The End of Raceday Medications
Sid Gustafson DVM
Equine veterinary behaviorist representing the health and welfare of horses
Thanks to a wide and diverse variety of racehorse advocacy efforts, a review of racehorse raceday medication practices by a variety of racing jurisdictions and organizations is making advancements to support the drug-free welfare and humane care of racehorses. Raceday medications are in the process of being rescinded, as are the indiscriminate and abusive use of drugs in racehorses in general. It has become clear to many that current racehorse medication practices in the United States and Canada exceed the adaptability of the racehorse, resulting in unnecessary breakdowns and injuries and death to both horses and jockeys. Rather than drugs, it is the humane care of racehorses that supports soundness of wind and limb.
A variety of groups have responded to the call by the HSVMA and HSUS to better care for racehorses. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission invited the HSUS to testify at its raceday medication hearing, and I provided a version of the racehorse advocacy that follows. The Interstate Horse Racing Improvement Act is making its way through the United States Congress, and is supported by several congressional representatives. Make sure your representative supports this important Act. Governor Cuomo has called for an investigation of the New York Racing Association breakdowns. The New York Times is running a series of articles exposing the medication charade that has endangered horses and riders for decades in America. The Breeder’s Cup committee has banned raceday Lasix for two-year-olds racing in this year’s Breeder’ Cup.
Drug-free racing will improve stabling, conditioning, and husbandry practices for racehorses. Medication has long been a crutch that facilitates the improper care of stabled horses. Rather than alleviate medical conditions, recent data clearly demonstrates that racing medications allow people to exceed racehorse adaptability. Drug use perpetuates fragility in racehorses. Fragility is dangerous for both horses and riders. To appreciate the principles of equine behavior is to understand what is required to maintain pulmonary health in horses confined to stalls being conditioned to race, and it is not drugs. The solution to managing Exercise-Induced-Pulmonary-Hemorrhage and preventing breakdowns is appropriate breeding, development, horsemanship, training, and husbandry rather than drugs. The care that establishes and enhances pulmonary health and endurance in horses is the same care that enriches stabled horses’ lives. It is the same care that keeps racehorses’ musculoskeletal systems sound. It is humane care that keeps horses on their feet during races.
Horses with healthy lungs and sound limbs are content and fulfilled horses whose lives their caretakers adequately and extensively enrich. Lung health is supported by limb health. Appropriate husbandry and training maintains and establishes soundness of both wind and limb. Breathing and running are biologically intertwined on the track, a breath per stride. To stride correctly is to breathe correctly. To breathe correctly is to breathe soundly, and race sound. Limb soundness and pulmonary soundness are physiologically entwined.
Horses who are bred, socialized, and developed properly from birth, and who train while living enriched stable lives are seldom likely to experience performance-impairing EIPH while racing. They are more apt to stay sound of limb. Humane care of the horse prevents bleeding, my friends. Humane care of the horse prevents breakdowns. Pulmonary health is reflective of appropriate husbandry, breeding, training, nutrition, and the abundant provisions of forage, friends, and perhaps most importantly, locomotion. Bleeding in a race is reflective of inadequate care and preparation, of miscalculations and untoward medication practices. Drugs and raceday medications perpetuate substandard horsemanship, artificially suppressing the untoward result (bleeding and breakdowns) of inadequate preparation of the thoroughbred. Drugs are no longer the solution. Humane care of the horse based on evolved behavioral needs is the solution to safe horseracing.
The solution to manage bleeding and prevent breakdowns in racehorses is to breed, develop, teach, train, and care for horses in a horse-sensitive fashion. Horses evolved as social grazers of the plains, group survivalists moving and grazing together much of the time. Horses require near-constant forage, friends, and locomotion to maintain health of wind and limb, even if they are stabled. Racehorses are no exception. The last place a horse evolved to live is in a stall, alone, with a limited view and uncirculated air. Training and husbandry need to be a good deal for horses in order for horses to maintain healthy partnerships with people. Pulmonary health is reflective of overall health and soundness in horses. Pulmonary health is reflective of limb soundness.
In order to maintain pulmonary health, natural conditions need to be re-created in the stable. The solution to managing racehorse health is proper horsemanship and husbandry, which is sadly lacking at today’s racetracks. Horses prefer to graze together and move nearly constantly in natural settings, and to race without drugs, natural has to be re-created in the stable. The equine requirement for near-constant grazing and moving is essential for joint and bone health, hoof health, metabolic health, and pulmonary health. In order for lungs to stay healthy, horses need more movement than they are currently provided. Abundant on track and off-track locomotion is necessary to condition a horse’s lungs. Lungs deteriorate when movement is restricted by excessive confinement in a stall. Horses breath all day long, and trainers need to appreciate abundant movement is required through much of the day to maintain pulmonary strength and health.
To enhance pulmonary health is to enhance the horse’s entire life and outlook. Not only do properly stabled and trained horses’ lungs hold bleeding in abeyance, they hold sway and win. Pulmonary health and bleeding prevention are dependent on smooth running and biomechanically sound locomotion.
Horses evolved in the open spaces of the northern hemisphere and require the cleanest, purest air to thrive and develop healthy lungs and hearts. Stable air needs to be constantly refreshed to maintain pulmonary health. Ventilation is essential, and enclosed structures are often inadequate in providing healthy air horse require. Appropriate barn design and stabling practices maintain pulmonary health. Bedding is critical. Clean straw provides stall movement by simulating grazing. Horses stalled on straw are noted to move about with their heads down nibbling and exploring for hours, recreating nature to some degree, keeping their lungs healthy with movement, their respiratory tracts drained by all the head-down nibbling and grazing. This is not enough. For healthy lungs, horses need to get out of their stalls for hours each afternoon. Horses need near-constant movement to maintain optimum lung health. Long-standing horses’ lungs deteriorate quickly. Not only does near-constant movement maintain and enhance pulmonary health, abundant locomotion maintains metabolic health, joint and bone health, hoof health, and digestive health. To enhance support, and maintain lung and limb health without drugs is to enhance the overall health and soundness of the horse.
Sid Gustafson DVM
Dr Gustafson is an equine veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, and novelist. Applied veterinary behavior enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Natural approaches to development, training, nutrition, and conditioning sustain equine health and enhance performance. Behavioral and nutritional enrichment strategies enhance the lives of stabled horses.