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‘Outrageous’ determination to permit pre-competition equine sedative

  • The decision to allow reining horses to compete on a sedative is “as outrageous as it is wrong”.

    The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) in the US has approved changes to its welfare and medications policy to allow romifidine to be given to horses 30 minutes before competing. The drug is intended to be a “sedative to facilitate handling, examination and treatment, and as a premedication agent prior to general anaesthesia”.

    The NRHA told H&H that “respect the horse, respect the sport” has been identified as its “leading agenda” since 2017.

    But World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers told H&H: “The NRHA decision to allow the sedative to be used in competition is as outrageous as it is wrong.

    “The recent change of rules increasing the penalties for violating the sport medications policy is a positive development. But to justify achieving this change through allowing sedatives in competition is simply extraordinary.”

    Mr Owers said if a horse’s temperament is not suitable for competition without drug use, the horse either needs further training, or “consideration needs to be given as to whether the horse is suited to the discipline”.

    “Pressure from members and supporters of a sport to continue to use behaviour-changing medications is deeply concerning and we believe the NRHA should consider how the decision is seen by the wider public and the negative impact this will undoubtedly have on reining’s social licence,” he said.

    The FEI removed reining from its disciplines in 2021, but had cut ties with the NRHA, and the American Quarter Horse Association, in 2018. At the time, the FEI said: “To ensure the integrity of the discipline and maintain a level playing field… the agreement with these two bodies has now been terminated.

    “A binding commitment to implement FEI rules on anti-doping, stewarding requirements and the age of competing horses are prerequisites for any future cooperation.”

    Both associations said they did not feel they had breached their FEI agreements, and horse welfare was their top priority.

    On the most recent decision, the NRHA told H&H its executive committee had “many discussions with industry experts” on the use of romifidine in competition.

    “The philosophy is not to condone it for the long term, nor suggest that members begin its use, but to move to a policy that does not allow it,” a spokesman said. “The amount allowed is very small [and] can be administered as chosen by the rider and owner, but no sooner than 30 minutes prior to competition to give time to evaluate the horse for any reactions. Both rider and owner must sign the romifidine declaration and the prescribing veterinarian must be listed. This was important, that both parties be aware, be in agreement and acknowledge the use, dosage and timing prior to competition.

    “This ensures horses are treated in the way the owner feels appropriate and the rider is aware, as well, if they have any concerns.”

    The spokesman said the revisions aimed to “enhance the penalty structure” for using banned substances. It now includes sanctions including disqualification and fines up to $30,000 (£26,000).

    Asked what this move could do in terms of social licence, the spokesman said: “The love for the horse is the cornerstone to our sport, so we stand by the wellbeing of the mind, body and spirit of the horse at all times. We expect our members to consider the welfare of their horses paramount and to always treat them with dignity, respect and compassion.

    “By having these priorities and expectations, and rules and penalties to support the priorities, we believe reining can be supported and appreciated by the public.”

    In an open letter, NRHA president Rick Clark said members had “repeatedly broken rules” knowing there would be no repercussions; horses who tested positive could keep titles and prizes. He said the aim was to eliminate drugs from competition and “sometimes you have to take little steps to get to the big steps”.

    “We did not have support to go to no allowance for romifidine at this time. It is as simple as that,” he said. “We were faced with unfortunate but very likely scenarios if we did not get the support. One being no changes would be approved. Again.

    “The decision was not easy, but we truly feel it is best for the industry to start holding people accountable for their actions.”

    You might also be interested in:

    The FEI said the two US organisations have breached the terms of the agreement, but the reining bodies dispute this

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