By: Frank Angst

Kentucky Equine Medical Director Mary Scollay is advocating a multi-pronged approach to regulating and preventing improper use of bisphosphonates, which experts have linked to catastrophic breakdowns when used in young horses because they interrupt the bone remodeling process as horses train.

Scollay presented the overview during the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission meeting April 16 in Lexington. At the KHRC’s first meeting of the year in February, Scollay noted an increase in breakdowns in juveniles racing in Kentucky in 2018 and wondered if the use of bisphosphonates could be a factor in that increase.

Referencing that assessment and recent stories on bisphosphonates in the news, Scollay noted an update for the racing commissioners could prove useful. She said at this month’s Association of Racing Commissioners International Racing Integrity and Animal Welfare Conference, the umbrella regulatory group formed a committee to move forward on a model rule specific to bisphosphonates.

“I think they understand the urgency,” Scollay said, adding that there could be a model rule in place by August for the commission to contemplate that the commission could use as a model. “I would rather wait a few months and do it right than rush in now.”

To regulate bisphosphonates, Scollay suspects it’s going to require effort from all involved, including regulators, tracks, sale companies, and veterinarians.

Scollay said because there are so many unknown bisphosphonates and they carry such potential risks, they should be avoided in horses 4 and younger. She said there’s evidence that they’re not curing the equine issues they were being used for: sesamoiditis in young horses and bone bruising in horses in training.

On the farm or in the sales environment with young horses, there had been some argument to administer bisphosphonates to address sesamoiditis, but Scollay said the substances do not resolve those issues—only hide them. Scollay, as well as Kentucky racing commissioner and racetrack veterinarian Foster Northrop, agreed that they do not cure bone bruising. In terms of any analgesic effect, Scollay said there are better, proven options available.

Scollay said currently tests for bisphosphonates are inadequate, only picking up administrations from about 30 to 100 days before the test. Scollay said perhaps as sales companies make initial assessments of horses, some horses on farms could be tested.

As the possible link between bisphosphonates and breakdowns has been talked about, it’s had some educational value for people who may have administered the substances without being aware of any possible side effects. That said, Scollay suspects there’s still some who would use the substances for economic gain, even knowing the potential risk.

“I’ve become a bit cynical, I hate to say it,” Scollay said, later noting that she doesn’t get the sense bisphosphonates are being used much on the racetrack.