Competition Horse Medication Ethics, Part 2 of 2

Racehorse tied in stall.

Practitioner/Equine Behaviour Educator, Bozeman, MT

Part 2 of 2

Sound horses properly prepared have little need for pre-competition medication. Unsound or behaviorally dysfunctional horses require rehabilitation that restores soundness before training and competition are resumed.

All horses need to be professionally prepared physically and behaviorally to endure the task asked of them. Musculoskeletal development requires lifelong, constant attention, most notably in the stable.

Horses are born to move most all the time, and move they must to maintain health and soundness, especially in preparation for competitive pursuits.

Horses who require medication to compete become unfit to compete safely. Rather than therapeutic intent, pre-competition medication practices have become performance enhancing at the expense and safety of horse and rider.

When the adaptability of the horse is exceeded, horses become unsound and require veterinary attention, treatment, and care. Assessment of stabling conditions and athletic preparation practices are essential components of ethical equine care.

When horses are injured or impaired by competitive pursuits, healing must be allowed to progress before competition and training are resumed. Client education is essential to create a husbandry situation conducive to equine healing.

Restoration strategies that re-create the horse’s social grazing and locomotion preferences facilitate and potentiate horse healing.

Appropriate healing of many equine maladies is encouraged when the veterinarian provides appropriate medical care and carefully facilitates a scenario to provide the horse with appropriate physical rehabilitation and behavioral fulfillment.

Interdependence exists between horse health and locomotion.

Deprivations of abundant daily locomotion are the most common underlying cause of infirmity and fragility in competition horses. Metabolic, pulmonary, circulatory, digestive, musculoskeletal, and behavioral health are all dependent upon abundant daily locomotion.

Stabled horses require miles of daily walking to maintain health and vigor.

Horses evolved to be near-constant walkers and grazers. With domestication and selective breeding for performance, horse health remains dependent on locomotion.

Horses deprived of socialization, constant foraging, and abundant daily locomotion are at risk to develop stereotypies. The more stereotypies present in a population of equine athletes, the lower their level of care and welfare.

Solutions and alternative approaches to pre-race medication:

Establish a viable VCPR. Appreciate the nature of the horse.

Understand how to fulfill the nature of the horse from a medical and soundness perspective. Appreciate behavioral need.

Examine and consult.

Question medication protocols that are not supported by a VCPR. Question stabling and care protocols that do not support equine welfare or sustain long-term soundness and vigor.

Observe and assess the environment and hour-to-hour daily care of the horse.

Promote abundant enrichment activities that get the horse out of the stall for significant periods of locomotory fulfillment each day, morning and afternoon.

Explore the history and temperament of the individual horse. Offer wholesome solutions to sustained soundness and behavior.

Appreciate that all horse behavior, both welcome and unwelcome, is primarily a result of human management (or mismanagement) of the horse.

Know the client.

Know the stabling, conditioning, training, nutrition, travel, and preparation of the horses by your client.

Establish yourself to offer professional consultations in these essential areas.

Utilize physical and exercise therapies in preference to pharmaceutical solutions when appropriate.

Teach your clients that horses do not need medication to compete.

When horses are stabled, manual therapy needs to be applied for hours at a time to replace the essential movement horses require for vigor.

Time spent outside the stall walking and hand-grazing enhances health, welfare, fitness to compete, and soundness.

Specific solutions:

Diminished performance; lameness must be resolved and soundness restored, medical conditions identified and alleviated with developmental approaches that lead to medication-free competition.

The nervous horse; appropriate fulfillment, socialization, training, and husbandry.

The metabolically disabled horse; nutrition, foraging, locomotion, and husbandry. Keeping metabolism on an even keel 24/7/365.

The bleeder; daily conditioning which promotes, develops, and sustains pulmonary health, abundant ventilation, clean air and bedding, daily exercise routines to develop pulmonary resilience, extensive time spent in open air while moving.

For horses, to move is to breathe, and to breathe is to move.

Breathing exercises are locomotion exercises. Every stride is a breath, every breath a stride.

Electrolytes. Hydration. Salt.

Performance preparation. Pre-race exercise and behavioral fulfillment.

Building endurance. Blood cell management.

Ethical care of the horse is dependent on ethical veterinary practitioners. Education of future veterinarians in the area of equine behavior promotes the development of ethical veterinarians.

Horses require abundant daily locomotion.

Miles of daily walking support all aspects of equine health and soundness.

Veterinarians require abundant animal behavior education and multidisciplinary experience to establish themselves as ethical practitioners.

Representing the health and welfare of the competition horse takes precedence in the ethical equine practice.


See Part 1 of 2 »


• Chyoke A, Olsen S & Grant S 2006 Horses and Humans, The Evolution of Human-Equine Relationships, BAR International Series 1560, Archeopress, England, ISBN 1 84171 990 0

• McGreevy P 2004 Equine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians and Equine Scientists Philadelphia: Elsevier Limited. ISBN 0 7020 2634 4

• Budiansky, S. (1997). The nature of horses: Exploring equine evolution, intelligence, and behavior. New York: The Free Press.

• McLean A, McGreevy P, Ethical equitation: Capping the price horses pay for human glory Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research Volume 5, Issue 4, July–August 2010.

• Goff L, Manual Therapy for the Horse—A Contemporary Perspective, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, Vol 29, No 11 (2009)

• Gustafson S, Equine Behavior; The Nature of the Horse, Sleipnir Publishing, 2014.

• Donald M. Broom. Cognitive ability and awareness in domestic animals and decisions about obligations to animals. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 126 2010 1-11

Top Photo: Racehorse tied up in stall following heavy exercise awaits inspection. Google image.

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