Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Talking Tuesday: Drugs and Horse Showing

but I used to jump, remember?
Given that I don't show horses on a national level (or even pay to belong to an organization that does), I generally keep my nose out of national equine politics.

But then I ran across an article on Chronicle of the Horse that argued for changing the banned substances rules. It's fascinating read if you have the time. If you don't, the gist of it is that the USEF can ban/fine it's members for even the tiniest violations, a 1000th of a 1000th of a gram, which is so small that it could be explained by a horse metabolizing a drug differently.

It's an interesting argument, to be sure.

not a DUI
Basically, the only proof needed to hand out punishment is trace evidence that something was ever present. The author argues that the USEF ought to also be able to prove that the substance was available in an amount that might have a therapeutic effect.

Part of me agrees with the author. The hoopla around the disqualification of Jock Paget at Burghley even when he proved he did nothing wrong intentionally was wildly unfair in my opinion. The other part is offended that the author's examples are enforcing speed limits (on vehicles by police) and blood alcohol limits placed on DUI enforcement.

only strike dramatic poses on cloudy days
It bothers me that the author compares horse sport with motor vehicle operation because a horse is in no way equivalent to a machine. I don't worry about my car consenting to drive me to work. I don't ensure that every drive ends on a good note. Why? Because it's a non-sentient being.

A horse cannot consent to compete in a sport verbally. It can't understand the risks inherent in putting that kind of stress on a body and it has no concept of what another option might be.

Because a horse cannot give informed consent, I think the standard of evidence for riders MUST be higher. It's not as simple as saying "I drugged him, but he wasn't impaired" to the USEF enforcement officer looking at a tainted blood sample.

At least, in my world, it shouldn't be.

Thoughts? I really can argue this one either way.


  1. I wish I had more of an opinion on this. Perhaps I should become informed first. But I do think JOck's DQ was insanely absurd.

  2. Such a complicated issue. I don't know what the right answer is honestly. Some people think using legal "drugs" (calming paste) is cheating, while others say if USEF doesn't say no then it's all fine.

  3. I always find it very "funny" (as in not funny at all) that USEF will allow certain levels of certain NSAIDs or muscle relaxers or what have you, yet has pretty strict tranq rules. And I'm 100% on board with the tranq rules - a) that's unsafe, b) if your sport is one that actually benefits from a horse being dull or sleepy, you really need to re-evaluate your so called sport. But I am absolutely not on board with allowing all the other crap that is ok as long as you declare it on a med form. One of the biggest things I've noticed coming back into the eventing world from h/j-dom is the sharps containers at shows. Always filled to the brink each night at a h/j show... always empty the whole weekend at events. Why exactly IS that, do you think? Interesting thing to ponder. At the base of it, I have a major issue with anything that promotes or provides a means to allow truly bad horsemanship... and unfortunately that's kind of where USEF is at right now. The things that are being done to horses either legally or in the effort to skirt by "undetected" are horrendous, and there's a lot of different root causes IMO that have combined together to create a big problem.

  4. I got about halfway through the article and got so tired of how much the author talked about cars and DUIs that I just quit reading. Still, the point about some substances being allowed and others being absolutely not allowed at any detectable level is kinda nonsensical to me. I'm not a vet, so I don't know how long some forbidden drugs remain detectable, nor do I know the effectiveness levels of those drugs. It seems logical to forbid drugs above certain levels, instead of having a zero tolerance. Does that mean people would start using those drugs in quantities that would test below the certain level? I suppose it's possible, and that's what the USEF is trying to avoid. Give that I don't and have never considered using any of the banned substances, it really hasn't been a concern for me.

  5. The author was comparing apples and oranges with his stupid car/DUI metaphor. Alcohol itself is not an illegal substance. You can drink as much of it as you want...as long as you don't drive. The same is for the control medications on the list. A vet can give them to a horse, you just can't compete said horse while they are in his system. I don't know that doesn't seem particularly unreasonable to me...

    Prohibited substances on the list fall under two categories: Controlled Medication and Banned Substances. Controlled medication are those drugs used by veterinarians for veterinary purposes. Banned substances are those not used in vet med and fall under the category of doping.

    Illegal drugs are illegal for a reason, that shouldn't even be up for argument. I'm all for a zero tolerance policy. With controlled medication, if it's on the therapeutic substance list and you do it correctly, with a vet on board, you shouldn't have an issue.

    What is comes down to is protecting the horses, because unfortunately there ARE people out there who try to get away with this kind of stuff. If they can find it in the horses system, then there should be disqualification involved. But then I'm 100% pro horse welfare first and foremost.

    Are there unfortunate loopholes, sure? No system is perfect, but for the most part I really do believe that USEF is trying to do right by the equine athletes...

  6. I didn't read the article (I too got sick of the car analogy within a few paragraphs), but what you've said reminds me of a case of Australian (and other) gymnasts in the 2000 Olympics who ran the risk of being eliminated for drugs in their system that were the equivalent of taking a single aspirin in the previous two days.

    Now, I think that all athletes should be able to take basic pain relief drugs that aren't performance enhancing (an aspirin for a headache, a couple of tylenol or ibuprofen for a fever or mild muscle pain -- because they are all short-term), but the difference between human and equine athletes is that humans know they've taken a drug and ideally won't overextend themselves or do anything stupid, whereas horses might.

    I've never been in the barns (or even really at) hunter or jumper shows, so I don't know what goes on there. However, some of the tales I've heard about h/j and western pleasure drugging are truly horrifying.

  7. The one I remember is the Beijing Olympics. The entire U.S. Dressage Team was eliminated because one horse tested positive for a topical anti-inflammatory drug that is not even available in the U.S. Basically, someone in China had this product on their hands (it's like Ben-gay) and touched the horse. Because it's topical, it was absorbed into the horse's bloodstream and he tested positive. The whole U.S. Team was disqualified because some random person in China touched the horse with this stuff on their hands. Does that seem fair?

    Under the current rules, I could never compete at the FEI level because I myself wouldn't pass the drug test. My medications are prescribed by a Dr. and therapeutic, but the FEI doesn't care. Banned is banned. I guess my health problems make me no good. Better ship me off to slaughter.

  8. Yeah, I didn't get very far on reading this. I do think Jock Paget's DQ was unfair though.

  9. thanks for reading the article and synthesizing it for us! i almost purposefully don't do too much research into this subject bc it kinda makes me upset that drugging is such a problem in the first place and that the rules are applied so arbitrarily (and unfairly in Jock Paget's case)...


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