As long as there have been contests of performance between horses, there have been persons in the equine community who have tried to use drugs to make horses run faster, run longer, jump higher, or exhibit a more accentuated gait. Performance enhancing drugs offer an unfair advantage to the treated horse and the perpetrator, but more seriously, they pose significant dangers and side effects that may kill or maim the horse. Many of these drugs have been removed from the market for horses, but recently, unscrupulous horsemen may target unsuspecting veterinarians and compounding pharmacists as unwitting accomplices in show horse doping. Providing these drugs (even when pursuant to a legitimate prescription) places the compounding pharmacist at risk if detected by regulatory authorities. It has been imperative for veterinary pharmacists to become aware of the criteria for determining when use of a drug in horses crosses the fine line from legitimate treatment to doping.
Use of drugs to assist horses in winning competitions is heavily regulated both by federal and state agencies. State authorities rigidly regulate use of drugs to enhance racing performance. Unfortunately, legal drugs and legal drug levels vary from state to state, jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and organization to organization. The Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) has an extensive list of performance drugs (thousands of substances) and extensive classification systems ranging from highest potential for abuse (Class 1) to lowest potential for abuse (Class 5). Drugs with no legitimate use, which highly effect performance, are usually placed in Classes 1 and 2 and are usually considered banned in all jurisdictions. Drugs that may have some accepted therapeutic use but strongly affect performance are placed in Class 3. Drugs which are used by veterinarians and trainers for therapeutic use are listed in Classes 4 and 5. Some drugs may be illegal even at levels that are not therapeutically advantageous to the animal, while other drugs may be legal at levels that endanger the long-term well being of the animal. The Horse Protection Act of 1970 (and as amended in 1976) is a federal law that protects horses subjected to a process called “soring” (also known as “firing” or “blistering”), a painful practice used to accentuate a horse’s gait by injecting chemicals and mechanical irritants. If convicted of this act, violators can spend up to 2 years in prison, receive penalties of $5000 and be disqualified for one or more years from the right to show, exhibit or sell horses. Trainers can be disqualified for life. In addition to the federal penalties, local organizations will usually also impose their own sanctions. As the list of harmful and banned substances grows daily, it is impossible to present a comprehensive list of drugs in this forum, however, the attached Information-at-a-Glance flyer lists the most commonly abused drugs. For questions regarding the legal status of any drug to be administered to a show horse contact the American Horse Shows Association at 1-800MED-ASHA.
1. McMillan, FD. “The placebo effect in animals.” JAVMA, Oct 1, 1999 Vol 215 (7) 992-999.
2. 2. McMillan, FD. “Effects of human contact on animal health and wellbeing.” JAVMA, December 1, 1999, Vol 215 (11)1592-98
3. 3. Edney, ATB. “Companion animals and human health: an overview.” J R Soc Med. 1995; 88:704P-708P.