AERC Dr. Dowling Drugs and Ethics in Performance Horses

Disclaimer that goes for ALL my blogs, but especially when I am reporting on what others said: I can be wrong, I welcome corrections and comments, and I will remove any spam, flame, or non-productive comments. Let’s stay CIVIL and show respect; 3 R’s: respect the post, respect each other, and respect this place. Thank you.
In addition, I am thinking of myself as a *connector*, So, if you have questions about the content, do contact the person who did the presentation. I will provide as much information about contact info as I can.
Blind Ambition: Drugs and Ethics in Performance Horses by Trisha Dowling (Dr. Dowling is a rider and a veterinarian and a researcher) is that a Double Dr? DVM, MSc, DACVIM (LAIM), DACVP A very rare combination. She works at Western College of Vet Med, Saskatoon as a Professor of Pharmacology. Dowling, Trisha Professor, Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology
Veterinary Biomedical Sciences Phone: 306-966-7359 Email:
This woman got my attention right away, not only did she say she wanted Lance to be innocent, she gave us HOMEWORK. A scenario about drugs and a performance horse; asking us to comment on which of the characters in the scenario were the least ethical. That was fun, and she collected our work and she said she will compile it and get the results back to us in some fashion. She shared that this is not REALLY horse story, actually, it is more about people  and is all about learning to play within the drug rules of our sport, which we all SHOULD KNOW! Fun, huh?
She started her talk with the issues with *zero drug rule, *0* detection. In fact, she said *the zero moves*. IF your organization decides to have a zero drug rule, you are allowing an analytical chemist to be in charge of your medication. Huh, really? Tell me more…. Drug rules and policy are typically *guilty until you can prove yourself either innocent or not at fault.
Here is why zero moves: We, well, analytical chemists, can detect the metabolites or presence of drugs/substances down to the parts per billion, or nanogram levels BUT, we are fast moving towards being able to detect at the parts per trillion level; SOME labs can detect at the parts per quadrillion (is that the word?) right now. Therefore, since we are soon to be able to detect if a horse has EVER had a drug and even sometimes when that horse has been given the drug; we really need to set some tolerance levels because being able to detect at that level does NOT mean that level of substance is *performance altering*. Thus, then we are in charge of violations and violations would ONLY be if we exceed the tolerance levels. Wow, color me impressed! And yeah, what Dr. Dowling said…. Knowing chemistry like I do….. and knowing technology, being able to detect a molecule of something does not mean it will enhance or hinder the performance of my animal. Thank YOU Dr. Dowling.
Setting tolerance levels involves science, well yeah, I should hope so! The basic process is a dose titration measuring a horse’s activity on increasing amounts of the substance. That enables us to draw that line between performance altering and non-performance altering levels.
Dr. Dowling told us stories, too, wonderfully scary, awe-inspiring stories. She said sometimes, it is difficult to protect you and your horse from having banned substances in their blood or urine. For example a substance called clenbuterol, a β agonist which increases muscle mass…and enhances performance, or Ractopamine, a muscle mass enhancer given to food animals (beef, turkeys, and pigs. Dr. Dowling told us a scary story of a person who won a big show, her horse test positive for ractopoamine, she suffered all of the ill-effects of that finding; BUT, it turns out that ractopamine is added to food animal feed manufactured with the same machines as makes horse food and it is possible for banned substances to end up in your horse without your knowledge, but you have no knowledge about it. It will cost you, to get your name cleared. It is very difficult to figure out how to protect yourself and your horse.
When asked if there was a human consumption issue, Dr. Dowling replied that it is not a human safety issue in terms of human consumption.
Basically we then came back to the issue at hand here… * who is the person responsible for a drug violation?* Owner? Rider? Parent of a minor? Trainer? Veterinarian? Groom? Who?
AERC rules are very clear: Retrieved March 10, 2013 from AERC Rules
13.5 Enforcement Procedures:
13.5.1 Any equine and rider violating this rule at an endurance ride shall forfeit any completion or placing for the ride. The AERC may impose additional penalties for violation of this rule on any person responsible for the violation. Normally, the rider of the equine and its owner shall be considered the persons responsible for its custody and care at a ride. Accordingly the rider of the equine and its owner shall avoid liability for additional penalties for violation of this rule only by showing by clear and convincing evidence that: (a) some other person outside of the rider or owner’s control was responsible for the violation and (b) the rider or owner bore no fault for the violation.

Dr. Dowling then proceeded to ask us questions about * what if* and present stories that set the rules on their ear, sometimes when the rules were about a different organization, thereby showing that rules are very easily malleable given certain situations, laws, politics, etc. Quite wonderful…. I pretty much sat with my mouth in an *O* while scribbling fiercely! Sounds as though the rule setting committee needs to consult with Dr. Dowling on a regular basis—- to get her *what ifs* and see if we can cover as many as possible, eh?
Note to self: please please please ask these people to provide handouts! It is an educational necessity…… all presenters MUST provide access to power points and handouts that summarize their talks especially if they want their material to be taken home, digested, and USED. End, note to self. Yeah, I am in education….. in addition, do teach people HOW to make public presentations, how to speak into microphones, how to engage audiences, how to assess whether people have gotten what they talked about and what they will use, year after year. That makes the convention sustainable. Rant, done. but, really, this would be for the good of the organization…. Yes?
So, back on track—– what happens if the *person responsible* is a child, say or a VIP? Wonderful stories about a parent who is not a member of the club, a child who is a member of the club, a sheikh (a sheikh I knew, or met! While I was visiting Dubai way back in 1990 with my friend Lindsay) and his grooms; grooms drugging horses to retaliate and compete against each other. Oh lordy lordy lordy!
And then, she told us a story about a horse eating the straw bedding, urinated in by his person @ least 20X a day the owner peed in his pony’s stall, pony ate it and tested positive for naproxen… OMG! 
Bottom line, take home message? Know your drug rules, and protect yourself and your horse, and gather the stories.


One response to “AERC Dr. Dowling Drugs and Ethics in Performance Horses”

  1. Anne-Marie says :

    great topic….
    1. I’m not suprised many don’t offer handouts, etc. the marketability of their information relies on the requirement that the information is only available via the speaker. even Dr Garlinghouse has numerous articles, but her talks present significantly more information in a significantly more accessible fashion. Powerpoints can be taken out of context, or worst yet, slides can be copied with attribution and used by others, even for profit. That said, having an article available as a handout that summarizes the main points with citation information would be awesome, albeit more work for the presenter….
    2. on drugs. indeed. I personally feel the AERC rules are outdated and unenforceable. as such, they build an attitude “go ahead and use it, just stop it two days before the race”. if its illegal as a “performance enhancing substance” on race day, shouldnt it be illegal always? talk about unenforceable! add to the complexity the fact that some banned substances are actually protective and so have a role in reducing day to day wear and tear on the horse during conditioning, etc. are we doing our horses a disservice by banning a substance outright when therapeutic doses will increase their longevity?

    her point that switching the focus from “detection” to “threshhold” is a good one albeit, the testing for that is more complex, and more expensive. as you increase the sensitivity of a test, you decrease its specificity. the more sensitive, the more likely for false positives. Currently, they have specific tests. we’ll see how that goes.

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