‘Different Mindset’: British Vets Question Volume Of Therapeutic Drugs Used In American Racing

by | 12.18.2017 | 11:38am
Shepherd listens to a yearling's heart

This is the third and final piece in a three-part series on British medication use and regulation. Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

In the course of his usual morning rounds to the training yards around Newmarket in Suffolk, England, Dr. Mike Shepherd visits a horse who is scheduled to leave his trainer's private yard for a race in the evening of the next day. With the help of a groom, he runs a drip of IV electrolytes and vitamins into the horse's vein. Then, he ducks into the trainer's office to make a note of the administration, designed to offset the electrolytes lost in sweat, in the BHA-mandated logbook, including the date and time of the administration, and the reason for it.

There are a couple of differences here to the pre-race routine for a Thoroughbred racing in the United States. The most obvious is the log book, which must be up-to-date with all medication records of any horse at any time, regardless of whether the horse is on track or in a training yard. Shepherd said the British Horseracing Authority's right to check up on these logs is not a formality; the BHA can and does show up unexpectedly at training facilities and demand to see an assortment of log books. He's not sure if the inspections are random, or driven by tip-offs, and suspects the Authority would rather he not know.

The other difference between the U.S. and the United Kingdom is what Shepherd is not giving the horse ahead of racing, on this or any of the previous several mornings earlier in the week: furosemide, anti-inflammatories, or other therapeutics.

British medication policy has not altered drastically over the past several years, and according to at least some veterinarians there, medical professionals are not lobbying for any edits to the rulebook.

 “I think we're all pretty comfortable with the medication rules as we have them here,” said Dr. Frederic Barrelet, Shepherd's colleague at Rossdales Veterinary Surgeons in Newmarket. “I don't think they've ever really been questioned. There was a phase about 40 or 50 years ago when there was more medication use going on, but I think that got stopped in the 1970s, and I don't think anybody ever really queried it.”

For Barrelet, the difference between medication practice in the U.S. and England is as much philosophical as it is practical.

“It's a different mindset, a different approach,” said Barrelet, who focuses on bloodstock, sport horse, and equine insurance practice. “The two-legged North Americans have the highest per-capita consumption of over-the-counter and prescribed drugs. I think that translates also in the way we treat our animals.

“Through the insurance world, I see veterinarians' bills from all over the world. I see vets' bills coming out of America and go through the stuff people put into horses, and wonder, ‘Why on earth would you put that stuff into a horse if it doesn't really need it?' and the answer is generally, it doesn't. But that's how you get your kids through school.” 

How do you deal with lameness?

Barrelet and Shepherd agree they prefer to bill a client for diagnostic services rather than take the ‘treat and see' approach. Although Shepherd, whose practice is split between racing horses and bloodstock, does make regular rounds to major trainers' barns each morning, he is not handed a list of treatments to perform at the trainer's demand. Some of his clients request he watch horses jog weekly to check for lameness, while he sees others as needed.

Shepherd watches a yearling as a buyer makes his own inspection

Barrelet recommends clients build in at least one week between the last dose of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory and race time. For one gram of IV Bute, he estimates the closest someone could get, if they wanted to push the envelope, would be 72 hours before race time, but the official detection time is five days. For Barrelet and many other veterinarians, it's common practice to take the suggested cut-off time from the BHA and add a few days to it.

But what about body soreness, an oft-cited reason by Americans for keeping nonsteroidals handy in the barn?

“What is body soreness?” asked Barrelet. “It's probably under-training. If I'm sore all over my body and I've just done a few sprints, then I'm undertrained. So, is body soreness an excuse for poor fitness? For poor training methods? A horse in a barn today, if he gets out for 40 minutes, it's a lot. In the States, it's from the barn to a walker, throw a jockey aboard, spins around the track once or twice, or not even, comes back in off the hotwalker and back in the stall. That's not conditioning the horse. 

“Here in Newmarket where you see them come out of the yard, and they're going on concrete, across roads, cantering, coming back, and we're complaining they're not getting enough work into them. I think modern training methods are people cutting corners for a variety of reasons.”

For Barrelet and Shepherd, exercise riders are one of a trainer's most important tools in detecting lameness, and in England that's a problem. As in the States, experienced help is hard to find as increasing urbanization has reduced the number of true horsemen willing to spend their days mucking stalls and riding in all weather. Pay for “work riders,” who are both grooms and exercise riders for the horses in their care, is poor. Stable help has become increasingly made up of immigrants, some of whom had the resources available to learn proper riding and handling techniques, some of whom did not.

A group of horses head to work at Warren Hill in Newmarket

In North Yorkshire, England, Dr. John Martin, in-house veterinarian for top trainer Mark Johnston, concurred he spends more time diagnosing a horse's issues than medicating them, due to tight medication restrictions. Instead, Martin and Johnston rely on alternative therapies like swimming and an underwater walker to give a horse a break from intensive exercise.

Martin does not believe British horses are inherently sounder than American horses.

“We see lots of chronic issues, but I think Mark is a little bit unique in that he doesn't often use medication to be honest,” said Martin. “Horses are amazing things. They can live with low grade things, and we can help them along with swimming and water walkers.”

Due to the long withdrawal times, Martin doesn't rely on joint injections to address chronic knee inflammation. The minimum time between an intra-articular injection and race time is 16 days, but Martin said Johnston prefers to round up to 21 days.

“I find for myself, and this may be due to selection of cases, you may get a response initially and it may be a very good response, but I often find the effects of it are gone before the withdrawal period is gone, so the effects are gone before you run the horse,” said Martin. “That may be a reflection on the selection of the horses we're medicating because we don't do it a lot, so we do it on horses where we've tried other things, including swimming, and they've got to the stage where they need a little more help.” 

What about bleeders, then?

Furosemide, or Lasix, is not permitted on race day anywhere in Europe, although it is permitted in training. Shepherd says he does administer the diuretic to horses from time to time ahead of a workout if the horse is a chronic, serious bleeder. But in the UK, that's considered an important ‘if.'

Fans look on during a race at Rowley Mile in Newmarket

“Some horses can bleed one day and not the next, and some can do it more consistently,” Shepherd said. “It's a good thing to do, for sure [giving furosemide for workouts]. If they're bleeders, the less they bleed in training, the less damage is done.” 

For Shepherd, the research is clear when it comes to the performance impacts of furosemide: it does help, but he's not sure whether it enhances a horse's finish beyond his normal, healthy limits, or if it enhances the horse's finish because it removes a pathological impediment. Regardless, his interest in medicating bleeders for major works is not performance in the work (British trainers do not typically clock horses anyway), but reducing the likelihood of damage to the lungs as a result of bleeding.

He also doesn't see bleeding as a guaranteed performance inhibitor – it all depends on the severity.

“A lot of horses will bleed quite well and still win a race. It doesn't necessarily stop them,” he said.

What about other issues?

Therapeutic drugs to prevent tying up have tripped up several trainers in the United States, but Martin said it's a condition he rarely sees in Johnston's horses. The condition, which is characterized by muscle stiffness and pain as a result of exercise, can be treated with management and nutrition changes as well as muscle relaxant. When Johnston does encounter a horse with the problem, he reworks the horse's routine and believes that sufficiently limits tying up episodes. Martin suspects this might be due to the horses' routines, which have them in some sort of work (intensity varies) six to seven days a week.

Johnston is also not likely to medicate a horse for gastric ulcers, either, preferring to take a management approach to that problem, too.

“Mark is a big skeptic about the significance of ulcers, to be honest,” said Martin. “One of Mark's theories which we use to address the issue is the horses are fed every six hours. We have someone here through the night to feed them.

“I know there are a lot of trainers in Newmarket that would pretty much have the whole yard on Gastrogard.”

How does the international community really look at U.S. drug policies?

The use of therapeutics and race-day furosemide has been a point of contention for years in the States, and for some hay/oats/water advocates, there is an impression the rest of the world looks sideways at American racing because of Lasix.

Of the various British trainers, veterinarians, and bloodstock agents interviewed by the Paulick Report about drug policy in the United States, all of them said American medication use seems significantly greater than their own, and that does impact their view of the sport. Just as concerning as the use of race-day furosemide for many was the allowance of phenylbutazone and flunixin 36 to 24 hours out from a race.

Shepherd recalled his first autumn working at a well-known public auction in the U.S., vetting horses for clients early in the morning, where he noticed several horses in different consignments with a drip of blood on their necks. ‘That's the BBD,' he was told, and he didn't think much about it. Eventually, he learned ‘BBD' stood for a syringe containing anti-inflammatories Bute, Banamine (the brand name of flunixin), and dexamethasone, and at the consignments he had visited, the injection was part of the daily routine.

Although that was years ago now, the experience has stuck with him.

“The idea was, ‘Every horse gets a bit sore and tired so why not give them something to make them feel less sore?'” he said. “So basically, you've got to assume that every horse you're vetting out there is on anti-inflammatories.” 

As Shepherd told this story stallside at Tattersalls in Newmarket during its October Sale of yearlings, a nearby horse handler widened her eyes in horror.

Dr. Fred Barrelet

Barrelet and Shepherd are both quick to acknowledge there are many American trainers and racetrack practitioners who do not reach for a syringe at every available opportunity and who advocate for proper diagnostics before treatment. Conversely, Martin emphasized he is aware of colleagues in England who are more willing than he is to lean on pharmaceutical solutions to horses' chronic problems. Barrelet believes the difficulty in the racing and bloodstock world is that no outsider really knows which horses have been handled in which way. His experience vetting horses at American auctions suggests there is still interest in American yearlings at middling price points where English buyers can make money pinhooking, but they are less interested in spending big money on horses because they're not sure how much familial resumes have been enhanced by therapeutic drugs.

At the same time, he echoed the sentiment of Johnston by pointing out British racing is not anti-medication, just anti-raceday medication, and he believes that is an attitude American racing could adopt, too.

“I know the big debate in the States is can we run horses without medication. We seem to be doing quite well over here,” Barrelet said. “We don't run them without drugs, just without raceday medications. They're clean on race day within protection limits. Those times within forensic value are pretty well defined and from a pharmacological value are pretty well defined.

“You can't train horses, you can't train any athlete without medication, but you can run them. That basic philosophy is fully accepted here, and I don't think anybody questions it. I don't think there's any cry for changing things from what they are. We all manage to make a living using that approach and those rules, whereas some American colleagues say their practice would collapse if they couldn't use drugs.” 

  • ben

    Great story, Nathalie, it just explains the difference between the US and the UK.

    Thanks for the three stories, have been reading all off them.

  • Always Curious

    This is the best yet. Thank you Natalie! Loved the part about soreness resulting from under training & his comment saying not enough time out of the stall in the US racing tracks.

    • whirlaway

      Far too much time standing in a stall. I have spoke of Marathon runners in my family as I notice Howardroark314 poster also has run marathons which is very different than our horses. But at 63yrs old my husband now versus running is a brisk jog but Sunday at 29 degrees still is able to do 5.1 miles and regularly does to stay in shape. In his younger years 7 to 8 miles 4 to 5 times was his schedule. Has run almost 40 yrs. Was introduced to racing when he met me and after sitting alone for a few hours by the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga focusing on individual horses his first main question was is this all these horses are required to do for conditioning. Once again our horses are not the equivalent of human long distance runners. Under trained quite possibly. I recently saw a you tube video in the snow at beautiful Barnstead manor at Juddmonte showing Frankel, Oasis Desert and Dansili
      being hand walked on a 7 mile walk a day to keep in shape not just in small circles. It is titled Frankel at exercise Barnstead Manor beautiful winter scene. I found it by chance did not even realize Juddmonte does this. I believe in the non breeding seasons stallions need exercise also even being ridden Three Chimneys has done. Exercise is important for
      all of us.

    • WM

      Horses are rushed in their training when stabled at a racetrack. Very little warm-up and cool down after a gallop. I think these 2 factors are very important to training and soundness. Being a runner myself, I’d never go for a run without warming up first, then a long walk after the run. I understand the hurried routines at the tracks, though. The track closes early for the days races so there’s only so many training hours. Training centers are so much better because trainers can take their time, train all day if they want to, and the horses have the opportunity to be turned out and walk out any soreness on their own without drugs.

      • Larry Ensor

        Not to pick on you. But I was a very good distance runner in my day. No interest in “competition”. I was just naturally good at it. My main interest was since a kid, backpacking, rock climbing and high end mountaineering. Been a life long skier and raced in my teens.

        I grew up with horses and have worked with and trained enough to know there are very few similarities between human athletes and equine.

        But I completely understand why many think there is.

      • Bein

        Not true. Horses walk before they train and after they train. They also jog around a half mile before they turn and gallop.

  • Hamish

    It would be interesting to compare the American and British racetrack equine vet’s practice’s gross annual receipts by looking at what percentage of total annual receipts are drug sales, versus what percentage of gross billings consist of charging for diagnosis, physical exams and the like? .The cost of surgeries excluded from this example.

    • liz

      Are you in the US?

  • Tinky

    “We all manage to make a living using that approach and those rules, whereas some American colleagues say their practice would collapse if they couldn’t use drugs.”

    Now that’s a punch line!

    Excellent work, Natalie.

    • Meg Hiers

      I think this may be a statement of how racetrack veterinary practices differ in how they charge here at the track versus in England. I don’t know much about how they charge in England, but my understanding ( granted from what I saw about 7-8 years back ) is that a racetrack practitioner in America has to make the money on the mark up of medication/injections because they cannot charge what they would need to for the skills in diagnostics and procedures. Also a truly complete lameness evaluation/workup could take hours to all day depending on where the lameness ends up being, and I would guess there is a fat chance of convincing a lot of trainers to allow that time.

      Also, BBD—WTF. 2 NSAIDs plus a steroid in the same syringe, given daily?! No wonder these horses have ulcers and possibly kidney/liver issues.

      • Larry Ensor

        “BBD—WTF. 2 NSAIDs plus a steroid in the same syringe, given daily?”

        Understand that he was referring to sales yearlings. Who can be in and out of theirs stalls to be inspected 20-50+ a day. For days. They have to spend several days in theirs stalls after having lived a life of being turned out 7/365.

        The value of a yearling is determined by and large by it’s pedigree, conformation and one of the most important parts, how it walks, how it uses itself. A lazy, “un-athletic walk” can be, is a turn off for most buyers.

        It shouldn’t be taken as nefarious. It is NOT used as a matter of course in the daily care of yearlings let alone horses in training. At least not by any ethical care takers.

        I was a bit surprised that any sales horse would be walking around in “public” with some tell-tail blood on its neck. Pretty poor management, presentation by the consignor/s.

        • WM

          The BBD injections are common and happen most often at 2yo sales as a prophylactic. I have seen so many horses medicated “just in case” something may pop up.

          Sale yearlings are accustomed to being stalled. Once they begin prep they spend all day in the barn and are turned out when the sun goes down so their coats don’t get sunburned. They are also exercised and taught to walk briskly so they are ready to show their best at the sales.

          • Larry Ensor

            Fair enough but you are preaching to the choir. No snark intended. I have been in and worked just about all aspects of the business and sport my whole life. I’m going on 62. Not just walking the sales grounds or working with sales horses from the end of a shank. Mixed, yearling and 2 year old in training sales.

            Bred,foaled, raised, weaned, prepped for the sale, sales groom, sales consignor, broke/started, on their back, resident ‘bruise boy” and on their head. Trained flat and Steeplechase horses, licensed jock jock. etc.

            Have put a lot of money where my mouth is. Again no snark intended, but you missed my point. I understand both sides of the Big Picture.

      • KErams

        You wrote, “depending on where the lameness ends up being.” And that is so true and something that can add a tremendous amount of cost to a vet’s bill since, as I have recently learned, some lameness is never diagnosed properly. I have had my mare in four times and the vet can find nothing wrong. Next step would be an MRI but that would entail a long road trip (and she gets so washy on interstates and in big cities) plus (I’m thinking, don’t know for sure) $1000 for the scan. Why don’t I do it? Because we now are almost 5 months in on her last bout of lameness and if it is what I think it is (vet doesn’t agree), then 9 months off with rehab beginning at the 1st of the year — to heal as well as possible what I THINK is a very slightly injured check ligament, what would the MRI gain me? How many Thoroughbreds have something similar? My vet, at least, didn’t charge me when he couldn’t figure out what was going on. So, I was charged for my x-rays, etc., and two vet visits but two visits were free. A track vet won’t have that luxury, I wouldn’t think. He would have to charge whether he found anything pertinent or not.

        • Billy

          The mri would give you an inside view….they also tell the whole story no lies in the machine

          • KErams

            I know that. Long trip for horse in lots of traffic. She gets stressed under those situations so since it’s winter now and I probably wouldn’t be riding a lot anyway, I think I’m just gonna proceed as thought it is a check ligament issue. I’ve been essentially afoot since June 1 so a few months more won’t hurt me. I never let it rest longer than 5 or 6 weeks and every time she would pull up lame again. Now, it is nice and flat and no heat and she is moving really well so I think it is just about time to start the real rehabbing.

        • Bein

          “So, I was charged for my x-rays, etc., and two vet visits but two visits
          were free. A track vet won’t have that luxury, I wouldn’t think. He
          would have to charge whether he found anything pertinent or not.”

          Not the case. Track vets do quick lameness evaluations all the time at no charge. I imagine the record keeping and paperwork isn’t worth the time, and usually the check leads to using technology and diagnostics, which are charged.

  • Michael Castellano

    Very informative and well written article. Horses have evolved over millions of years to be active and always moving. What could be more counterproductive than long periods confined to a stable stall and then have them running as fast as they can in a race? And then dealing with their resulting stiffness and soreness with drugs? When the army trained us out of shape former civilians, they dealt with the soreness by keeping us active and moving. Not by shooting us up with drugs. I think it’s a safe assumption that all horses in the U.S. are undertrained.

    • Richard Holmes

      The horses are not undertrained. They are underactive. There is a big difference. It is obviously not good to be in a stall all day. It would be much better for a horse to be out in a pasture moving about. That would be a good for a horse. But you would not want to train them more. Galloping around with a 130 pound person on your back puts alot of pressure and pounding on ankles and joints. Most racehorses jog or gallop around 1 1/2 miles a day. That is enough. You would not want to do more than that.

      • HowardRoark314

        They are for sure under-trained in the US. From claimers to G1 winners – the go to breeze is 5F/1:01 – how is that preparation for a race going 6F in 1:12 or a mile in 1:36?. US trainers use the syringe as a replacement for exercise. Seems as the UK medicates to allow for more training, while the US medicates to allow for less. But if you think galloping a horse for 1.5 miles in 18-20sec furlongs is prep for a race where the first quarter goes in 21 – then I am just whistling in the wind here.

        • Richard Holmes

          First of all, the listed distances of the workouts back east are meaningless. Many of the east coast trainers will work a horse a half-mile but they gallop them out so strong that the workout is really like a 6 furlong work or longer. They may work a half mile in :48 3/5, but they also galloped out 6 furlongs in 1:13 3/5 and 7 furlongs in 1:26 4/5. On the west coast they don’t do that quite as much.

          Once horses are fit and are running once a month, they don’t need to get fit for races. They are already fit. It’s just about maintaining their fitness. If a horse is running 1 1/16 miles turns first time out, he’s obviously not going to be fit if he has truly never worked more than 5 furlongs. But once the horse has raced a mile, if he’s racing once a month he’s not going to need to work a mile every week. He can work 5 furlongs once a week and gallop 1 1/2 miles every day and he will stay fit.

          By the way, in Europe they do not gallop horses long distances. They gallop them no more than here in the US. Hoiwever, they do walk much further because sometimes the place they train is a mile away from their barn.

          • HowardRoark314

            Thanks for the education. I study all of this exercise obsessively for 7 years+. First off; when a stakes horse like GunRunner posts a 1:01 he may come home near 11 flat, which the trainer remarks upon. That means his first half mile was 50, which is nothing for a horse of that caliber. Again, claimers do this type of half mile, although not the coming home in 11.

            Second of all, you hit that wire at 11sec/f or 41mph and your next gallop out furlong of 13ish is merely momentum fuelled, not muscle/cardio powered. Sort of like slowing down before your car comes to a stop sign. Not the same as a honest 6F in 1:13 work with steady pace throughout.

            I’ve trained for several marathons. The norm is a 20 mile run once a month, and yes – every day is more than 5 miles of training – at different paces of course. Even when racing monthly, as the long 20 mile run may be removed, the daily mileage is most certainly 5 miles a day or longer. But marathons don’t apply to horses, who are more like human milers.

            I’ve also been to Newmarket. A maintenance work for Snow Fairy, a multimillionaire filly years back, was 2 half mile works up Warren Hill in interval fashion – uphill in roughly 14’s, 10 min walk break, do it again. TWICE weekly. Maintenance. That’s much more than GunRunner.

          • Bein

            Roughly 14 second eighths is roughly a two minute clip, not a work speed. Typically, horses do two minute clips for a mile where I’m at.

          • Bein

            Our horses more than make up for not being ridden at a walk for a mile on the way to the gallops by being put on the walker for up to an hour each day. Other than that, good post, but you’re going to get frustrated trying to educate people who believe Americans undertrain because we don’t do official mile+ works every week.

        • Bein

          How does this syringe get a horse fit, Howard?

          • HowardRoark314

            I’m glad you asked Bein. ‘Fit’ is just a shortcut I used…I really mean ‘able to race competitively’. Here goes: Lasix injected 4hrs before post time is meant to inhibit bleeding from lungs, by removing the water component of blood (plasma) so that the pressures on the lung capillaries are lessened. This action increases the solid part of the blood, which is mostly red blood cells that carry oxygen to working muscles. The percentage of RBC’s in blood is called hematocrit in humans, but likely marked PCV on your equine bloodwork, packed cell volume.

            The higher hematocrit or PCV, the more ‘potent’ the blood is at delivering oxygen per unit of blood. In cycling if a human is tested over 50% he is labelled a cheater, even with no drug positive. This is because testing shows most guys don’t go over 40% naturally. Having a higher than normal hematocrit is beneficial to aerobic endurance in humans and horses.

            I’m no vet, but I do have a few degrees in Exercise Physiology and I see horses daily in my job. Contrary to humans, most horses do have over a 40% PCV at rest. Their spleen can then contract during excitement or exercise pushing that number near 60%. Lasix can push it even higher. Lastly, the 20-40lb fluid loss due to Lasix given within 4hrs of a race is performance enhancing in itself.

      • Michael Castellano

        I do not see the two as unconnected. Harness horses average 40 – 50 races per year. At average speeds of 30 – 35 mph pulling a person in a sulky. It’s not that much slower than a thoroughbred. And they warm up a couple of times before a race, running about a mile each time. And they can have a 300 race career. Our thoroughbreds now average 10 – 12 race careers at the top levels at 35 – 40 mph averages. There was a time when the top horses averaged 20 – 30 race careers and even much higher for geldings. When I say horses need to be moving, it doesn’t have to be a timed workout. Just walking around on earth and grass every day, with an occasional gallop or brief run, is perfectly natural for a horse in the wild. It’s the long daily periods of inactivity I suspect negatively impact on their conditioning.

        • Richard Holmes

          Galloping and working puts much more pounding on the joints than trotting (or jogging). Harness horses do not gallop. They are trotting. They are going very fast, but they are not putting the same pounding on their body as thoroughbred racehorses. In addition, they are not carrying someone on their back.

          I agree with you that racehorses should be more active in terms of being out in a field rather than a stall. But I would not want to see them galloping further with a jockey on their back. It would be fine to pony them an extra mile a day. In case you don’t what that means, that is when a guy gets on a pony and takes a racehorse with him on a leash, with no jockey. But most trainers don’t like to pony because it’s a lot of work and there is a better chance of the horse getting loose.

          • Michael Castellano

            No doubt there is some truth in what you describe, but it shows how much more activity and racing a horse can tolerate. If there is concern about the impact of running, swimming, which both breeds can do, causes no stress on the knees and can certainly condition a horse. Or just allowing them to hang out in a non confined area. This is likely not done daily for economic reasons and because of the fear of injury from another horse. Turf racing, much more popular overseas, may also be less stressful on the joints in the long run unless it is very hard turf. Finally, the cushion depth on a dirt track can effect stress on the joints, although I am not aware if anyone has stats on which type of surface is the most prone to injuries. If impact is a concern, certainly cushion depth is a suspected factor. If basketball can infer anything about knees and legs, the hard courts and sudden movements are a major factor in the number of injuries and shortened careers. Research should be done on softer and deeper tracks to see if it truly makes a difference with injuries. Certainly, whatever the truth is, horses today race much less than they did before, and there are many suspects as to why. Lack of soundness does seem a factor, and lack of conditioning assumptions may be involved in some fashion. Another factor may be the enormously fast first quarters, especially in dirt races, in the U.S. The European racing style usually runs slower first and second quarters. And even U.S. turf races sometimes run the last quarters faster than the first. I suspect that a tiring horse being whipped is greater at risk of an injury than a fresh one. In most dirt races the last quarter is often the slowest. Yet that is usually when they at pushed hardest

      • KErams

        You are right. Ideally, a horse should be turned out. Turning out with other horses keeps a horse incredibly fit as they have done studies on this vs. all sorts of other exercise (not racing, though; mostly trail riding). However, tracks don’t have this luxury — big pastures and homogeneous, well-matched horse populations who wouldn’t fight and harm each other when allowed to roam together.

        • Bein

          No kidding. Turnout would be fantastic but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. My best horse ruined his hock when he was on pasture. Thoroughbreds just play too hard sometimes, not to mention beating up on their mates.

  • Racing Fan

    Drugs are overused. Then the horses get ulcers. Then they lose weight. The run less times than they used to. It’s a vicious cycle. And American trainers are too dumb to realize this cycle even though it’s common sense.

  • StrideBig

    I’ve really enjoyed this series of articles, Natalie. Well done. I hope to see more insightful reading from you in the future.


  • Ryan

    I enjoyed this segment the best.
    In regards to American racing and its drug-infested culture, how do you untrain a learned behavior?

  • McGov

    Great topic and great job, as always, Natalie! It is always a pleasure to read your articles. :)

  • Vancouver Derek

    Great article Natalie!

  • SteveTG

    All three parts superbly done. Thanks for your efforts.

  • G. Rarick

    Great series, Natalie!

  • HappyHarriet

    My introduction to Ownership of a Racehorse is a testimony to “baptism by fire”.

    When I stepped onto the backside for the first time, no one could have paid me to believe what I would ultimately come to see, hear, and then protest, in very short order.

    Skipping to the “drug” portion of the story:
    Our horse was on the track, in a trainer’s barn, and as the months went by, me being a nitpicker CPA by original profession, asked a few times, “Where’s the Vet bill?”

    I was told everything from “It was sent to the Manager” (we didn’t have a Manager) to “I haven’t seen it”.

    So I asked for the name of the Vet and that took a tooth-pulling conversation with the Trainer. He didn’t give me the clinic name, just the Vet’s name and cell number. I called the Vet’s cell at polite intervals and never got a call back, ever, from the Vet.

    But I’m not a dumb as I look. I hunted down the Vet via the State Board, linked the Vet to a clinic via an internet search, called the clinic and said: “Hey we must owe you LOTS OF MONEY by now, and I’ve got my checkbook open. How much do I write the check for and where do I send it?” That got an immediate call back.

    Turns out the Trainer purposely gave the Vet the name of a partner in LONDON ENGLAND but provided NO ADDRESS. Hmmmm… Interesting, eh?

    So of course I said to the Clinic: “Here’s my fax number, can you shoot me over all the invoices so I can take a peek and get you paid?”

    Within 30 minutes, I had STACKS of invoice details, day by day, humongous charges for injections after injections. I’m no medical genius, but a 5th grader would have been able to assess that something was wrong with the horse, for starters, and WHAT IN GOD’S NAME WERE ALL THESE INJECTIONS in JOINTS ALL THE TIME?

    I paid an outside Veterinary consultant to answer my basic question: “Working backwards, what’s wrong with a horse given this treatment plan?” The answers weren’t pretty, as you knew would be the case.

    So I was “off to the races” in a whole new meaning of the phrase. It ended with an ethical backside worker CONFIDENTIALLY telling me the TRUTH. My horse had no racing future due to an unreported, ill-treated, injury. Instead, she was injected repeatedly with cartilege and bone-destroying drugs so she could stand up and run.

    When I called the main “Vet” (big quotes) and the “Veterinary Clinic” (more big quotes) I was told: These injections are NOTHING. You should shadow me one morning on the backside if you want to see injections. Every horse gets countless injections…blahblahblah.

    It’s 50-50 daily whether I put my heart and soul into improving this stinking industry, or try to plow it under. Meanwhile, horses suffer, break down, and are destroyed with lousy Trainers who put day money over and above horse health while unethical, colluding Vets who, armed with every possible trickery, continue to deceive Owners, State Vets, the CHRB, the stewards, and the Public.

    Good luck, Owners, going to your “Trainer” (BIG BIG QUOTES) and asking for the “medication and treatment” log for that expensive horse you own and race. You’ll be blacklisted and marked “trouble maker” before you can say “alfalfa”.

    • Billy

      In the 3 or 4 years of posting this is the best and truest comment ive ever read…..bottom line horseracing isnt much for the horse

      • Lehane

        It most surely is!

      • Bein

        Bottom line is you’re wrong.

        • Billy

          Can you elaborate please….

    • Fred and Joan Booth

      Wow! We had a similar enlightening experience after bringing a thoroughly trained solidly experienced young horse from our farm to our local track with every intention to run him.He was completely used to traffic and we had galloped him with our neighbors saddle horses as well as rode him to our neighbors farms too. The only thing he disliked was our neighbors pigs! After having a VERY traumatic experience with him on the track after we had already ridden him several times on the main track as well as the training track we were verbally and physically threatened about riding or training our own farms horses. We were ordered to use their riders despite the fact we had started under saddle MANY other owners horses that were successful.But of course technically they could not prevent us since we had finally earned an exercise license after being told that our local track really did not want any more exercise licensees. We had been galloping horses for other owners for FREE for two months prior to finally being issued one.After this experience we became determined to provide our horses the best opportunity we could by sending them to the Barrett`s sale and basicly giving them away having one of the biggest bloodstock agents represent us.He at first sold them to people in our area of the Northwest where NOT ONE ever placed let alone won one a race in our region of the country! Later after a discussion / conversation, the agent finally placed our horses into the hands of small owners / trainers in southern California where they WON AT DEL MAR at 69 /1 odds in 2010! Our horses have also placed at the now dismantled Hollywood park as well as won at tracks all over the the southwest, such as Sun Ray, Sun Land Park and the track in Colorado.We have since changed our focus of marketing our horses after the agent backed out of representing us AFTER preparing and arranging transport for our next group of young horses. We now operate our own website with the MUCH appreciated help of a young man who also helps clean our barn too.We now cherish the pictures of happy young people riding horses from our farm that they have successfully trained themselves to ride. Our horses we have selectively chosen for temperament as well as staying sound and being flexible enough to being trained for MANY purposes.We like you have become disgusted with the drugs horrible treatment we have seen horses go through at our local track. We have seen many abuses and ILLEGAL practices performed by both trainers and their vets. We left in 2005 and will NEVER go back!

      • Bein

        You were galloping horses at the racetrack for two months without a license?

        • Fred and Joan Booth

          There were many others also. Many of us felt we had achieved our dream of galloping horses at a real recognized track. Many women horse lovers were terribly taken advantage of as well as us. Now things have been tightened up and closed up. One cannot now even pass through another barn despite very bad inclement weather or having to take a circular route to say the restroom or tack kitchen. Many of the barns also leak badly when it rains too.The so called professionals are now the only ones left operating and taking care of the horses.There were MANY good horse people who wanted to become involved with racing from other areas of the equine industry but became disgusted at the ill treatment and poor training so many horses received at our local racing circuits.We all have seen many bad, downright illegal practices. They all left as well us.If the rules are not enforced with outside the racing industry observers who are impartial we don`t see things improving or changing.Our state foal numbers are declining precipitously despite the state paying for all registrations through a hub tax, thereby making registration of state born foals FREE.

    • Bein

      Are you saying you weren’t billed for all of this reams and reams of vet work? The trainer paid the vet so you wouldn’t know what the horse was doing? Didn’t that make a significant dent in the day money?

  • Richard D. Jacks

    “Some horses can bleed one day and not the next, and some can do it more consistently” “Its a good thing to do , for sure, giving furosemide for workouts.” “If they’re bleeders, the less they bleed in training, the less damage is done”
    The entire thought process involving furosemide to prevent EIPH in the UK is completely backward.
    They acknowledge that horses bleed, more some days than others, and some horses bleed worse than others. They also acknowledge that furosemide administration prior to training decreases or prevents bleeding thus decreasing the amount of “damage” done. I assume they are referring to lung damage.
    However instead of advocating the administration of furosemide that is disclosed to the public and administered in a regulated fashion, they choose to advocate abstinence. They choose to deprive the horse of furosemide on raceday, when it is subjected to maximal stress , most likely to bleed and thus cause “damage”. It appears their concern is not what is best for the horse only what is best for “appearance”.
    The US and the UK have different medication rules. I would contend that the US “standard” has the horse in mind and the UK has “appearance” in mind. The UK is not the gold standard. I personally don’t want to copy North Korea or Russias political views or the UK medication rules.

    • Bein

      I don’t suffer from an inferiority complex to the UK either. Their horses live in stalls like ours, they gallop the same distances, they walk less and if California Chrome is a good example, their feed isn’t as good.

      That said, I know plenty of American trainers are quick to “medicate” and I couldn’t disagree more with that approach either..

  • Bein

    It makes no sense to cite the usefulness of using Lasix for works, but then saying it shouldn’t be used for racing.

  • J Brian Engelking

    Great series, Natalie. Thank you for your efforts, I enjoyed the series immensely. Merry Christmas!

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