Dr. Gary Priest Joins WHOA, Calls For Change in Veterinary Business Model

by | 04.19.2015 | 8:23am
Dr. Gary Priest, DVM, of Harthill & Priest Equine Surgery in Versailles, Ky

It is my understanding that the Water Hay Oats Alliance's position is to allow treatment of equine ailments that routinely occur, but for horses not to compete on drugs given on race day. I agree with this position.

Veterinary medicine has made amazing advancements in the diagnostic technology and treatments of our equine athletes since I began practice in 1976. In my opinion, these advancements were not intended to give one horse an advantage over another on race day, but rather to improve the overall health and longevity of the usefulness of a racehorse.

My mentor Dr. Alex Harthill is credited with being the first vet to give a shot of Lasix. At the time, I am sure it seemed like a good idea, but I don't think anybody knew what the ramifications were going to be. I don't think any of us ever envisioned a time when every horse breezed or raced on Lasix. It has to be the most abused drug in the arsenal available to a racetrack veterinarian.

I am in favor of using therapeutic medications on horses, but I think they should be stopped a few days before a race. If they really are legitimate therapeutic drugs, the horses would still get the benefits of the drugs on race day.

Advances in veterinary science have occurred despite an historical problem in racetrack practice. For the entire time I have been in practice, racetrack veterinarians have based their fees on the treatments actually administered versus following our human counterparts, who base their fees on providing an accurate diagnosis and planning out the treatment regimens. Vets make money selling drugs, physicians earn their money providing services, not on the sale of medication.

The current veterinarian model is all wrong. The way it is now, there is too great an incentive to treat a horse because that is the only way a racetrack vet gets paid.

The current focus on zero tolerance has placed my profession in a position that providing effective therapy to the horse has become next to impossible for fear that some insignificant trace of a drug may be detected weeks or months after the horse has recovered.

Current efforts to stop all race day medication and to adopt a zero tolerance for all drugs makes the outlook for most veterinarians interested in racetrack practice pretty dismal if this current business model continues.

In the past few years I have seen some of the really talented recent graduates go into other fields of veterinary medicine. To continue to see the advancement of new technology and treatments for the horse we need to do whatever we can to attract the best and the brightest in my profession.

The most sensible way to accomplish this is for vets to change the model for their compensation and for trace levels of therapeutic drugs to be uniformly established by an entity empowered at the Federal level.

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