By Melissa Ribley, DVM

The correct and accurate use of pull codes by ride veterinarians is important. Pull codes are information that is looked at to learn why horses are not completing rides and what can be done to help improve completion rates.

A research project was conducted investigating why horses are pulled from endurance rides. Pull codes were specifically checked over and the researchers found a higher number than expected of rider option (RO) pulls. This high percentage of RO pulls being reported by riders and then recorded by ride veterinarians is likely inaccurate, not reflecting what is truly occurring at the rides, and is impeding researchers from learning what is really happening with these horses. It is the responsibility of the ride veterinarian to record on the rider card, and therefore communicate to the ride manager, an accurate pull code for all horses not continuing in the ride.

Veterinarians working endurance rides should understand and properly record pull codes. Riders should also understand the various pull codes, why accurate documentation of pulled horses is important to the sport, and why the RO codes will be used by the ride veterinarian only in specific situations.

The pull code options are the following:

Lame (L)

Metabolic (M)

Overtime (OT)

Surface factors (SF)

Disqualified (DQ)

Rider option (RO)

Rider option-metabolic (RO-M)

Rider option-lame (RO-L)

Rider option-surface factors (RO-SF)

The L, M and OT codes are self explanatory, clear by definition, and should be the most commonly used codes.

Surface factors (SF) is a pull code to be listed for a horse that has a tack gall, laceration, abrasion, etc., to the degree that the vet has deemed the horse not fit to continue.

The disqualified code (DQ) is to be used by management for situations where the rider is disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct, an unruly horse, going off trail or breaking a specific, written ride rule.

Where codes become questionable and may be improperly used are with the RO, RO-L, RO-M and RO-SF codes. The RO is to be used only if the rider cannot continue or elects not to continue due to their own illness, injury or personal circumstances.

If a rider is electing not to continue, the horse must still be examined by the ride vet (all horses entered in AERC-sanctioned rides are to be examined by a control vet regardless of whether the rider is electing not to continue) and the horse must be deemed fit to continue in order to use this code. If upon exam the control vet determines the horse is not fit to continue, other appropriate codes (L, M, SF) should be listed. The RO code is to be used only when the horse has been examined and passed by the veterinarian.

Similar to the RO code, RO-L, RO-M and RO-SF codes are to be used only if the veterinarian has examined and passed the horse as fit to continue. If, after the horse has passed the exam, the rider then decides the horse is not right due to either a lameness, metabolic, or surface factor issue, such as a tack gall, laceration, or abrasion, then the RO-L, RO-M or RO-SF codes should be used.

Most ride veterinarians strive to make the decision of pulling a horse from competition a team decision with the rider. Both the veterinarian and rider are working towards keeping the horse’s welfare and best interest a priority. Rather than taking the role of policing riders and eliminating horses with little or no discussion, most vets will enter into a dialog with the rider, listen to the rider’s input, and come to a (usually) mutual decision with regards to what is best for the horse.

Experienced veterinarians make the effort to work with the rider and present eliminating a horse from competition as a team decision with the rider. Therefore, riders may understandably leave with the feeling they pulled their own horse and wish to have the pull listed as a RO, RO-L, RO-M or RO-SF. In reality, these horses would not have been passed as fit to continue by the ride veterinarian and vets need to accurately list the pull code as L, M or SF. Again, RO, RO-L, R-M and RO-SF are to be used only after the horse has been examined and passed by the ride vet as fit to continue. If a ride veterinarian would not have or does not pass a horse on exam, the rider’s contribution to the decision in pulling the horse should have no bearing on the pull code of the horse.

If we are to learn from ride results and pull statistics, these statistics need to accurately reflect why horses are being pulled from rides. It is up to the ride veterinarians to accurately use and record the available pull codes.

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