The use of drugs in the competition horse carries with it some extra concerns and responsibilities. Many of the major issues related to drug use in the performance horse involve the treatment of lameness. It is imperative that the moral and ethical line between treating minor pains and more serious injuries be quite clear. Many of the anti-inflammatory drugs can have extremely powerful effects and could easily alleviate the pain/lameness of an injury that could be made significantly worse if the animal continues working.

When horse shows lameness, it’s very important to obtain an accurate clinical diagnosis before using anti-inflammatory medication if the intent is to obtain soundness in order to continue performance activities. For example, a horse which is lame behind with the ultimate cause being arthritis of the “lower” hock joint might be able to be made sound and comfortable by using a minimal amount of phenylbutazone (Bute) and continuing exercising without any severe detrimental consequences. Conversely, a horse with the same degree of lameness caused from inflammation of the high suspensory ligament could be made comfortable by using a minimal amount of Bute, but the ligament inflammation would become progressively worse, leading to a poor long-term outcome.

There are many conditions that respond to inflammatory medication–providing soundness with little risk of progression or severe injury–but it is essential that an accurate diagnosis be made before continuing with exercise.

Medication Control

Another aspect of drug use in the performance horse is medication control and drug testing.