Innovative Tools to Detect Lameness and Pre-existing Injury in Racehorses

Mongolian Groom. Sports Illustrated image.



Lameness is a term used to describe a horse’s change in gait, usually in response to pain in a limb that can occur due to a wide variety of causes (e.g. degenerative joint disease, laminitis, infection). Some conditions are more easily diagnosed and treated than others, which may only cause a subtle change in gait, or even just a decreased ability or willingness to perform.

Lameness is a clinical symptom not a diagnosis, which requires careful consideration by the veterinarian to determine the root cause. This will include the medical history of the horse, observation and appraisal of the horse at rest, a hands-on examination, application of hoof testers to the feet, evaluation of the horse in motion and joint flexion tests. To isolate the location and cause of lameness other diagnostic tests may also be required (i.e. diagnostic nerve and joint blocks, radiographs, ultrasound, and more).

Enter the Equinosis Q with Lameness Locator

The Equinosis Q with Lameness Locator is a veterinary diagnostic system used to objectively measure a horse’s movement. Although the Equinosis Q cannot diagnose a lameness problem independently of a thorough evaluation, its inertial sensors and algorithms help veterinarians detect early or mild lameness with high confidence. [1]

The algorithms in the Lameness Locator were created specifically to assess lameness in horses and were developed by University of Missouri’s Dr. Kevin Keegan and Dr. Frank Pai. [2]

The objective of the device is not to be used as a stand-alone diagnostic but rather to add a resource to the veterinarian’s toolbox that uses advanced technology to supplement the hands-on evaluation. This would aid in diagnosing lameness that is difficult to perceive by the naked eye.

How does it work?

The Lameness Locator measures the movement of the horse’s head and pelvis, two areas most closely associated with decreased weight-bearing on their limbs that suggests lameness in one of their legs. 

The device is equipped with three wireless motion sensors that are attached to three distinct positions on the horse; the head, the pelvis and the right front pastern. The head and pelvis sensors contain an accelerometer while the front right pastern contains a gyroscope.[3]

  • An accelerometer measures the acceleration, which is the rate of change of the velocity of an object, which in turn is the speed of the object (distance covered in time) moving in a certain direction. Consequently, the acceleration can be converted to a position with changes recorded as the horse is jogged back and forth while the veterinarian observes the movement.
  • A gyroscope is a device that measures orientation and is used to measure rotational motion. This is used as a reference point for the right forelimb stance.

A tablet with the Lameness Locator software collects the data the sensors generate through a long-range Bluetooth receiver.

“Acceleration is converted to position and differences in head and pelvic heights between right and left halves of stride [over many strides] are calculated,” said Dr. Laurie Tyrrell-Schroeder, director of veterinary services for Equinosis LLC. “[It is] essentially measuring the symmetry of movement between the two halves of stride. Shifting load off a limb will manifest as asymmetric head or pelvic movement.”

The program generates measurements that indicate the amplitude of head and or pelvic movement asymmetry, which tends to correlate with the degree of lameness. Negative numbers indicate left-sided lameness and positive numbers indicate right-sided lameness.”[4]

The following diagram illustrates the setup (the source provides a video as well).

Dr. Rhodes Bell DMV, who practices veterinary medicine at Park Equine Hospital in Versailles, KY, was introduced to this technology during his Masters studies where he studied the technology to determine the effectiveness in quantifying equine lameness.[5] Bell now advocates for its use on most, if not all, lameness cases and is sought out expressly by individuals who need advice on how to proceed with their horse’s lameness.  

It is also invaluable as a tool for “baseline wellness exams” where a horse may be monitored over time to determine how a horse develops over the course of their racing or sporting career.  

“A nice feature of the software is it is able to store a horse’s evaluation forever,” he said. “It would be nice to follow horses along through their season, comparing their current form back to their earlier evaluations. If something is changing, then some additional investigation may be warranted.”[6]

It also provides a relatively cost-effective means of supplying important information that may preclude expensive imaging techniques. 

So, what is stopping equine veterinarians from using this on a regular basis? Commercially, it has been available since 2009.

As always, resistance to change.

“I think many veterinarians question spending money for a piece of equipment that does something they think they can already do themselves,” Bell said. “A similar mindset was present when the new technology of ultrasonography was introduced–those palpating the reproductive tracts of mares and those palpating musculoskeletal structures of equine athletes thought, ‘What possible additional information could I derive from this machine that is so costly?’ I think you would be hard pressed to find either a reproduction or lameness veterinarian without access to an ultrasound machine in this day and age.

The sport of racing has long held on to its historical roots, reluctantly utilizing new technologies (Keeneland didn’t have a public address system for a track announcer until 1997). Bell feels that the transition to using the objective lameness evaluation a regular basis for racing Thoroughbreds is a matter of time.”[7]

Time will tell. But it seems like a no-brainer to use such a diagnostic tool to rule out a compromised horse “before” they break down. Would this have saved Mongolian Groom? No doubt it would have.


A New Blood Test Has the Potential to Detect Imminent Injury in Racehorses

Researchers at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center have shown promising results using a novel blood test that has the potential to detect an impending injury prior to a horse exhibiting any signs of lameness or atypical imaging.[1]

The majority (85%) of fatal injuries in racehorses result from pre-existing pathology in the same location that the fracture occurs. It is also recognised that many types of damage (e.g. pre-existing stress fractures) rarely cause lameness and may go undetected by radiographic analysis.

Earlier research has shown that biomarkers may provide veterinarians with more means to identify problems prior to experiencing a serious bone or soft tissue injury.[2]

What is a biomarker?

Biomarkers, short for biological markers, are distinct biological indicators of a process, event or condition that can be accurately measured to detect normal or abnormal processes taking place in the body that may be a sign of an underlying condition or disease, including inflammation. Various types of molecules, such as DNA (genes), proteins or hormones, can serve as biomarkers, since they all indicate something about the health of an individual. An example of a human biomarker is blood cholesterol, which is a well-known biomarker for coronary heart disease. 

Since, more often than not, biomarkers that are proteins are typically discovered after an injury, the researchers took the approach of looking at an intermediary step prior to the formation of the protein. The starting material for the manufacture of a protein is DNA, which makes RNA which makes protein. Without going into detail, a simple schematic illustrates the concept.[3]

The researchers, Drs. Allen Page and David Horohov, decided to use mRNA (messenger RNA) as the biomarker which, as the schematic shows, is a set of instructions from genes made of DNA to produce a given protein.  In medicine, mRNA biomarkers have been developed as a common technique that offers early and more accurate prediction and diagnosis of disease and disease progression, and the ability to identify individuals at risk. 

Of note, is that for inflammation a horse may be experiencing, the set of instructions (gene copies) change with different levels of inflammation (gene expression) and hence serve as a marker for any potential underlying condition.[4]

Study method and preliminary results

Although the study has yet to be completed, Page and Horohov have collected more than 800 samples, half of which suffered fatal injuries and the other half of uninjured horses as control samples (that’s over 400 dead horses). Blood samples were taken both before and after racing. To date the study has shown that out of 23 genes, two have been measured to have tested consistently higher in the horses that died. The study is expected to be complete before the end of the year, after which it will be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“My view of where you are now is that we’re a lot farther down the road than we once were,” said Dr. Johnny Mac Smith, EDRC member and veterinary consultant to the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, during the council meeting. “Although it may be a road with a few more curves than you anticipate, I think it’s a worthwhile effort to pursue this. Who’s to say, if your work was finished and we had a screening test, we might still have Mongolian Groom.”[5]

The second phase of the project will use the same blood samples to analyze thousands of genes. It is generally believed that there are over 20,000 genes that are responsible for the creation of different proteins in horses. The hope is that more of the genes that are increased are identified in horses who have been fatally-injured. This would be a novel technique for the racing industry in identifying those horses who are at an increased risk prior to breaking down, hence preventing, or greatly minimizing, the incidence of catastrophic injuries. Both phases of the project have been funded to the tune of $300,000 by the Equine Drug research Council (EDCR).[6]

“I think anybody who’s involved in the industry realizes we’re at a pretty significant crossroads. We all need to be doing whatever we can to provide not only opinions but solutions. Based on the first year and a half’s worth of data, we’re definitely excited about the potential that this research holds.”[7]


I don’t think it’s too radical to say that the US racing industry is in crisis. After decades of talk, chronic resistance to change and heated debate, the implementation of uniform racing medication policies by the industry has been an epic failure.

The time for talk is over. 

It is not only the general public, but also the core fans of racing, who are losing their confidence in the industry’s ability of its insiders to promote the health and safety of racehorses. 

Self-regulation has not worked and will not work. If the sport is to survive, it must, at the very least, adopt an independent entity to establish uniform rules, regulations and testing protocols across all 38 racing jurisdictions. This, of course, is the focus of The Horseracing Integrity Act.

Until then, it will continue to spiral downwards into the abyss. 

As Maryland Jockey Club racetrack owner Joe De Francis, now chairman of the National Horseracing Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States sums up the racing’s credibility problems on equine safety and integrity issues . . .

“a growing tsunami . . . about to crest and destroy us.”[8]


Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), makes some powerful points in this article about the parallels between issues facing the U.S. horse industry and the Olympics when it comes to ensuring the integrity of those sports, specifically with regard to oversight on medications.[1]

Travis Tygart became USADA’s Chief Executive Officer in September of 2007.

The USADA, the official anti-doping agency in the United States for the Olympics, Paralympic, Pan American and Parapan American sport, is the independent non-governmental agency that would oversee horse racing’s medication policies under the proposed Horseracing Integrity Act (HIA).

“In his prepared statement, Tygart said that the ‘most vital principle of an effective anti-doping system is that it must be free from the influence of sport governing bodies. … Since our founding in late 2000, we at USADA have advocated for a clear separation between those who promote sport and those who police it. To do so otherwise, we believe, is to encourage the fox to guard the henhouse. No matter how well intended it might begin, it simply does not work.’”[2]

During the question and answer period after the hearing, there were several comments made as to how this kind of independent authority would benefit the racing industry.

Tygart, after an inquiry from Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico as to how independence will bring about genuinely needed reform, went on to discuss how the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) finally, in 1999, committed to outsourcing and making the USOPC totally independent from its board and staff by creating the USADA in 2000. He concluded that its effectiveness and success in curtailing drug use and the ability to identify cheaters has transformed the human sports world. 

The same would apply to horseracing if adopted by all those involved in the racing community.  

“The USADA was a result of the recommendations made by the USOP’s Select Task Force on Externalization to bring credibility and independence to the anti-doping movement in the U.S. The USADA was given full authority to execute a comprehensive national anti-doping program that encompassed testing, results management, education and research while also developing programs, policies and procedures in each of those areas.”[3

The key to its effectiveness is that the USADA is an independent legal entity not subject to the control of the USOC and staff, whereby none can have any financial interest or serve in any capacity for an organization they provide services to. 

This is precisely what the racing industry is up against.  Currently, it is a rogue organization with no central body of control or uniform regulations to prevent the abuses, particularly the rampant drug use, that are intrinsic to NA horseracing.  

In response to Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s (Connecticut) question “as to whether he was extending the jurisdiction of your agency to include horse racing to prevent doping and substance in that sport.” Tygart was confident that independent models that do not rely on economic interests or other advantageous positives for those directly involved in making decisions, eliminate the self-interest awards that go hand in hand with nepotism. 

Tygart was presented with two questions; (1) whether he was interested in “extending the jurisdiction of the USADA to include horse racing to prevent doping and substance abuse in that sport”, and (2) how the USADA had evolved to improve the effectiveness of anti-doping programs

He responded with three concrete reasons why it would be in the best interests of a sports industry suffering from public scrutiny.[4]

  • The ability to stay abreast of new designer drugs that are emerging everyday from places outside of the US that are not intended for human consumption and the ability to test for them.
  • To profile testing of an individual/athlete over time (e.g. blood and urine markers)
  • The ability to encourage “whistle blowers” to speak up and hold those accountable who break the rules. 

While these are only three of the benefits about independence, they provide a transparency that does not currently exist, nor ever existed, in the horseracing industry. 

Triple Crown Winner Justify, a pawn in the chess match of doping in the Chemical Age of American Racing, wears a tarnished crown.

We have seen the cover-ups (e.g. Baffert’s Justify drug cover-up by the CHRB which would have cost him the Triple Crown); the blatant ability to allow disqualified horses in one jurisdiction from racing in another jurisdiction or under a new “trainer”, the classic case being Steve Asmussen turning his horses over to his assistant Blasi, who won another 198 races as the stable finished the year with more than $14 million in earnings; the overuse of therapeutics to mask pain; and of course, the reluctance of racing insiders to speak of their knowledge, which would ostracise them forever from the racing mafia.  

And although the HIA may not be perfect in every sense, as long as it completely partitions the racing industry from the oversight of it, there is a valuable opportunity to clean up the sport and regain the confidence of the general public and racing fans.  Particularly if the testing is done outside of racing’s jurisdiction – the only equitable way to implement a level playing field and without tampering from the insiders. 

While cynicism of the government’s involvement can be rationalized, the industry has shown that it simply cannot function properly on its own after decades wasted trying to justify the failure of the less than stellar attempts to “solve” their problems. For far too long, racing authorities have allowed cheaters to repeatedly cheat by either dismissing the charges or applying insufficient penalties. 

There are, of course, many nay-sayers, and one of the principal controversies is the suspension of race-day Lasix (a topic on its own) but the HIA has the support of much of the industry as well as leading animal welfare groups. Ironically, it is the very people who argue they can reform the sport, without intervention from outside sources, who have navigated the “ship of racing” into the current crisis.  

The time for change is now. Without change the racing industry won’t need to worry about remedies, the confidence of not only the general public but of its core customers in the basic product they offer will be lost and the invisible hand of the marketplace will drive the business into oblivion.[5]

Retired Hall of Fame Jockey, Chris McCarron

The most powerful traditions are those that adapt. Change cannot wait.” — Testimony of Christopher J. McCarron, Hall of Fame Jockey, Retired.

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FEATURED IMAGE: Mongolian Groom / Sports Illustrated

James Gagliano promotes horse racing bill that can put fox back in charge of the henhouse

Horse tied in stall. Photo credit:
Horse tied in stall. Photo credit:

Who is James Gagliano? Gagliano is the president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club, which is a member of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity.

Gagliano wrote an article for “The Hill”, Washington D.C.’s influential blog entitled, “Restoring integrity to horse racing“.

Pretty much the only bit of information in Gagliano’s composition that rings true is “. . . recent polling found that while the vast majority of adults in the U.S. called horse racing both exciting and fun to watch, only 14% had a very favorable view of the industry.”

I wonder why that is. In part the answer is the fact that the public has at long last caught on that U.S. racing matter of factly drugs and kills its horses.

I will not sport with your intelligence by laying out his argument FOR H.R. 3084. We strongly encourage you to take a stand against this weak piece of legislation. For all intents and purposes it is useless.

What we object to most concerning H.R. 3084 is that if anti-doping agency USADA withdraws is leaves horse racing once again to police itself. And we know how well that is working — a plethora of drugged and dead racehorses.

In our opinion, Gagliano and his Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity have about as much interest in promoting the health and safety of racehorses as the people who take part in horse soring, slaughter, tripping, fighting and so forth.

Come on, give racehorses a break will you?

We urge everyone who cares about the lives of American racehorses to join us in support of H.R. 2641. Find your U.S. Representative.

Jane Allin has written a comprehensive and illuminating report on this subject. Please see “Will federal legislation save American racing or help its horses? Don’t bet on it.; Tuesday’s Horse; August 14, 2015. Pdf version here.

See also Jo Anne Normile’s comparison chart relating to these two bills.

Make a donation to support our lobbying IN SUPPORT OF H.R. 2641 and against H.R. 3084. The lives of racehorses depends on it.

Learn more about H.R. 2641 at

— H.R. 2182, Coronado Heights Horseracing Deregulation Act of 2015
— S. 1174, Teller All Gone Horseracing Deregulation Act of 2015

Why is this legislation more important than any other pending before Congress? Because it would remove essential revenues that help keep horse racing alive. See article, “Repeal Interstate Simulcast Law.”

Find your U.S. Representative [1] »
Find your U.S. Senators [2] »

Will federal legislation save American racing or help its horses? Don’t bet on it!


2 year old racehorse. Google image.
Google image.

On July 16, 2015 Congressmen Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY), the co-chairs of the Congressional Horse Caucus, introduced the bipartisan Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 (H.R. 3084).

The rationale behind the legislation is to establish a solitary, impartial organization that would create and enforce uniform national anti-doping regulations for Thoroughbred racing.

Currently the industry operates under a diversity of inconsistent rules that govern medication policies and practices across 38 fragmented and dysfunctional racing jurisdictions in the U.S.

Under the direction of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) – a non-profit, non-governmental anti-doping authority – a national uniform medication program, with input from the Thoroughbred racing industry, would be established to encourage fair competition and a level playing field across state lines.

According to Cot Campbell – the pioneer of high-profile racing syndicates – and of course the bill’s stated goal, not only would it fulfill the need for uniform regulations, it would magically restore the face of American racing and ultimately bring it in line with the rest of the world.


“A national medication program, developed and administered by this agency can quickly bring rigor, consistency and greater integrity to Thoroughbred racing.

It would provide renewed confidence to trainers, veterinarians and fans while bringing the U.S. up to the level of other international racing jurisdictions.”


Well I hate to burst the old guy’s bubble but there is a glaring problem with this legislation.

While I am in total agreement that uniform regulations and the need for industry reform is long overdue, what this bill fails to address is the very crux of what is wrong with American racing.

There is absolutely no reference to curtailing the compendium of medications currently on the permitted list nor does it focus on the ever-present issue of race-day drugs. I hardly think that this will “bring the U.S. up to the level of other international racing jurisdictions.”

And despite the fact that the bill would create an entity called the Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Authority (THADA) comprised of six USDA representatives (CEO and board members) and five at-large directors nominated by the USADA from the Thoroughbred industry itself, THADA’s control will be limited.

“THADA officials, according to the bill, would have the same authority as state racing commission officials do to investigate and test for doping and therapeutic medication violations on commission-regulated properties. But the language of the bill specifically states that THADA’s powers end there, and do not include any investigations into criminal conduct or other wrongdoings that a state commission might police on its own.”



The bill does allow for some leeway and inclusion for state racing commissions to either take on some aspects of the new testing or to work in concert with THADA authorities in their states.

Under a “Duty of Cooperation” section of the legislation, THADA may determine that if states demonstrate regulatory competency, “a particular state racing commission will be able to implement a component of the Thoroughbred horse racing anti-doping program in accordance with the standards and requirements established” by THADA.

“In other words, there’s an opportunity for state racing authorities to maintain their control over the medication issues if they desire, but they obviously have to be implementing the national uniform program,” Barr said.


A slippery slope indeed.

Let’s be honest. This legislation does little to change the face of racing in the U.S.

Its sole function is to award a central organization – one that, in essence, will be controlled by the racing industry itself under the false pretense that the USADA will be the regulatory body – the power to deal with cheating on a more uniform platform. That’s it.

The cheating will continue despite uniform medication rules. Uniformity isn’t the issue, enforcement is. And if nothing changes on that front then it’s business as usual. All this legislation provides is a smokescreen under the false guise that the industry actually cares.

As a commenter (Peyton) on a Paulick Report article regarding the proposed legislation succinctly points out:

“The logic behind thinking that uniform medication will fix racing is akin to thinking that if all states had the same speed limit then there would be fewer speeding violations. Speeding is speeding and drugging is drugging.”


It is merely desperation coming from an industry fraught with corruption and addicted to the status quo. It’s not about the horse; it’s all about placating the racing industry and allowing this depraved sport to continue without regard to the exact creatures that enable it – effectively hostages of a gambling industry.

What’s really disheartening is how the racing industry pulled this coup on the very people who fervently want reform, in particular WHOA (Water, Hay, Oats Alliance) – a grassroots movement of like-minded individuals who support the passage federal legislation to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport of horse racing.

In fact when the Barr-Tonko bill was introduced to congress in July, Gretchen Jackson, one of the founders of WHOA, voiced her dissatisfaction, lamenting the fact that WHOA and other organizations were duped by this legislation that effectively keeps the racing industry in control.

“Yesterday a bill to unify Thoroughbred horse racing rules was introduced to congress. It was a positive step in the right direction–it had the backing of The Jockey Club, the Breeders’ Cup and WHOA, the grassroots movement to end all raceday medications.

While it was an attempt to clean up racing and establish U.S. racing as congruous with the rest of the world, it failed to eliminate raceday drugs. The rest of the world bans raceday drugs.

WHOA was created by George Strawbridge, Julia Jenkins, Staci and Arthur Hancock, Paul and Melissa Sullivan and Roy and Gretchen Jackson. We all trained to Washington to meet with congressmen and senators to implore their help before our beloved sport imploded from chemicals. We worked hard and none worked harder than the Hancocks.

Congressman Pitts and Senator Udall heard us and wrote a very powerful bill that they introduced before congress several months ago. This bill states that race day drugs will not be tolerated. USADA will be in charge of running the testing–random, out-of-raceday testing will be in place and, most importantly, the bill would place American horse racing on par with the rest of the world and its standards.

To sum up my feelings and thoughts about WHOA at this point: WHOA without consent of all its founding members, and advisory board, has signed up and supports the wrong bill. If other members are disappointed and confused I share their stance”.


The Pitts-Udall bill Jackson is referring to is the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HR 2641) which failed to pass in 2014 but was reintroduced on June 3, 2015 .

An excellent side-by-side comparison of the Pitts-Udall Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HR 2641) and the Barr-Tonko Thoroughbred Racing Integrity Act (HR 3084) was provided to the Horse Fund by JoAnne Normile, author of the best-selling book “Saving Baby”, the poignant, life-changing story of how one woman’s love for a racehorse led her to redemption.

Scanned document, side by side comparison of horse racing legislation prepared by JoAnne Normile.
(Click to Enlarge)

See also pdf

Clearly these bills are in stark contrast – one calls for sweeping changes to medication regulations across the entire corrupt and dysfunctional racing industry in the U.S., the other? Not so much. In fact, HR 3084 contains some controversial details.

For one, if the USADA withdraws what’s left to regulate the industry? Why of course the racing industry itself – back to square one, exactly where the racing industry wants it to be.

Secondly, and more alarmingly, are the words “Permissive industry “model rules” for medication become federal law”, meaning that once enacted the tolerated use of all of these questionable drugs will become the edict of the Thoroughbred racing industry – no turning back or at the least very difficult to undo in the future.

What’s more, if this is the case then the fate of American racing is sealed – it will never, ever achieve a level equivalent to that of international jurisdictions. Just more of the same rhetoric and illicit drug use that continues to kill horses at an unprecedented rate.

But there is yet another dark side to all of this, one that most in the industry don’t consider to be a problem contributing to its ruin but rather use it to their advantage to promote this so-called “sport”; the gambling component and the fact that without the wagering public horse racing in North America would cease to exist.

Betting is manure of horse racing quote.. Google image.
Google image. (Click to Enlarge)

This aspect of the racing industry is part of the propaganda this legislation addresses.

It would have would have you believe that implementing a national uniform medication program will improve interstate “commerce” by “encouraging fair competition and a level playing field across state lines, assuring full and fair disclosure of information to purchasers of breeding stock and to the wagering public and provide for the safety and welfare of horses and jockeys.”


The way this legislation is written it is unlikely that it will improve the safety and welfare of the horses and jockeys – the trainers and vets will still be using the same “therapeutic medications” they always have in dangerous combinations either as performance enhancers or pain-masking agents.

But no doubt it will cast the illusion that things are on the level when it comes to wagering and thereby fatten the purse so-to-say. Exactly what the doctor ordered.

In fact, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Representative Joe Pitts (R-Pa), co-sponsors of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HR 2641) introduced in early June, also introduced legislation on April 30, 2015 that would see the elimination of most wagering on horse racing by repealing the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978 which permits “off-track” and online wagering.

“It’s time to crack down on corruption by ending horseracing’s sweetheart gambling privileges. We must stop the abuse and restore integrity to this once-dignified sport. Despite years of promises of reform, horseracing groups have been unable to come together to develop uniform rules that protect both horses and the integrity of the sport. This legislation will end a federal exception for gambling on horseracing. Since 2008, over 7,000 race horses have died on America’s racetracks. It’s past time to put measures in place that protect racehorses from abuse at the track.”


The two bills are named in honor of horses who died while competing in races with interstate, off-track wagering authorized under the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978; (1) Teller All Gone Horse-racing Deregulation Act of 2015 (S. 1174) and; (2) Coronado Heights Horseracing Deregulation Act of 2015 (H.R. 2182).

Teller All Gone was an American Quarter Horse who on September 3, 2011, during the fourth race of his life, broke down, after breaking a front leg. He was euthanized on the track then his body dragged off behind a barn, where he was dumped on top of the dirt next to an old toilet and some used surgical gloves.

Coronado Heights, a 4-year old Thoroughbred trained by Todd Pletcher, whose records show had “early degenerative joint disease,” suffered a fatal breakdown at Aqueduct after receiving 13 injections for pain and cartilage damage in the month before his race.

This is the real face of American racing.

Of course the reception to these bills by the racing industry was not well taken. Here is the response from the NTRA (North American Thoroughbred Association):

“The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) strongly opposes this most recent attack on horseracing by Sen. Udall and Rep. Pitts, who have introduced federal legislation that threatens to destroy the economic viability of the $26 billion horseracing industry and the 380,000 jobs it supports nationwide.

“This bill is a shameless publicity stunt that mischaracterizes one of the nation’s most highly regulated sports, ignores the significant progress the industry has achieved at the state level in recent years through widespread adoption of the National Uniform Medication Program, and unfairly disparages thousands of people who work every day to make horseracing as safe and fair as possible for all participants.”


Unashamedly it’s all about the bottom line.

Jo Anne Normile, author of ”Saving Baby” ( speaks the truth regarding the gambling component of American racing in her response to a blog written by Wayne Pacelle (President and CEO of HSUS), supporting Thoroughbred Racing Integrity Act (HR 3084) and declaring that racing can be made “humane”. The HSUS is part of the coalition in support of the Barr-Tonko Bill.

“Horse racing is a form of gambling pure and simple. Take away the gambling component and the whole thing collapses. Horse racing has been on the decline (just check out the Jockey Club Online Fact Book) for decades. People were so disinterested in attending every day races that they had to have a federal law passed allowing them to simulcast their races for gambling across state lines — the only gambling entity allowed to do this.

Despite these offsite wagers now comprising 90% of their gambling intake, they began whining about state lotteries and casinos so then they were allowed to have slot machines or “racinos” or free-standing casinos began giving them handouts and inflating purses to the point Stevie Wonder can see the horses racing are lame yet the track veterinarians legally required to do pre-race lameness exams cannot find anything wrong with them.

The three racing stewards who are also to protect the horses and integrity of this gambling game? They were nicknamed eons ago “The Three Blind Mice”.

Racing is not a sport. It is not in the Olympics like seven other equestrian sports. It is a gambling business that uses live animals instead of decks of cards or dice but destroys them as callously and if the HSUS cared about “putting the horse first”, they would be supporting SB 1174-The Teller All Gone Deregulation Act of 2015 and HR 2182-The Coronado Heights Deregulation Act of 2015, and they would strive to take away slot machines and casino subsidies (that could be going to much-needed education or state infrastructure improvements instead of propping up gambling on horses!!) and see if this is like “other major American sports” and if so, it will survive and if not like “other major American sports” it will die like its horses now do. Anyone want to handicap that one?”


I’m with JoAnne all the way.
In any case, let’s be honest. A bill such as this (Thoroughbred Racing Integrity Act H.R. 3084) is a clear indication that most within the racing industry really don’t want to clean it up – at least not clean it up in terms of the welfare of the horse.

If you read between the lines it’s all about increasing the “commerce” – making it more “just” for the gambler – and even then a thinly veiled diversion. There is nothing “ethical” about it. Seriously, failing to address the core of the issue – drugs – is simply a misguided attempt at trying to hoodwink the public.

If the endeavor was earnest there would be sanctions put on the types and number of medications allowable in addition to abolishing race day drugs. It is time for the witch doctors to be held accountable – and that means not just the trainer, but the veterinarians and the owners, each and every one of them. Surely if the owners shared the disgrace then they would police the trainers.

And as anyone remotely involved with racing knows, cheating is widespread in the industry. Compounding the issue is that the richest in the game can afford the best chemists. Many of the elite trainers are the biggest offenders and the repercussions of getting caught? Swept under the rug – accidental, coincidence, contamination.

Without a doubt the insurmountable problem is that drugs are inextricably entwined with racing here in North America. Mesmerized by the veterinary industry, the American racing community has “cult devotion” to “necessary and humane” medication which steps beyond the boundaries of ethical conduct.

One need only look at the ludicrous Lasix debate which ignores the fact that most racing around the globe is Lasix-free. In fact it’s hard to take any legislation of this type seriously when it fails to address the Lasix issue, which, as much as any other medication, compromises both horses and integrity under the false guise of treating horses that bleed.

Despite how urgently the need for change is, this legislation will not be the answer.

All it manages to do is kick the ball back into the racing industry’s court while at the same time making it appear that the Federal government is in charge and will inexplicably solve all the sordid problems of a game gone wrong.

No. Change is not on the horizon for American racing because pulling back the covers to reveal the beast that thrives beneath those covers is simply too terrifying.


Peta's Eight Belles Memorial & Horse Racing Headstones at the Kentucky Derby. Source: Flickr.
Peta’s Eight Belles Memorial & Horse Racing Headstones at the Kentucky Derby. Source: Flickr. (Click to Enlarge)


© The Horse Fund

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Competition Horse Medication Ethics, Part 1 of 2

Horses gallop in a race in Australia. Google image.

Practitioner/Equine Behaviour Educator, Bozeman, MT

Part 1 of 2

Appreciation of the evolved nature and behavior of horses provides the foundation for the veterinary care of equine athletes. The establishment of a veterinary patient client relationship (VCPR) is instrumental in providing ethical care for the competition horse.

Ethical veterinary practice supports the horse’s long-term health, therapy, and welfare interests while avoiding pharmaceutical intervention in the days before competition.

Horses evolved as social grazers of the plains, moving and grazing in a mutually connected and communicative fashion on a near-constant basis. Contemporary equine health and prosperity remains dependent on providing an acceptable degree of this continual movement, foraging, and socialization that sustain equine health.

When horses are confined to fulfill convenience and performance interests, the horse’s natural preferences need be re-created to a suitable degree to avoid exceeding the adaptability of the stabled horse. When adaptability is exceeded, welfare is diminished and the need for medical intervention to remedy behavioral, health, and soundness deficiencies becomes complex.

Contemporary husbandry and conditioning practices regularly exceed the competition horse’s adaptability, resulting in the need for extensive veterinary intervention to sustain health and competitiveness.

Ethics need to be improved to protect the future health and welfare of competition horses.

Pre-competition medication strategies should not supplant or replace the appropriate fulfillment of the horse’s long-evolved survival requirements.

The more medical care and pharmaceutical intervention required to sustain a population of horses, the lower the population’s welfare. Ethical veterinary care supports the horse’s best welfare interests, as well as the safety of horse and rider. Veterinary caregivers are required to provide equine athletes with appropriate medical and surgical therapy for a wide variety of infirmities.

To properly support the health and welfare of equine athletes, the practitioner must deviate from pharmaceutical pre-competition intervention to providing for their patients’ inherent and individual long-term conditioning and husbandry essentials.

While necessary therapies are being instituted by the practitioner, socialization, constant foraging, and abundant daily locomotion need to be initiated. Providing the long-evolved requirements to promote and sustain optimal soundness, behavioral health, and performance is essential to promote healing in competition horses. Once most injuries are stabilized, stall rest is not the correct ameliorative approach to resolve lameness.

Healthy horses are best-served to perform naturally in an unmedicated state.

Due to a lack of cultural appreciation of the nature of the horse, medication is heavily regulated in jurisdictions worldwide to protect the horse.

It has been demonstrated—in Hong Kong and Great Britain, for example—that fewer pre-race medications allow safer horseracing. All competitive equine pursuits require medication policies due to the potential of unscrupulous medication practices to gain competitive advantage. Polo, endurance, cutting, reining, rodeo, and all unmentioned performance horse pursuits are required to follow the same ethical approach. Medication should not influence performance.

The equine practitioner best serves the horse and client by focusing on post-performance evaluations and therapeutic approaches. Appropriate treatments and protocols to sustain horse health can be implemented on an enduring basis when conditions are identified during post-competition examinations.

The performance horse veterinarian needs to change their work schedule from pre-performance to post-performance. There, the doctor can do right by the horse.

A behavioral emphasis on fulfilling the medical, physical, nutritional, metabolic, and behavioral needs of the horse to prepare for future competitions provides a solid platform for the ethical veterinary care of the competition horse. Horses so served prevail at the competitions.

The pre-competition veterinary role is to guide the client to prepare a strong horse who is sound and able to compete safely, willingly, and efficiently in a natural fashion.

Pre-competition pharmaceutical scrims have little place in the ethical practice of competition horse medicine. Pre-competition practices that replace or supplant appropriate health care are not in accord with the AVMA Principles of Veterinary Ethics.

The AVMA Principles of Veterinary Ethics state that it is unethical for veterinarians to medicate or treat horses without a VCPR.

The use of itinerant veterinarians to inject Lasix into nearly all horses racing in America hours before they race is an example of the unethical practice of veterinary medicine.

The result is horses breaking down three to four times more often in America than in overseas jurisdictions where horses are prevented from being medicated before racing. The medical and pharmaceutical practices that support equine competitive pursuits enhance the health and soundness of the horse on a long-term basis.

Pre-competition medical influence should not enhance performance nor be intended to enhance performance. When performance is enhanced, the adaptability of the competition horse is exceeded and catastrophic results ensue.

Pre-competition practices should not mask lameness of any sort.

All sensation, behaviour, cognition, and proprioception should remain uninfluenced by medication during competitions. Treatments should not effect normal physiologic function or behavior of the horse. Senses should not be dulled, masked or stimulated.

Performance horses should not perform under the influence of medications that are capable of initiating an action or effect upon the nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive, musculoskeletal, blood, immune (save approved vaccines), or endocrine systems. Endocrine secretions or their synthetic substitutes, masking agents, oxygen carriers, or chemicals that directly or indirectly affect or manipulate blood physiology or gene expression are not appropriate for use in competing equine athletes.

Horses are vulnerable to performance manipulation via pharmaceutical influence. The only fair competition is a competition for non-medicated horses.

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.

• Part 2 of 2 Tomorrow

Top Photo: Horses gallop out in a race in Australia. Google image.