It could be a cabinet or cupboard, cardboard box, or plastic tackle box, atop a high-hanging shelf or within a dorm-sized fridge in the corner of the tack room. These are places where your horses' meds land, whether they're injectables, salves, vaccines ordered from your veterinarian, or other bottles/tubes/jars you've accumulated. Some of the labels on these containers list ingredients whose names have a dozen syllables; a few might have sticky substances leaking down the side, and probably at least one has an odor so pungent and distinct that you could detect it anywhere. While they're varied in their purposes and properties, each one of these products should have an expiration date on its label, and it should be stored in a specific way so active ingredients remain active for the duration of its labeled shelf life.

But despite our best efforts to remain on top of things, sometimes an item just lingers, and like the ubiquitous crusty bottle of yellow mustard in a bachelor's fridge--who knows how safe it is?

The cabinet in my family barn's feed room is something I used to take great joy in organizing, although I'm not sure I paid much attention to expiration dates until I joined Pony Club. At that point I was introduced to the world of rallies and accompanying stable management team competition. Among many other requirements, each competing rally team had a checklist of first-aid products to be organized in a secure container, each labeled with club name or colors and stowed neatly in the corner of the tack stall.

I can remember when a judge docked points when she found a bottle of ointment with an expired date, mentioning it might no longer be effective. At that point I became the first-aid kit police, on a mission to purge the feed room medicine cabinet and inventory the portable first-aid kit, ensuring we had only clean, current bottles lining the shelves and trays.

But there's more to the efficacy/safety of products than expiration dates. Before reading the stories in our April "Special Vaccinations Issue," I knew actions such as leaving a vaccine on a dashboard for a few hours or touching the mouth of a tube of ointment to a wound could mean product compromise. I wasn't familiar with other considerations, such as light/temperature as they relate to storage, and what container-age means for efficacy/safety of items we use on or in our horses. (You can read Dr. Nancy S. Loving's recommendations in April's AAEP Forum.)

So, I have to ask, when was the last time you purged your medicine cabinet?

(Viewpoint adapted from the April 2011 issue)