Equine drug testers at horse shows make me nervous. At upper-level events there's always that official-looking person looming quietly near the arena in-gate with clipboard and urine sample cup in hand. It's not that my horse is hopped up on performance-enhancing drugs, it's just the stringency of it all. When he or she walks my way right after I've laid down a clean show-jumping round, all I can think is, "Please don't pick me, please don't pick me, please don't pick me."

At upper-level competitions, veterinarians routinely gather horses' blood and urine samples for drug testing purposes.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Other things that have raced through my head during these scenarios include: My horse received a dose of Banamine yesterday, will he pass the test? (Yes, this non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and others are permitted in small doses--but not in combination.) My mare is currently receiving omeprazole for gastric ulcer treatment, will she pass? (Yes, antiulcer medications are permitted.)

The reason for my nerves at the thought of my horse being tested is twofold:

  1. The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) once issued a former trainer of mine a yearlong suspension after he administered my horse an illegal dose of a calming agent at a horse show, unbeknownst to then 15-year-old me.
  2. I find the USEF Drugs and Medications rules are incredibly difficult to navigate due to the sheer (and growing) number of banned, restricted, or permitted substances listed. I mean, seriously, did you know that lemon balm, lavender, and hops are all banned due to their calming properties? Until just now, neither did I.

So how does a well-intentioned owner ensure his or her horse passes a drug test, no sweat?

  • First, go to www.usef.org, click on Rules and Regulations, then Drugs and Medications, and download the 2013 Guidelines for Drugs and Medications PDF onto your smartphone or tablet for quick reference. Print it out and carry a copy in your tack trunk or trailer. Come 2014, update your files.
  • Similarly, for FEI disciplines, visit FEICleanSport.org. For Quarter Horse exhibitors, visit AQHA.com.
  • Be in the know: Don't become one of those owners who has no clue what meds their horse receives at shows. Unfortunately, there are trainers out there who, once the sun goes down, pull out their medicine chest of ambiguous vials and go to town. (Trust me, I've seen it.)
  • If your horse is selected for random drug testing, be prompt and cooperative as the vet draws blood and collects urine. Noncooperation is as much a no-no as a positive test result.
  • Above all, consult with your veterinarian about any meds or supplements your horse receives prior to or at an event.
  • If you have further questions, call the USEF's Drugs and Medications department directly at 800/633-2472.

At the end of the day, however, a healthy horse competing on zero drugs, supplements, or other substances is the best kind of horse--and the most surefire way to ensure your steed passes the test.

Let's see how knowledgeable you are about performance horse drug rules: