Steroid Misuse in Racing

Veterinary medical professionals and horsemen gathered at the American Quarter Horse Association’s annual racing conference on November 18 in New Orleans to consider the use – and misuse – of drugs and medications in racehorses. Topics included laboratory testing and procedures, out-of-competition and pre-race examinations, therapeutic and illegal medications, joint injections, acceptable threshold levels and withdrawal time, zero-tolerance policies, public education and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.

Once the panelists and attendees started talking, the discussion focused primarily – indeed, almost exclusively – on clenbuterol.

Approved for veterinary use in horses with allergic respiratory disease and for medical use in humans with asthma, clenbuterol acts as a bronchodilator. The problem, however, is how the drug is being misused – both in horses and humans: While it is not an anabolic steroid, clenbuterol has some of the same effects, increasing muscle mass and enhancing performance.

The consensus was that something has to be done to control the use of clenbuterol and other drugs. The AQHA Racing Committee and Racing Council voted on a number of recommendations, each of which would then go for final approval to the AQHA Executive Committee for final approval. Final regulations and rules will be based on facts supported by research and science, though the studies could take several months or even years. In addition, the Racing Committee will take input from the newly formed Equine Health, Welfare, Integrity and Research Committee.

Among other recommendations sent to the AQHA Executive Committee, the Racing Committee requested that the American Association of Equine Practitioners and RMTC adopt a priority status on therapeutic use of clenbuterol and that the two groups provide information, if possible, on the appropriate levels in accordance with approved recommended dosages.

“Solving this issue is a top priority, and by working with AAEP and RMTC, we hope to come to a swift resolution,” stated AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway Jr.  “AQHA must always keep the welfare of its horses at the forefront, while insuring the integrity of the sport.”


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