A trick in every trade... - Veterinary Practice
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A trick in every trade…

presents the third of her reports
on the September congress of the
British Equine Veterinary
Association, covering the sessions
on lameness and drug testing

PROFESSOR Leo Jeffcott of the University of Sydney chaired the Friday afternoon session at the BEVA congress on “Lameness: medicating/treating the competition horse”. In his paper on the historical perspective, he described the changes in attitude that have evolved during the 43 years that he has been a listed event veterinarian for the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI). In the beginning, there were no systems for medication control. It took until the mid-1970s for the FEI to publish a list of “forbidden substances” and it was not until 1981 that “antiinflammatory substances, other than phenylbutazone (PBZ)” were outlawed. PBZ was permitted at a level up to 4mcg/ml; this was reduced to up to 2mcg/ml but the drug was not banned altogether until 1993. In the 1970s and 80s medication control still suffered from lack of structure. It was based on the protocols used in racing, with the principle of zero tolerance: that is, any detectable level of banned drug was forbidden. The Horse Forensic Laboratory in Newmarket carried out the testing but uncertainty concerning the validity of collection of blood and urine samples let to many successful legal challenges which undermined effective drug control. It took until 1990 for the establishment of the Medication Control Programme (MCP) and the appointment of a proactive medication sub-committee to control drug use in competition. Medication control comes up against an inherent conflict of interests. On the one hand, the FEI wants clean sport where horses compete on their intrinsic merit and competition is safe and fair to all. This gives priority to the welfare of the horse. On the other hand, owners and trainers want to win. The year 2004 was a watershed with 4.8% of horses tested giving positive results, with four positives at the Athens Olympics and two gold medals taken away. (The most popular illegal drugs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, sedatives and corticosteroids.) This situation led to a major review of the MCP. The Prohibited Substance List was split into “banned substances” and “controlled medication substances”.

Emergency intervention

Although drugs must not influence performance, intervention is
permitted in emergency, under the control of the official veterinarians. This Emergency Therapeutic Use Exemption allows emergency treatment of minor conditions, the declaration of altrenogest (Regumate) given to mares and authorisation to veterinarians to give non-banned substances such as rehydration fluids. Application for elective testing to make sure that medication used before competition has been cleared from the horse’s system is also covered. At present, the FEI is operating a
CleanSport programme. This aims to keep equestrian sport drug free and so improve both the welfare of horses and the public’s perception of the sport. So far it has achieved a good reduction in the number of horses testing positive with the 2004 figure of 4.8% down to 1% in 2009. The post-Athens Equine Anti- Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations spell out the implications of doping and controlled medication making it much clearer to the people involved. The new Prohibited Substance List is comprehensive and it is under continual review as new substances are constantly appearing. The FEI has published a Prohibited Substance Database which is available to anyone and a list of detection times to assist veterinarians treating horses prior to competition. This is backed up by the provision of pre-competition elective testing. Physical rapping of jumping horses has been banned for many years but it has been superseded by chemical irritants applied to the forelegs. These show up on thermal imaging, but it was hard to prove the intention behind the practice. The FEI has, however, adopted a robust protocol which allows for detection and disqualification of any horse found to be hypersensitive without having to establish the precise cause of the hypersensitivity. Overall, the FEI has made great strides in establishing a genuinely clean sport and making the regulations effective and understandable for everyone involved.

Drug testing rationale

Lynn Hillyer, of the Department of Equine Science and Welfare of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), explained the “Rationale and practicalities of drug testing”. Drug testing has been an integral part of racing since Daniel Dawson was executed in 1812 for doping horses in Newmarket with arsenic. The BHA insists that horses must race free from the effect of drugs, both to protect the horses and their jockeys and to maintain the confidence of the betting public. Nowadays, broken rules result in fines and disqualifications but there is a big emphasis on keeping trainers and veterinarians informed so that they can act without breaking the rules. It is an ever-changing scene as laboratory analysis becomes increasingly refined, regulators and analysts are in constant dialogue and methods and standards are exchanged internationally. Broadly, drugs are either there to dope, to alter performance maliciously, or to treat disease, but the boundaries are blurred and the reality is very complex. There is a competitive edge: a veterinarian can say “no” and keep medication within the prescribed limits or he can be persuaded to push the boundaries. When there are multiple vets working in a yard with a bewildered
trainer trying to keep his owners happy, reality can be uncomfortable. The trainer is responsible for recording medication. In principle, medication should be given to aid recovery from injury rather than as a substitute for rest. In practice, most infringements of the rules involve therapeutic medications. The European Horserace Scientific Liaison Committee (EHSLC) was established in 1992 to promote international harmonisation and get relevant information to trainers through their veterinary surgeons. This gave rise to the
concepts of “detection times” and an internationally recognised “screening limit”. The horse is allowed to have a residue of drug that has been judged to have no effect on its performance. Analysis is so refined that an absolute zero is impractical. (Details of these matters are available on the EHSLC website.) Samples are taken on the raceday, usually after the race, but they are also increasingly being taken “out of competition” from the horses in normal training, sometimes in response to suspicion of wrongdoing
but also to establish whether the drug clearance patterns differ in sick horses under treatment when compared with the healthy horses used experimentally to establish the data. The pattern of testing has become more refined with “planned unpredictability”, which is a favourite tool of regulators, being applied to racing. Racing authorities are doing their best to work with trainers and veterinarians to avoid unintentional rule breaking but there is no
tolerance for those who cheat. There may be a “trick in every trade” but the racing authorities are making every effort to keep racing fair for the benefit of horses, jockeys and the whole industry.

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