A Hot Topic

I would like to visit with you about a hot topic in the reining industry – the National Reining Horse Association’s proposed drug rule. Whether you agree or not, I ask that you please consider what I share with you, based on my more than 40 years of experience in the horse business. This is my opinion and only mine. I have thought long and hard about sharing it, because there are people who feel very strongly about drug rules, and I know I am exposing myself and my family to criticism. I ask that you read with an open mind, and not resort to personal attacks on Facebook or other social media sites.

Let me start by saying I do not agree with any horse trainer, owner or vet who drugs an unsound horse and blocks them to the point that they cannot feel their limbs, feet or otherwise. I am first a horseman and firmly disagree with this type of doping. You can ask any client of mine in the past 25 years of my professional career; I will not do this. I believe my horse is my teammate and I do not want to cripple or damage one for life. I know there are owners and trainers in this industry who want to win at all costs. I am not one.

However, what I can tell you is no drug rule will stop that type of individual from doing what it takes to win.

What many people do not realize is that there are all types of drugs that will not show up on drug tests. In fact, it is a big industry to concoct the next medication that cannot be tested. These medications sell for a lot of money and are often not approved for horses. Some people have better access than others, so when we start talking about imposing a medications policy and leveling the playing field, this type of doping will come into play, thus making the field of fairness completely tilted. But that is not even my biggest concern.

My biggest concern is based on knowledge of what actually happens in situations where we have drug rules. The medications given to the horses that are not prescribed and approved for horses are killing them. We do not like to talk about this as horsemen, because it looks bad for our industry. It is a black eye for the horse industry as a whole. 

Nothing upsets me more than when I read about the professionals wanting to pass a drug rule “so we can win at all costs.” It is actually the opposite; we want to pass a drug rule that allows us to medicate our horses with approved medications prescribed and administered by a veterinarian. By doing so, we put the burden of what is best for our horses into the hands of a doctor who is trained to decide. It is no different than one of us going to the doctor and being given a prescription, whether it is a pain medication, antibiotic or even anti-depression medications. I am a professional horse trainer and am not trained to know what the best medications are for my horses. I want the burden of that on my veterinarian.

I know you are thinking that some vets will prescribe anything. And yes, I agree, but you cannot govern ethics. I trained in California for many years, where there is a state-mandated drug policy. I was tested every weekend when I showed and never once did I have a positive test. I have shown many times with my U.S. teammates and competitors in FEI events at the highest level, and none of us tested positive for medications. There is no medication that makes us stop farther, turn faster or circle better. In fact, drugging our horses causes many of those maneuvers to be jeopardized. At a high level of competition, we want our horses fully tuned and listening to our every detailed command. Drugs do not help us win. Period.

There are many drugs given to horses for good reasons, and I am adamant about protecting my show horses and their longevity. Horses that are unshowable due to lameness or other reasons, such as being too difficult to show, are often given away or worse – sent to auctions where they go who knows where. Many of them are sent to Mexico where they end up in processing plants. If we are able to manage these horses, their quality of life can be maintained in great homes, whether they are a kid’s show horse or an amateur’s trail or practice horse.

I know there are drug rules in foreign countries. I have shown there successfully, and never felt as bad as when I had my horses in these shows. I was not allowed to give bute, banamine, gastrogard, or in Sweden, even ice or wrap my horse. I could not give Adequan or Legend. Anyone who tells you they have it figured out over there is flat wrong, in my opinion.

If we were to pass a drug rule, we cannot efficiently enforce it, nor can we defend it in court. This has been proven in prior lawsuits. Most tests done in the horse industry, with the exception of the racing industry, are not done using split testing; therefore, if a sample is contaminated in the lab and produces a false positive, there is no frozen sample to draw from to confirm a positive test. This is reason enough to not impose an unenforceable drug rule.

I am all for a drug rule that allows me to care for my horse properly, with the ability to test fairly using split testing and accredited labs that are transparent, with results of blood and urine being used together. However, I have yet to see a drug rule that I believe can do this. I refuse to support any drug rule until I see one that is better than what my veterinarian prescribes for my horses.

This is my opinion and I hope you will at least consider what I have shared. This is why the majority of professionals are not supporting a drug rule other than the new proposed change. It has nothing to do with wanting to win at all costs; it has everything to do with preserving our horses.