Your Guide to Equine Health Care

Cobalt Use in Racehorses

Regulators are paying close attention to this seemingly innocuous trace mineral found in B vitamins. Find out why.

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This past year, horse racing regulators worldwide have turned their attention to a seemingly innocuous substance: cobalt. Every horse needs this important element to survive, but some horsemen believe that supplementing the substance will help their horses gain a competitive advantage on the race track.

At the 2015 University of Kentucky (UK) Equine Showcase, held Jan. 23 in Lexington, Kentucky, Cynthia Gaskill, DVM, PhD, Dip. ABVT, reviewed cobalt, its use in racehorses, and recent research on the topic. Gaskill is a veterinary toxicologist at the UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (UKVDL), also in Lexington.

Cobalt is a trace mineral found in B vitamins that horses require in tiny amounts for correct functioning of their physiology. As a result, all horses will have trace amounts of the substance in their systems.

Gaskill explained that doctors used cobalt to treat anemia (essentially by increasing the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity) in humans for decades. However, it was associated with a variety of adverse effects, including gastrointestinal, neurologic, cardiovascular, and thyroid problems. As a result, doctors have largely ceased using it. Some athletes, however, continue using it as a doping agent, she

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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