In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Friday, May 25, 2012

May 25, 2012, 10:09 PM

Alkalinization, Lasix and Milkshaking: A Veterinarian’s View

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s hearing on race-day medication last November revealed that Lasix alkalinizes horses, elevating their racing TCO2 values.
The more Lasix, and the closer it is administered to the race, the more intense the alkalinization effect of Lasix, according to the science presented at the K.H.R.C. race-day medication hearing. Lasix alkalinizes horses, creating a competitive metabolic advantage similar to milkshaking, rendering the drug Lasix a clear and present doping agent. Human athletic regulators have deemed Lasix a doping agent, and horseracing regulators will eventually have to come to that appropriate conclusion. Lasix has significant potential to alter and enhance racehorse performance.
As well, in my experience as both an attending veterinarian and a regulatory veterinarian, the attending veterinarians administering Lasix are often requested (as long as they are in the stall with the horse before the race to give the Lasix) to administer intravenous sodium bicarbonate, calcium and wide variety of other substances, including adjunct bleeder medications and undetectable performance-enhancers to stimulate or calm horses while sustaining added endurance. By pharmaceutically altering and manipulating a variety of physiological and neurological parameters for competitive advantage, medicating veterinarians influence the outcome of horse races and racehorse performance. In addition, these race-day medicators put horses at increased risk to break down. The statistics presented at the hearing clearly show horses medicated on race day break down more often than clean racing runners. The connection is indisputable.
There are a wide variety of pharmaceutical and nutritional manipulations veterinarians and trainers apply to gain competitive advantages, especially when veterinarians are allowed to medicate horses on race day, and the day before. Intubation (passing a tube up the nose and down the esophagus to administer a gallon or so of a sodium bicarbonate, crystalline sugar, and whatever else doesn’t test but may help move a horse up) is one method to milkshake a horse. Intravenous, intramuscular, sublingual, and oral administration of drugs are other racing-vet approaches to alkalinize racehorses to buffer the metabolic acidosis they experience as they enter the anaerobic acidotic state in the later stages of the horse race.
The historical method to curb veterinary doping has always been to bar veterinarians with needles from being around horses on raceday. When I started collecting racehorse urine in the ’60s, veterinarians were not allowed to be around horses with their needles and drugs on raceday in America. Initially, racing regulators barred trainers from possessing drugs and needles. Next thing they knew, veterinarians were slinking around from stall to stall before the races injecting horses as if they were sick. When I practiced on standardbreds in New York in the late ’70s and early ’80s, racing veterinarians were not allowed to be on the grounds hours before the races at Batavia Downs and Buffalo Raceway.
Horses are notoriously vulnerable to pharmaceutical manipulation, and these days with all the permissive medication policies, trainers and their veterinarians remain notoriously tempted to pursue every pharmaceutical ploy they can devise to move a horse up. Alkalinization comes in a variety of bottles and can be achieved by utilizing a variety of methods. It is the nature of many trainers to take whatever pharmaceutical measures they feel they can get away with to get their horse across the finish line first.
To allow racing veterinarians in a stall with a horse before a race is to permit doping, as it has turned out in America. I have witnessed veterinary doping first hand from California to New York. The solution to prevent doping and render an even field is to keep medicating veterinarians away from horses in the days before they race, as is the policy in Europe and Asia, where racing is approximately four times safer than in America. There, veterinarians can attend horses, but they are forbidden to medicate them, as is the appropriate ethical standard. Horses are never denied appropriate veterinary care, but when horses do require medication, they are declared unfit to race, as should be the policy in America.
Certain bodywork, massages, and physical therapies are appropriate as the race approaches, but doping is not. Drugs and medications are to treat ailing and lame horses, and ailing or lame horses are not permitted to race in ethical racing jurisdictions. Horses deemed to require medication are horses unfit to race by current international ethical standards. The universal standard through horse racing time has been to bar administration of any and all medications before a horse competes. Racehorses and riders are best served to run with no drugs in their systems. The clean racing standard is the standard that has effectively and appropriately protected the health and welfare of horses through time.
There are a variety of conditioning, husbandry and nutritional strategies that can be used that do not include or involve drugs and medications to prepare horses to withstand the rigors of a race. Tapering down the digestive tract, appropriate nutritional supplementation, appropriate exercise routines, appropriate hydration and metabolic preparations, and an endless variety of other holistic and physiologic preparatory approaches are more wholesome medication-free approaches for horse, rider and horseplayer.
It should be noted here, as well, that California allows trainers to take horses on and off Lasix without public knowledge. The attending veterinarians are allowed to use the steroidal estrogen hormone Premarin instead of Lasix. The California attending veterinarians are at liberty to switch out established race-day Lasix administration for race-day Premarin without the public disclosure of the change. All the while the horse is listed on the program as a Lasix horse race after race, despite differing medication regimens from race to race. This can result in significant variations in the type and dosage of administered medications from race to race, with associated alterations in performance. A horse listed as a Lasix horse may legally receive Premarin instead of Lasix. Next race the horse may receive Lasix, or Lasix plus Premarin, or only Premarin. The betting public is not made aware of these medication switches. Potential performance variations because of medication changes are hidden from the public by the C.H.R.B. Their regulatory veterinarians are forbidden to disclose the information to anyone but the testing laboratory, so the lab knows why certain Lasix horses do not have Lasix in their urine. The race-to-race medication choices are orchestrated and controlled by the racing veterinarians administering the race-day medications.
The Breeders’ Cup is in California this fall. Oversight by the Breeders’ Cup or reconsideration of the medication rules is in order there to protect the health and welfare of those champion runners and to assure medication consistency from race to race and horse to horse. The betting public deserves to be accurately informed about which horses are receiving what drugs, and for which race, and what changes to the medication routine occur from race to race.
The journey to establish clean horse racing continues. Soon, the horses shall prevail as horses have prevailed through time. Trainers will soon be required to utilize horsemanship rather than drugs to chalk up a win.

Sid Gustafson, D.V.M., is a novelist and equine veterinarian specializing in thoroughbred sports medicine and equine behavior. He currently practices regulatory veterinary medicine, representing the safety and welfare of thoroughbred racehorses.

Monday, May 21, 2012

DrSid's interview with Dr Doolittle regarding socialization and willing partnerships with pets and horses.

Dr Sid Gustafson is a wealth of knowledge about horses, dogs and cats!  Proper socialization, life enrichment and fulfillment for your animals helps them be happy, willing and eager to learn.
Dr Gustafson is a practicing veterinarian and university educator, as well as an animal welfare advocate. He teaches Equine Behavior at the University of Guelph, for the EquineGuelph Open Learning program, an online education program that reaches out to horse folk worldwide.
He has taught domestication science, equine behavior, and the evolution and domestication of the wolf at Montana State University, and the University of Montana Western, where he was the Equine Studies Program Coordinator.
Dr Sid also writes for the New York Times regarding the health and welfare of racehorses. He represents the health and welfare of racehorses for the California Horse Racing Board as an Official Veterinarian at various meets in California. Dr Gustafson recently testified before the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission supporting the ban of race day medication to improve the health, welfare, and safety of racing thoroughbreds.
If you would like your horse, dog or cat to be delighted to be with you, to want to please you, and to be big hearted, willing and happy companions and partners, then listen in as Dr Sid shares his most important lessons, tips and insights.  Enjoy!
We discussed:
• What is required to get a horse or dog in the space to be a willing learner?
• Is there a secret to encouraging dogs, cats and horses to want to please us?
• How important is socialization to future behavioral health in dogs, horses, and cats?
• What are the 3 essential needs that caretakers must fulfill for their animals for them to be happy, healthy and balanced individuals?
• What are poison cues?
To contact Dr. Sid Gustafson for more information go to or you can like his Facebook page at . /406-581-4946 Cell / 406-995-2266  Office.

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 11, 2012, 11:28 AM

Conditioning and Winning, Lasix-Free

Horses evolved as social grazers of the plains, group survivalists moving and grazing together most all of the time. During their 60-million-year evolution, horses came to require near-constant forage, friends and locomotion to maintain health and vigor of wind and limb.
Despite domestication and selective breeding, today’s racehorses are no exception. Although horses are extremely adaptable, the last place a horse evolved to live is in a stall, alone, with limited space to move and forage about with others. The solution to manage bleeding in racehorses is to breed, develop, teach, train and care for horses in a horse-sensitive fashion that provides abundant lifetime locomotion and socialization. Pulmonary health is reflective of overall health and soundness in horses.
In order to maintain pulmonary health, natural conditions need to be re-created in the stable. Horses prefer to graze together and move nearly constantly. Constant foraging, grazing, socializing and moving are essential for joint and bone health, hoof health, metabolic health and pulmonary health, and, of course, mental health. In order for lungs to stay healthy, horses need movement, more movement than American trainers currently provide the population of stabled. Horses communicate with movement and sustain physiologic and metabolic health via near-constant locomotion. Movement is what is most often missing in a racehorse’s stabled life.
Walking throughout the day enhances and maintains lung health. Stabled horses need hours of walking each day, more walking than most are currently afforded. Veterinarians who manage racehorse health need to ensure that their patients are provided with adequate daily locomotion. The movement of training and track conditioning are not adequate to condition healthy lungs throughout the rest of the day, as lung health requires 24/7 movement. For a horse, moving is breathing. Abundant on-track and off-track locomotion is necessary to condition a horse’s lungs and to provide the necessary resilience to withstand the rigors of racing.
Lungs deteriorate when movement is restricted. Horses breath all day long, and near-constant movement is required much of the day to assist their breathing to maintain pulmonary flexibility and vigor. Plentiful walking enhances breathing and lung health. Swimming and doing lunges are also appropriate lung-conditioning activities. Grazing while casually walking clears the airways. Hand grazing may be the best lung-healthy activity of all. Racetracks need to provide abundant hand-grazing opportunities for all of the stabled horses, and the green grass needs to be appropriate grazing grass. Kentucky limestone grass is always best, it seems.
Training over hills and dales, as well as walking up and down inclines helps develop and sustain pulmonary vigor. When horses are locked in a stall a large percentage of the time, their lungs deteriorate. Stabling that does not afford abundant movement and head-down grazing and foraging impairs lung health, making horses vulnerable to bleed when exerted in a race. The cause of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage is insensitive and deficient stabling and husbandry practices and includes diagnostic failures to detect bleeding during training.
The care that establishes and enhances pulmonary health and endurance in horses is the same care that enriches stabled horses’ lives. Pulmonary care is providing the same near-constant movement that keeps racehorses’ musculoskeletal systems sound. It is the care that keeps horses on their feet during races. Horses must remain sound of limb to ensure lung soundness, and they must remain sound of lung to achieve and maintain limb soundness. Afternoon and evening hand walking and hand grazing are essential to develop and sustain lungs and limbs fit to race.
Horses with healthy lungs are content and fulfilled horses whose lives their caretakers adequately, if not extensively, enrich. Lung health is supported by limb health. 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.
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 E.I.P.H. while racing. They are more apt to stay sound. Humane care of the horse prevents bleeding. 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. Lasix perpetuates substandard horsemanship, artificially suppressing the untoward result (bleeding) of inadequate preparation of the thoroughbred.
Genetics play a role in pulmonary health and physical durability. Lasix perpetuates genetic weakness by allowing ailing horses to prevail and sow their seeds of pharmaceutical dependence. Running sore causes lungs to bleed. Lasix manages a wide variety of unsoundness, as do the cortisones and NSAIDs (bute and similar drugs). These anti-inflammatory drugs aggravate coagulation processes. Rather than drugs, pulmonary health is dependent on appropriate breeding and proper development for the vigor, durability and endurance thoroughbred racing demands. Drugs are not the solution. Competent horsemanship is the solution. Genetic dosage, behavioral and physical development, socialization, training, and locomotion husbandry are the keys to racehorse soundness, lung health, stamina, and durability. The causes of E.I.P.H. are no mystery to seasoned race folk. Horses prone to bleed are those horses that are mistakenly bred, inadequately developed and inappropriately stabled and trained.
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 inappropriate. Barn design needs to provide both clean air and abundant locomotion. Bedding is critical. Clean straw provides the most 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. Horses need near-constant head-down 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 lung health is to enhance the overall health and soundness of the racehorse. Racing appears much safer in Lasix-free jurisdictions, where the drug crutch is not allowed, because the drug crutch allows horses to be cared for in a substandard fashion. (A link to the transcript from the Kentucky Raceday Medication Committee hearing is here.) Drugs are not allowed to replace appropriate care and training in Asia and Europe, and raceday drugs should be barred in America as they are in the rest of the civilized world. The stabled racehorse has to be carefully and humanely cared for and nourished in a holistic fashion, both physically and behaviorally, to win and stay healthy to win again.

Sid Gustafson, D.V.M., is a novelist and equine veterinarian specializing in thoroughbred sports medicine and equine behavior. He currently practices regulatory veterinary medicine, representing the safety and welfare of thoroughbred racehorses.

Dr Gustafson's novels, books, and stories