Written by Owen Thompson on February 23, 2017
Many horseback riders and owners are casual riders who do not compete or compete only at unrecognized or “schooling” shows. But thousands of riders across Ontario saddle up their horses every week and compete in shows recognized by our federal regulating body, Equestrian Canada (formerly Equine Canada). These shows are categorized as Bronze, Silver, or Gold level competitions.
Along with a host of rules developed to ensure uniformity of competitions, divisions, prize money, judging, and safety standards across the country, Equestrian Canada also regulates the substances that can and cannot be used on horses competing in recognized shows. Any horse at any level of recognized showing in Canada can be selected for random drug testing.
A violation of a drug regulation is not “breaking the law”. Equestrian Canada is a regulating body for sport and is not capable of passing legislation. But in order to compete and be successful in recognized Equestrian Canada competitions, all rules, including medication rules, must be complied with. Changes are made to these drug regulations every year and medications are both removed and added to the “banned” list. Competitors are responsible for understanding what they can give their horses and what they can’t. A licensed veterinarian can always be of assistance when drug control question are at hand, but competitors, owners, and trainers need to be careful as there are substances that are found in almost every stable that can result in a positive test.
For instance, phenylbutazone or “bute”, as it is known in the horse industry, is permitted only in prescribed amounts. While this drug must be obtained from a vet, most stables have it on hand for minor aches, pains and lameness in horses. You must be cautious when dosing a show horse with this medication, as any amount higher than the permitted dosage will result in a suspension. A similar and highly useful drug, firocoxib, with a trade name of “Previcox” in Canada, only became legal for use this year. This drug also must be obtained from a veterinarian but is commonly found in barns and up until recently any use would have resulted in suspension. Again, this drug has a prescribed dosage that cannot be exceeded. Care must also be taken never to mix phenylbutazone and firocoxib, as it strictly banned for one horse to receive both medications and then compete in a show.
Supplements can be purchased at feed and tack stores that contain valerian root, magnesium, or paprika can also be problematic as these substances are banned from competition. You do not need a veterinarian’s prescription to obtain these and they can result in suspension from showing, loss of ribbons and prize money, and a public announcement of a drug violation if the horse is tested. These supplements are used for a variety of things, from calming the animal to improving their coat and skin, so extreme caution needs to be taken when purchasing a supplement for a show horse.
How does the Equestrian Canada drug testing process work? From personal experience, I can tell you that selection, while random, can be based on whatever criteria the tester chooses. Sometimes they test winning horses, sometimes the testers may think a horse looks lethargic (a possible indicator of a tranquilized animal) and sometimes they make a point of testing horses they don’t remember seeing at shows before.
Your horse will be selected for testing as you leave either the competition or warm up ring. Once your horse is selected, you must comply with all the testing requirements. You cannot “scratch” from the competition once your horse has been selected or tested, and even if you withdrew the horse prior to selection, any horse that has been entered into the show and is present on the show grounds within 24 hours of being selected is eligible.
Once your horse has been identified, you will be escorted to a stall that has been specifically set aside for testing. The owner or person responsible for the horse must accompany the horse and tester at all times. You cannot return to your own stall or trailer with your horse until testing is complete.
Drug testing is primarily done by urine sample. The horse and person responsible will remain with the horse until they provide a sample. If sufficient time goes by, the person responsible for the horse can elect to have blood drawn rather than provide urine by the show veterinarian.
If you have questions about equine drug control regulations or want to know more, contact us.