By: Tom LaMarra
An organization formed to represent the interests of racetrack veterinarians has become proactive in the area of research into therapeutic medications and continues to make its case that vets should be part of medication reform efforts.
Dr. Clara Fenger, secretary of the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians, outlined the group’s efforts Feb. 6 during the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association winter convention in Clearwater Beach, Fla. She said a major impetus for the organization was the negative perception of racetrack vets in the horseracing industry.
Fenger said a vet, in light of the perception that administering therapeutic medication is the same as illicitly drugging horses, can be viewed as “a bad person doping horses. There’s a dichotomy that’s not in line with how I see myself as a racetrack practitioner.”
“There’s a view that we’re just cheating, lying people trying to put one over on the industry, and that we can’t control ourselves and need outside intervention,” she said. “(The perception is) we’re just drug-pushers.”
When it was formed in 2014, NAARV said it believed racetrack vets need their own voice. It said the American Association of Equine Practitioners has a much broader focus but it would “work separately yet symbiotically with the AAEP with the goal of having two influential voices instead of one.”
Fenger said much has changed for racetrack vets over the past 20 years such as much higher overhead for equipment and medication. She said human health costs per capital have doubled since 2000, in part because of widespread use of generic drugs.
Fenger also said owners need to be more engaged in the management of their racing stock, and that includes working closely with practitioners.
“Owners need to be equal partners in the decision-making process of managing a racehorse,” she said. “And trainers need to be trusted to make the right decisions. Hay, oats, and water doesn’t mean depriving horses of therapeutic medication. It means if you aren’t willing to treat a condition with medication, the horse must be retired.”
Fenger said a goal of NAARV is to be an advocate and work with the Association of Racing Commissioners International “to effect appropriate reform.”
“We need to be part of that process,” she said. “We’re spearheading research initiatives to guide vets and horsemen in appropriate use of therapeutics in racehorses, and we intend to publish the research.”
NAARV is affiliated with the Equine Health and Welfare Alliance, a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to promote, protect, and preserve equine health and welfare. It is comprised of veterinarians who specialize in veterinary care for equine athletes.
The organization, Fenger said, already has undertaken field studies on joint injections and dexamethasone, a corticosteroid. In the works is research into dexamethasone as an environmental contaminant.
NAARV has developed a relationship with the National HBPA, which during its convention discussed plans to help fund research into withdrawal times and drug-testing threshold levels for commonly used therapeutic medications. Like NAARV, the National HBPA plans to work with the ARCI Scientific Advisory Committee.
“There is a very strong appetite to do that,” National HBPA chief executive officer Eric Hamelback said. “At lot can be done through voluntary veterinary work on horses in training.”