According to Dr. Duane Barnett of AERC’s Drug Testing Subcommittee, the AERC drug rule is actually “a system of principles and values: morals, character and behavior.”
As he noted at the organization’s 2009 convention, AERC’s philosophy is not only concerned with performance-enhancing drugs, but to ensure adequate rest time and to safeguard that medication and therapies that can mask lameness are not allowed. Also not allowed are medications that can cover or mask horse illness. “I have strong words for those who bring sick horses to rides,” said Dr. Barnett.
That philosophy also goes for horses with ulcers, according to Dr. Barnett. “Leave those horses at home until they are better,” he said. “Change your feeding, your competition and training schedule, so he can compete without ulcer medications.
“Some people are always looking for a shortcut, an edge,” said Dr. Barnett. “They don’t care how they beat you. Drug testing is roulette. There is no way the labs can test for all substances out there.” Thus, he said, “Everybody in this organization is responsible for the welfare of the horse.”
Under AERC’s previous drug rule, the presence of any drug was a violation. “Today’s technology is so advanced that minute particles can be detected,” said Dr. Barnett. He cited a Louisiana State University study where dirt, dust and runoff water at a racetrack was collected and found to contain trace amounts of banamine, bute, caffeine and nicotine.
Turning to withdrawal times, Dr. Barnett explained that there are published withdrawal times only for the most common substances. “They are a suggestion only,” he noted. He noted that bute levels in horses post-dosing vary widely even though dosage was appropriate for each horse. “A half-dose of bute given after competition,” Dr. Barnett warned, “may stay longer in the system because the horse is dehydrated.”
Of neutraceuticals, Dr. Barnett noted that these products which are used to “obtain some type of cause or effect,” so they are drugs — “make no doubt about it.”
Some supplements are allowed under AERC regulations, including glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid. AERC’s rule 13, appendix C (Allowed Substances) notes they are “not to be administered by needle/syringe while competing in an endurance ride.
The problem arises when these legal supplements contain other things. Substances such as yucca, MSM, etc., are going to be considered illegal during competition by AERC’s current drug rule.
The Food and Drug Administration requires no pre-market approval if the supplement or herb manufacturer doesn’t claim to treat or cure. “They don’t have to prove safety or efficacy. There is no quality guarantee or batch-to-batch consistency,” said Dr. Barnett. “It is buyer beware”, he added.
In recent years, one rider who gave her horse what was marketed as an “all natural, calming effect” neutraceutical was surprised by a positive drug test. The batch was found to be contaminated and actually contained 11% caffeine.
“You must know exactly what you are giving your horse,” said Dr. Barnett. “Educate yourself. Call the company. Work with vets who work with performance products.
But don’t ask what the withdrawal times are for any of these substances. First you have to know how much you are feeding and that requires knowing actually what is in the product (see above). A suggested withdrawal time is 96 hours.
“During training and after competition, I use MSM,” said Dr. Barnett. “but not anywhere close to a ride.” Most substances will clear in 96 hours, he noted — but not always.
Dr. Barnett also spoke about possible reactions to neutraceuticals. “Ginseng and echinacea can increase liver enzymes,” he said, “causing bute to metabolize in the liver. And flaxseed prolongs absorption of medications and withdrawal times can be much longer.”
Most of all, ask yourself why you are feeding the product. For what purpose are you feeding it? If you are trying to obtain an effect such as behavior modification or an anti-inflammatory then the product is illegal during competition. (One note: Probiotics are OK to use during competition.)
Of topical products, Dr. Barnett emphasized that they “must contain no prohibited substance even if the effect is local. He mentioned that three horses tested positive for capsaicin at the 2008 Olympics. “They guessed wrong,” he said, “and thought a test didn’t exist or the drug wouldn’t be absorbed into the body.”
AERC’s drug rule will continue to evolve, Dr. Barnett promised. “The drug rule is not designed to be an obstacle, but to look out for the long-term welfare of the horse.”