New Year, New USEF Drugs and Medications Rules (2014)

A Review of the USEF Testing Program and Changes for 2014

Posted on: January 26, 2014

Dressage Horse Line Drawing

Planning on competing your horse in a USEF show in 2014?

It is important for both competitors and trainers to understand the rules regulating the use of medications under the USEF. These rules can change yearly and the USEF expects everyone involved in their competitions to be familiar with the regulations. Entering a USEF show signifies that you agree to abide by the rules in order to provide a level playing field for all competitors and maintain the safety of both the horses and humans involved. The official 2014 USEF Drugs and Medications Program rules can be found here. I want to touch on the most important changes to the rules and the most commonly questioned parts of the existing rules in this blog entry. The guidelines can sometimes be confusing or overwhelming. If you have any questions, the staff at the USEF office is happy to help over the phone, or you can ask any of the testing veterinarians at shows. I work as both a USEF testing veterinarian and FEI treating veterinarian in my spare time and am always glad to share information related to treating and testing by the rules.

The trainer listed on a horse's entry form is ultimately responsible for maintaining the horse in accordance with these rules. USEF defines a trainer as: “Any adult or adults who has or shares the responsibility for the care, training, custody, condition or performance of the horse or pony.” If there are violations of the rules, the trainer may be fined or barred from acting as trainer or rider at USEF shows, and may have to return all prizes won by the horse involved. Riders and owners should discuss with their trainer any medications administered to their horse, including what condition is being treated, what medication and amount is being administered, and how long the horse needs to be withdrawn from competition after receiving any medications. Unfortunately it is very common for clients to either be unaware of their horses being medicated, or be presented with a list of medications their horses have received before a show and not know the purpose of the medications. It is also common for clients and trainers to be unaware that a product they have used contains forbidden substances under the rules. For instance, did you know that both caffeine (so no sharing sodas!) and lavender are listed as forbidden and require at least a 7 day withdrawal before competing? The most important change to the rules in 2014 is that no horse may be injected with any substance within 12 hours prior to competing, with 3 exceptions: a minimum of 10 liters of IV fluids with no additional electrolytes (magnesium, etc.), antibiotics (aside from Procaine Penicillin G, which is still prohibited), and dexamethasone for acute hives (dosed at 5mg/1000 pounds within 6 hours of entering the ring). These three substances are only allowed provided that they are administered by a veterinarian no less than 6 hours prior to competing, and the trainer has properly filed an Equine Drugs and Medications Report Form.

The most commonly administered drugs for competition horses are probably non-steroidal anti- inflammatories (NSAIDS), which include phenylbutazone (bute), flunixin (Banamine), firocoxib (Equioxx), and ketoprofen (Ketofen). Starting in 2011, the USEF ruled that no more than one NSAID should be administered at a time, and no closer to competition than twelve hours. If a horse has been given two NSAIDs simultaneously, one needs to be discontinued three or more days before competing. An important exception to this rule is that flunixin, in addition to another NSAID, is allowed to be detected in a sample from a horse that has been treated by a veterinarian for an eye emergency or colic. The veterinarian must complete a medication report for the horse, which needs to be withdrawn from competition for 24 hours after administration of flunixin.

Drugs that are regulated are arranged into two groups, either restricted substances or forbidden substances. Restricted substances, such as NSAIDs, methocarbamol (a muscle relaxant), and dexamethasone, have published dosing and withdrawal protocols in the guidelines. Forbidden substances are not allowed to be detected in samples from a horse and need to be given no closer to competition than a minimum of seven days, except in case of medical treatment or emergency, which requires a medications form. Tranquilizing a horse for body clipping, teeth floating or shipping does not fall into the allowed applications. Many forbidden substances have a detection time much longer than seven days and trainers should be aware of the potential withdrawal time. For example, fluphenazine (Prolixin) and reserpine, drugs used as long-term calming agents, can be detected for 90 days; the often- used tranquilizers acepromazine, detomidine (Dormosedan) and xylazine (Rompun) for 7 days; antihistamines and respiratory drugs such as albuterol for 7 days; and isoxsuprine, used most commonly for navicular syndrome, for a whopping 21 days. The published guidelines on the USEF website have a detailed list of medications that every horseperson involved in USEF competition should be aware of. So which horses can be tested at a USEF competition? The testing veterinarian and his or her technicians may select any or all entries in any class, whether or not the horse has been “scratched” from competition, if on the competition grounds. Leadline competitors are exempt from testing. We generally try to choose horses randomly from an array of trainers, although testers may choose horses more specifically based on abnormal behavior or specific concerns about a horse. Some testers will choose the top few horses in a class, or particular placings in each class, but we are not restricted to choosing in that manner and can select any non-leadline horses. We always try to remind competitors that having their horse chosen is not a reflection of their riding ability, what they are wearing, or how pretty their horse is! I think that being chosen should be a reminder that a rider and his or her horse have achieved a level of skill high enough to compete in USEF classes, and that being tested means that the competition is fair for everyone involved. The goal of drug testing is not to “catch” people doing things they shouldn't, but rather encourage them to abide by the rules by reminding them that testers could be present at any show. If I had my way, we would never have a positive result!

What happens once your horse is selected? Horses may be selected by a veterinarian and his or her technicians at any point, and riders/trainers are notified either after the class ends or between classes in a division. The vets and techs are all friendly and will do their best to explain and expedite the process and not get in the way of a horse's normal routine. Once the class or division had ended, we allow a quick cool-down if needed and then accompany the horse and its rider/trainer/groom back to either a testing stall or to the competitor's own stall or trailer. We fill out a form identifying the horse, rider, owner and trainer, which also has attached labels for samples, and a receipt for the trainer with a unique number for that horse's samples. We always obtain three tubes of blood and do our best to obtain a urine sample as well. The horse is untacked and allowed to stand quietly in the stall with the technician. We find that the horses with the least distractions urinate most quickly, so removing hay and grain and human interaction helps a lot! The veterinarian may come to draw blood either before or after urine is voided. Each veterinarian sets their own maximum duration of time the horse must remain in the care of the testers waiting for urine samples, depending on the show. There is no mandatory maximum time a horse can be held, so I usually suggest that competitors plan to potentially be tested at every show and expect up to two hours delay at the end of their competition day. We know it is an inconvenience, but testing is important for safe, fair competition. Any samples we obtain are sealed with that horse's special number attached to them, and sent with the rest of the show's samples to a lab in Kentucky. Any questionable results will be communicated to the trainer on record within approximately six weeks. Sample testing progress can now be checked online with the horse's ID number. Testing shouldn't be scary, and we do our best to educate young riders from an early age how the process works and that we really are there in the best interests of everyone. You should always feel free to ask questions when the testers are around so you become comfortable with the rules. Do keep in mind that each governing body (USEF, FEI, AQHA, etc.) has their own rules, so be sure to check the guidelines before you show.