Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Another Post on Drugs

I read Gingham's post on Inclusive and the latest big name drug bust in hunter land, this time from the Colvins, with interest. I thought she did a great job and the comments were on point, so I don't have a ton to add, but here it is:

When is it okay to drug a horse, in my humble opinion?
1. When the vet, dentist, or farrier needs to in order to complete her job. 
I'm all about this, and I don't think most people would argue, although I've heard vets tell stories of people who wouldn't let their horses be drugged and then someone ended up getting kicked in the head or whatever. When Red had colitis last fall and needed to be tubed, it just wouldn't have happened without dorm. If you need to do ultrasound or radiographs, you're probably going to have to knock the horse out a little (though I did participate in a pre-purchase for a client on a horse who stood perfectly still through the entire radiograph session and was such a perfect gentleman that the girl whispered to me that she no longer cared what the rads said--they were perfect, she bought the fabulous horse, and they're still living happily ever after).

Sleepy time for teeth day

2. If you've got to get them somewhere that isn't a horse show, like a new barn or the vet's clinic (but not for a PPE because that'll fuck with your blood draw) or whatever, and they need a little Ace to get on the trailer.

Hey, look. I get that we're all perfectly principled horse people around here who practice every single thing we preach. In my world, horses need to get on the horse trailer when they're told. Red self-loads, Mo now loads nicely. I take the time to work on it. But sometimes the time isn't there, or the horse is frantic for an unusual reason. Plus it's not always in your best interest to let the situation spin out of control. I spent three and a half hours trying to load a mare for a client. Mare was beside herself, client was beside herself, I really needed a drink. We finally called the vet, who showed up with xylazine, and the damn horse got on the rig and it was fine. Wish we'd done that an hour or so in because I hate how much stress that put on the mare. What if she'd hurt herself?

3. Stall rest, if the horse needs it.
After Lex's stifle surgery, I put her on oral reserpine. Saved her life, because without it she'd buck and kick the walls, which is not what a horse recovering from stifle surgery should do. She missed a dose one night and the next day kicked my arm and broke it. Back on the reserpine, back to an easier time for her. I wouldn't jump right to that for any horse, and I'd DEFINITELY hesitate to have oral reserpine in a barn where any horses were doing recognized showing in any discipline because yikes, cross contamination. But I think it can be okay sometimes.

This poor mare hated stall rest

4. Turnout after stall rest.
Sometimes they need some Ace to settle back in, even if it wears off by the time you've led them to the paddock, like it seems to do with most thoroughbreds. It's fine. Whether you'd do this or how much you'd give would really depend on the horse, but man does it ever make me feel better knowing it's there. This could also apply to the deep midwinter when the horses have been in for two days and the paddocks are safe for turnout but getting five psychotic horses out to the paddocks without them killing me or themselves is nearly impossible. A little ace for them, a little whiskey for me, and we'll all live.

I think that's about all I can come up with on when it's okay to drug a horse. Some professionals I respect would say that it's also fine to give the horse a little Ace for various non-competitive riding situations (fox hunting--Pretty Famous Dude who lives here was telling me at Middleburg HT that he hunted for 40 years and never one SINGLE time hunted a horse without Ace, and in fact the huntsman would pull a needle out of his pocket and stick the horse again mid-hunt; first ride back after time off; etc.). I don't like riding horses on Ace, I don't feel safe. I don't really know what goes on in a horse's head when she's drugged. So while I'll do it when it's in the horse's best interest, like the situations above, I don't do it when it's in mine. Then again, I can stick a lot of stupid crap horses pull and falling off isn't the end of the world anyway.

Which brings me to when I think it's just not okay to drug a horse and I don't care who you are:
Not all professionals agree with me on this one. Some are happy to give a hot horse a little Ace to go to an unrecognized event or unrated show because there aren't drug tests there and "everyone else is doing it" and "it'll help him have a positive experience." All of those things may be true, although I'm not so sure about the last one. I'm not convinced Ace is a pleasant experience. Maybe it is! But I don't know. And going back to how unsafe I feel riding a drugged horse, I just don't want to do that.

Plus it's against the rules. And I don't like cheating.

At recognized/rated shows, of course, there are random drug screens. One of M's horses was randomly selected this summer at a recognized event, which was fine by us because our horses are squeaky clean. I can't imagine how crappy I would have felt if the horse had had something in his system.

Not drugged. Just lazy.

As I said in my comment on Gingham's post, what it comes down to for me is that:
1. If you care about the sport enough to spend your life and/or money in it, you should care about the rules. The rules say don't drug.
2. A real horsewoman would never hurt her horse to win. Ever. Ever. Ever.
3. I still don't get why everyone needs a warmblood because no one can ride a thoroughbred--if warmbloods are so lovely and amateur-friendly, why the Carolina Gold and Perfect Prep and endless lunging? Someone explain this to me please.

I think it's likely that Inclusive was getting the same drugs as everyone else in the barn. It'll be interesting to see what happens as the investigation goes on. But I'm not gonna assume she didn't have anything to do with it ("innocent until proven guilty, Jess?" Eh. Not so much here).

So there it is, my not controversial stance on drugging. Hunters need to change the judging standards somehow, but that's their world and not mine. I like that the quarter horse people revoke judging licenses for people who've been caught drugging, and I think that would go a long LONG way, because judging is incredibly important to the politics of hunters, and the politics of hunters is where the money is made.

Everyone says they don't drug. But clearly people do. I wish they wouldn't, is all I'm saying.


  1. I 100% agree with this entire post, especially the part about stall rest and after stall rest. Roger has to be on stall rest for the next week, and he's most definitely the type of horse that thrives on his 12+ hour daily turnout, so if he's getting super restless at some point, I'm sure we'll give him a tiny bit of something. Trainer/BO is absolutely against drugging unless it's necessary, and never ever for shows or even off-property schooling. I'm sure Roger will need some "supervised turnout" after this stall rest period so he's not a complete maniac when he gets turned out, which will probably require a tiny bit of something too. I think using drugs during stall rest/after stall rest is for the safety of both the horse and the rider/trainer because (IMO) horses aren't meant to be in a box.

    Well written post!

    1. Thanks! Good luck with the stall rest. It's a pain for sure.

  2. I really like this post. There aren't too many things I have a hard and fast viewpoint on within the horse world, but drugging to ride/compete is definitely one of them. I like to think of each of the drugs mentioned above are really no different than having a drink before a first date... fine, if you think it'll take the edge/nervousness off, but you wouldn't have a few whiskeys before a job interview (or maybe you would -- ha!).

    I especially agree that drugs in situations where the horse's flight/fight response is going to be largely amplified is completely warranted. Horses are dangerous and unpredictable. I don't count attempting to obtain a qualifying result or shiny ribbon one of those situations.

    Riley is really good about most things, but he got drugged the first time I clipped him because it made the experience much better for both of us -- now he falls asleep when he hears them. He doesn't need them for the dentist (ours is very slow, old-fashioned and methodical -- so we let him take all the time he wants) -- and he actually stood really well for radiographs too!

    I don't think I'll ever truly understand the hunter world (and I won't pretend to know much) but I hope that these stories help open a discussion (rather than it turning into a witch hunt) about the welfare of the horses involved and the risks that people are willing to take to stay at the top of the leader board (and the unrealistic "ideal" that has been set by this deadhead, elusive, quiet hunter).

    1. Nothing wrong with drugging to clip, either. I should have mentioned that one. M drugs hers to clip them, but mine don't need it. I would if they did.

  3. I agree completely with everything you wrote here. Drugging is sometimes necessary to create a safe situation, such as with trailering (I agree every horse should go on the trailer without drugs, but sometimes you're in a hurry and it's easier than fighting the horse, which could potentially make the whole situation worse) and turnout/stall rest after injury. However, if your horse isn't safe (or competitive) in the show ring without drugs, well, showing is a choice. Most of the time stall rest/turnout after injury/trailering a naughty horse to the vet are not choices.

    1. I like the choice/not a choice part--that's exactly right.

  4. It is baffling to me that Inclusive, of all horses, was drugged. He's an amazing athlete and Tori is a great rider. Why? It's just sad.

    1. Seems like that's what has to happen at the upper levels to get the kind of trip the judges are rewarding. It's gross. Local hunters sound like much more fun, honestly.

  5. I love this post. I've been out of the H/J circuits for quite some time, but it seems to be that there isn't much of a punishment for those who do drug horses for competition. A couple months suspension? That's it?

    I actually left a barn at one point in my life because I didn't agree with some of their views on "supplements". I was also advised at this barn to dose my wild, anxious, hot (at the time) mare with Reserpine to help her with training. Um, no thanks. I don't think drugs should substitute for proper training or have any business in this industry other than the reasons listed above.

    Anyone remember that pony that died at Devon a few years ago after being injected? What if that kid had been on the pony when it went down? Money should NEVER come before safety.

    1. Yeah, the penalties need to get serious quick.

  6. I'm totally with you. I recently had to resort to acing my mule to get her on the trailer. We did it a few times, she got over being terrified of the trailer and now we don't need the ace anymore. Might we need it again in the future? Maybe. I'm certainly not throwing it away. But it solved a problem for us and let us move past the problem. But I don't ride drugged horses and I therefore do not show drugged horses.

    I get why people do it though. As long as everyone else is doing it, you're literally at a disadvantage by not drugging. And at high end h/j shows, everyone is doing it. I think the organizations need to test every single winning horse. If people actually had some fear of getting caught, maybe they'd stop doing it.

    1. They need to take away the judges licenses.

      Except then there won't be any judges.

  7. There are certainly circumstances that make drugging ok, as you've alluded to. Beyond that? It baffles me.

    Why don't we just automatically test every horse entered in a money class?

    Is the answer "because then there wouldn't be any entries?"

  8. Great points. I know there are some disciplines (Arabs I think?) where winders are ALWAYS TESTED. I'm not sure that's the magic solution (I've heard stories of trainers deliberating losing a class they were winning so they wouldn't get tested..) But who knows. I like the idea of it.

    Also, just as a side comment to your #3 why does everyone need a WB... I have two answers (at least in hunter land). one - they are trendy, and Hunter Land follows trends, you want to stand out... but not because you're driving what was cool in 1972. And also for the movement, the big, WB floaty trot is what's winning the hacks now. I'm guilty of loving to win the hack, but I think that's part of it. I know my trainer thinks *most* TB's are significantly more rideable for a lot of ammys, but her ammy's want something pretty and flashy and that will win... so it's off to Germany for WB's. :)

    In the bigger picture I'm SO GRATEFUL that Prairie doesn't need regular drugging for her stall rest... since you know... she's been on it forever. small blessings I guess.

    1. I get the WB thing from the movement perspective, it's just that I so often hear that people need WBs because they can't handle TB brains. The people saying that should come ride my WB and my TB and tell me which one is quieter, heh.

      I'm glad that Prairie can handle stall rest and I hope she doesn't need too much more of it! Such a good girl.

    2. In endurance, winners are often tested. They also do random drug testing regardless. Hence one of the many, many reasons why I now compete in endurance and why I said sayonara to both competitive arenas of jumpers and dressage.

      Awesome post, Jess. I agree with you on all counts.

  9. I wholeheartedly agree with you. It's sad what humans do to horses. I would never drug unless it was a "need to" situation.

  10. great post - and i agree with your reasons completely. yes there are opportunities when it might be in everyone (including the horse's) best interest to chill things out. but that shouldn't necessarily be when riding (and especially winning) is on the line. and i don't like that the hunters judging system rewards those who don't get caught.