of veterinary services, and improve the business model of racing."

Palmer discussed the initiative during the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing & Gaming in Tucson Dec. 7. Much of it centers on communication.

"The classic owner-trainer relationship in its simplest form is a hierarchical relationship with the owner at the top," Palmer said. "The owner hires the trainer, and the trainer hires the veterinarian. The veterinarian, however, bills the owner, occasionally with the bill being first reviewed and approved by the trainer. In this hierarchical relationship all communication between the owner and veterinarian is filtered through the trainer.

"Most often there is a direct line of communication between owner and trainer and between trainer and veterinarian, but the communication between the owner and veterinarian is usually inconsistent, provoked by a serious medical condition of the horse or a large anticipated medical expense," he continued. "As in any triangular relationship among three people, two of the people in the relationship are most often talking about the third, missing person. That's where the trouble starts."

Palmer said that for the past two years the AAEP has held focus groups for owners, trainers, and veterinarians in Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and Quarter Horse racing in an attempt to identify concerns over how the relationships work--good or bad. The results weren't surprising.

Owners believe veterinary costs are out of control and communication with vets is poor.

"And they feel like they are working for the trainer, not the other way around," Palmer said of comments made during the focus groups.

Trainers, meanwhile, are concerned they aren't attracting new owners, and fear that owners will move their horses to another trainer if they don't use medication to be competitive.

Veterinarians, Palmer said, acknowledge that "accounts receivable are out of control" but worry trainers will terminate the relationship if they don't provide the requested treatment.

"They are frustrated that trainers don't want them to communicate with owners and view veterinary service as a commodity," Palmer said.

The idea is to develop a "contract" similar to those used in other business relationships.

In 2008 the AAEP formed a task force charged with defining the role of the veterinarian in promoting equine welfare. The AAEP has published several white papers on the care and treatment of racehorses as well as use of medication in training and racing.

About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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