Horses and drugging

img_2075.jpgHorses are such amazing and majestic animals, and I have a hard time understanding the mentality of many that participate in any horse-related sport (hunters, eventing, racing, just to name a few) that think the quickest and easiest way to ‘manage’ their mount is through the use of drugs. In most venues most drugs are banned and there is random testing. The word ‘random’ is the problem. There isn’t enough monitoring of trainers and riders and what they do to their horses to get them to WIN.

I speak from experience, having boarded my horses at a big hunter show barn. I didn’t know any different or know any better (I was a new horse owner), but it seemed strange to me that the horses rarely got turned out. If they did get turn out, it was in the indoor ring, alone. Can’t have a fancy show horse getting scraped up! So my poor horse was turned out once a week if he was lucky. I would go and ride every day, but he was crazy. I came very close to selling him because he was getting to be too much to handle. The owner of the barn pulled me aside and told me I should consider putting him on Resurpine. I, being a new horse owner, had no idea what this was. She proceeded to tell me that there were a few horses there that were on it, no big deal. She could call her vet and have him send some over. I started getting a funny feeling. “How can your vet just send it over? He has never seen or treated my horse. He knows nothing about him. How can he just prescribe meds for him? And what exactly is this drug?” Her response: “Oh, it is just something that calms them down.”

I went home and did the first thing most of you reading would do: I went to the internet. I was a subscriber to an online forum with a very well respected horsewoman, Jessica Jaheil. I sent a question to her about this drug and what it was and how the owner (and my trainer at the time) was recommending I put my horse on it.

Now this was an international forum and she gets thousands of questions. She answered mine almost immediately AND she sent me a personal email. Her answer? “Get out of that barn as fast as you can. That drug is bad news. It is used mainly at racetracks to deaden the horses’ senses to the environment. It can cause respiratory failure, heart attacks, ulcers, or death. Get out of that barn!”

Now I was scared. This was ridiculous. All my horse needed was to be turned out! To run and play with other horses.

So a few days later I was at the barn, chatting with a mother. She also worked there a couple of days a week. She starts telling me how her daughter fell off my horse in a lesson. My horse? What the hell was she doing riding my horse? Well, she was told it was OK by the trainer. “Maybe it was because Willy stumbled and she fell off. Maybe he had too much ACE,” she said. ACE? What??? “Why did he have ACE?” She looks at me like I am nuts, and it finally sinks in that I have no clue what she is talking about. “He gets it everyday. To keep him calm in his stall.” Are you kidding me? (A quote from a horse website: “Acepromazine is a very useful tranquilizer that depresses the central nervous system, causing sedation, relaxation, and a reduction in involuntary movements. It does not provide any relief from pain, however, and will not prevent a horse from moving or kicking (possibly slower) if it is startled or feels pain. Accidental intra-arterial injection usually into the carotid artery during injections into the neck can produce signs ranging from excitement and disorientation to convulsions seizures and even death.

I moved him four days later.

Drugging of horses is still happening. And I’m sure it happens everywhere. If you can’t handle your horse, maybe he isn’t the horse for you. Or look at his situation – is there something you could change to make life better for him? Is he getting worked enough? If someone suggests doing something you aren’t comfortable with, get out of there and get your horse out too. They aren’t looking out for your best interests, they are looking for a quick fix. Go with your gut and your head. If it sounds like something is wrong, it probably is.

I thought this was good from another website regarding drugging and the issues with drugging:
1) Professionals who do not know, or prefer not to know, the long and short term side effects of the drugs they are administering.
2) Owners who do not KNOW what their trainers are giving their horses.
3) Owners who know but do not care, either because they do not KNOW the tremendously detrimental side effects of such meds or because they simply believe it is necessary to WIN.

These animals would do anything for us. It is time to step up and do something for them.



12 thoughts on “Horses and drugging

  1. Thanks, Diamond Eagle! I think it is our job to get the word out to stop this horrible practice. I have been to too many horse shows competing against horses that I know are drugged.

  2. This stuff is so maddening. People forget the horses aren’t machines. Sounds like many of the horses in your old barn would have been just fine with better management- more turnout, less sweetfeed. This struck a pang because my entry today ( has to do with some drugging issues.

    The really awful thing is people continue to do it because it continues to work. They make more money, get the results, win the classes, and get more clients. It’s enfuriating.

  3. You’re right, Carrotplease. I see so much of the horses as commodities and not as living, breathing animals. The whole premise of drug testing @ shows is not implemented enough, if at all.

  4. This is interesting and horrifying at the same time. The scariest part is the not knowing what’s going on with your own horse. I heard a similar story about a big hunter/eq. show barn where the horses were taken out of there stalls at 2 in the morning and lunged and lunged and lunged. Then taken out again at 5am and lunged again. All without the owner’s knowledge. It’s just scary. I bought a horse that was calm and quiet for the first two weeks I had her and then was nuts. The vet was fairly positive that she had been drugged with a long-acting tranquilizer. I couldn’t prove it so I ended up giving her away for way less than I paid for her.

    I also can’t stand to see horses at horse shows going in a million classes or the horses that get dragged to every single horse show, weekend after weekend. Not only do horses need to be turned out regularly, they need some down time away from the show ring. A time to just do nothing but be a horse. I miss the days when very few people had indoor rings so we let the horses have the winter off and brought them back in the spring. I think the horses were so much healthier for it!

    Thanks for this post!

  5. What a blessing to read that equestrians eyes are open to the problem of horse drugging and I might add that it is not only the hunter jumper circuit that it is done everywhere in the horse industry. I have owned, shown, taught trained ect for 20 years, mainly pleasure A rated shows, mainly Arabians or half arabs and currently have boarded for the past 4 years.I am so shocked at the amount of drugs people will administer to their horses.I have to admit my experience has been with two paint trainers and the hunter groups but I am sure it is everywhere- I was shocked to have them tell me of the drugs that they use and how well they work – horse shit
    In all my years teaching lessons and hauling groups of kids and horses to local shows, A rated, Regional and even National levels I have never once had to administer any kind of drug legal or illegal- I just don’t understand how and why trainers feel the need nor take a chance with a horses life or the riders.It is just plain ignorance!

  6. Wow, I am surprised to find this post. Just this morning after my lesson I saw a fellow rider I know and see a few times a month. Today it dawned on me she always says the same thing no matter which horse I bring. “Hey, you look good and tight. Your horse is doing so well, have you ever tried #@*%$ we use it before all our lessons and horse shows. It really calms them down and it is only $20 per dose.” What are you telling me? My horse is too wild? Do I look like I really want to spend another $20 every lesson and horse show? I do compete with and against the other adults regularly. My horse is really the only one “alive”. We have a great time, needless to say we don’t generally win the blue. Plus I feel a little foolish to have a fresh horse amidst the group of half dead horses. If everybody stopped drugging the playing field would be level. But it is not level because people will always drug horses, either to go faster or more slow. There are dozens of over the counter sedative drugs available. I also heard mangensium (?) is the new thing. Shots every four hours at big shows and don’t forget the all night riding so the horses are calm. Why bother? Buy a quarter horse. Stay home. Learn to ride. Or maybe it is a great training tool and “non-druggers” are missing the boat.

  7. Hi Janet. I know exactly what you mean how a rider and horse are always “the same”. I used to deal with my crazy horse, running, spooking, charging . . . why was everyone else’s horses so good? Of course, now I know they were all drugged to the gills and mine was just acting the way he knew – like a horse who wasn’t getting turned out enough and who was getting drugged when they could do it when I wouldn’t notice. And by the way, my horse is a quarter horse! He just needed to be treated like a HORSE.
    And the drugging at the shows – it is maddening to work our tails off in training and then go in the ring against a horse (and possibly rider) who is dull to the whole day. But it does feel good when we go well and know that we did it for real. And I love that “Only $20 a dose!” like is a great deal! And they start out with telling you how good you look only to tell you to give him whatever junk they are pushing. I know around here there is one vet in particular who will just give the drugs without even knowing the horse or rider.
    You keep doing what you are doing – compete, have fun and we can keep trying to raise awareness for this. there needs to be some regulatory measures at all levels of horse shows, not just the rated ones. I hadn’t heard about the magnesium . . . something else. But you summed it up perfectly: LEARN TO RIDE. we haven’t missed any boat – ours sailed long before the druggers got to the dock.

  8. I ran across this post via google. I recently aquired a 2.5 yr old thoroughbred colt that has spent the last 8 months at a trainers barn in another part of the state. This horse was born at my mom’s and I pretty much raised, handled this guy until last year when I broke him to ride. He is the most laid back guy I have ever been around and friendly too. He was turned out everyday back then then. July 31st he had his first race and of course, he did absolutely horrible. LAST doesn’t even cover it. Head way up in the air and going slow? Blame it on the jockey; I did bc I knew the idiot from a previous experience. Anyway, the colt came in yesterday morning bright and early on a huge streamliner. Box stall right up front; talk about luxury ride. He was calm and cool when he got off the truck and nothing was really amiss except for a lack in weight. He looked around and was basically the calm baby from before. Not exactly what I’d expect from a horse that spent the last 8 months in race training. Even without any drugs, or steroids this guy should have been a rambunctious 2 year old colt.
    I immediately offered him a nicely bedded stall with plently of hay, alfalfa and water and a scoop of grain. He picked at the grain wasn’t real interested in the alfalfa, but seemed to LOVE the hay and drank plently of water. I figured that I’d go ahead and groom on him while the farrier was dealing with the other horses. I decided that I’d saddle him up and ride him LIGHTLY; basically just walking and jogging slowly around the pasture. So, away we went. He got a little hyper when my mom’s mare took off to the back pasture, but it was quickly controlled and forgotten about. Away we went to do a little excercise and stretch the legs out. He was kinda clumsy which sent an alarm in my head off, but I choked it up to him being severly out of shape and under weight. After I gave him a good bath and let him eat some grass. Then put him back in his stall. He immediately went head first into his grain, but picked through it. (again not the same horse from 8 months ago). Around noon he laid down and took a long nap. I figured this was normal. So, left it at that. Later I turned him out in a small paddock we have at the back of our barn. Now, this horse is naturally a great jumper (as a weanling he almost cleared our 4 rail vinyl fence). Not once did he try to go over the fence and not once did he move any faster than a walk. Another alarm in my head went off. (THIS IS ODD).
    This morning, I did basically the same with light excercise and a quick bath followed by grazing. I put him back in his stall and again around noon he was laying down napping. Several hours later, I turned him out while I cleaned stalls. I figured he just had jetlag and he’d move around more today. WRONG!!! He rolled, got up and bucked about half a stride worth and that was it. I started feeling like maybe he was depressed; Something is definately amiss here.
    I thought maybe he’s in pain. So, I went by the vet clinic and got some bute just in case. I talked to the owner as well. When I got back to the barn around 5pm he was laying down again. NOT exactly a typical 2-3 yr old. After talking to the owner we decided that we’d have the vet come out and do a blood test just in case. The owner thinks that maybe he was drugged.
    Vet is coming out tomorrow. Oh, and this guy has layed down 5 times today. My intuition is screaming at me too, that something is definately wrong. His temp was 100.5, but we live in Louisiana so, could be just weather and humidity.
    The owner decided to move him bc he’s been getting pressured to sell this colt ever since he went to the trainers. They want him so bad they were willing to keep him there at pasture for nothing. Owner isn’t selling. We think they got mad and drugged the colt.
    I’ll let you guys know what we find out. Also, we have an Arabian gelding that we give fluphenazine to every yr around Christmas and New years. Only bc he ties his stomach in knots bc of the fireworks. It calms him down enough that he doesn’t colic himself to death. We have never given it to him any other time though and we show him in Native Costume, Country English Pleasure, Hunter pleasure and Western Pleasure and my 3 yr old son rides him lead line. I’ve seen people drug horses that they were trying to sell. It’s really stupid and inconsiderate. They don’t even think about the person buying the horse. They just want to get rid of the horse and get their money.
    I just hope my 16.2 hand TB colt starts acting like himself soon and not like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. If I didn’t know him so well, I’d think this was normal for him.

    • That is awful! I hear these stories and I get sick. THere is virtually nothing that can be done to regulate this! The horrible barn I was at – I talked to the director of our humane society and he said as long as they provide food and water and shelter there is no “crime”. What a load of hooey! Please keep me posted on what happens and what the vet says! Hopefully he’ll be acting like Tigger soon, no more Eeyore!

  9. Well, the vet came this morning. After telling him the history; he did a physical exam of the ELOC’s (said colt) back and hindquarters and rear legs and hooves. He found high pulse in rear hooves and pulse in front hooves. Eloc about fell over when the vet palpated his back and pelvic area. PAIN MAJOR in that area. We kinda ruled out any tranquilizer simply because most would have worn off by today and Eloc’s attitude did start to change early this morning (3am). He’s definately more alert but still a bit off. The vet is coming monday to do a serum test for EPM also. Just to rule that out.
    The owner and I were talking and he got the lady where Eloc was talking over the phone and she told him about Eloc getting hurt and such. Owner is rather upset, but relieved at the same time. His horse isn’t there anymore and is in better hands now. I seriously think that they were tranqing Eloc so that they could work him while he was in pain. I think that he layed down so much yesterday because he was naturally zoning out the pain and was so much in pain still that he had to lay down. He is now on small doses of BUTE and rehab. We’ll see what the EPM test shows and then I can take him to the training center where he’s going to be going and they have a pool.
    Vet will probably adjust him on monday which should be a great help. Eloc is also getting plenty of feed, hay, and alfalfa; so plenty of calories and fats. I’m also putting him on Platinum Performance and Electrolytes.
    For anyone that wants to see pictures of him go to the website. You’ll be able to see how he has progressed through the year and How he changes over the next several months. I hope to soon have a rambunctious and happy 2 and a half year old colt again. He’s still got the demeanor of Eeyore, and always did, but He had that little bit of Tigger in there. The lack of Tigger and a depressed Eeyore is what made me figure something was WRONG with this guy.

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