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Every Equestrian’s Nightmare: Testing Positive for Equine Steroids

4 min read

Every Equestrian’s Nightmare: Testing Positive for Equine Steroids

It’s every equestrian's worst nightmare. You just came in first place in a big class, only for your horse to test positive for a controlled equine steroid. How did this happen? How will this impact your reputation and show record? What happens next? Avoid the nightmare by learning how steroids can enter your horse’s system and what you can do to stop this from happening to you. 

An Introduction to Equine Steroids

There are two types of equine steroids: anabolic and corticosteroids. Corticosteroids reduce pain and inflammation due to musculoskeletal problems, and are also used to relieve other inflammatory conditions such as allergic reactions of the respiratory tract, uveitis, and dermatitis. For example, in humans, corticosteroids are commonly used to treat poison ivy. 

Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone. They can help the body repair itself, improve the horse's appetite, and increase the volume of red blood cells. Controversially, anabolic steroids can also be used to promote tissue growth, specifically muscle mass, which puts them at high risk for abuse.  

The Difference Between Banned and Controlled

The FEI has created two different categories for steroid use in horses. Banned substances were found to have no legitimate use in the competition horse and/or to have a very high potential for abuse.This doesn’t mean that the substance is bad to use in any and all medical situations, but that they should have no place in a horse who is competing. 

FEI controlled substances are able to be given to a horse near or during competition but it must be done under veterinary supervision and the appropriate reporting forms must be filled out and accurate. All prohibited substances must be prescribed by a veterinarian. Make sure your vet is aware that you’re competing if they’re prescribing any steroids for use in your horse. 

Common Prohibited Substances

Prohibited substances for the show ring are more common than you may realize. While everything in this list must be prescribed by a vet, it’s still a good idea to double check that none of your brand name products have an equine steroid hiding in the ingredient list.

  1. Dexamethasone

Used For: allergies and allergic reactions, including hives and anaphylaxis

Administered: Topical, such as in an eye ointment, orally, or by intravenous injection.

  1. Prednisone/Prednisolone

Used For: respiratory distress, including minor airway swelling, such as heaves, as well as autoimmune disorders. 

Administered: Orally

  1. MethylPrednisolone

Used For: arthritis in low motion joints

Administered: Injection either by IM or intrasynovial

  1. Triamcinolone

Used For: Arthritis/pain in high motion joints, as well as to improve lung function

Administered: Intrasynovial injection or orally

  1. Betamethasone 

Used For: higher motion joints to control pain/inflammation associated with synovitis, soft tissue inflammation and osteoarthritis.

Administered: Intramuscular, intrasynovial, or intravenous injections or via topicals

  1. Isoflupredone 

Used For: respiratory and joint inflammation, as well as skin conditions and heaves (similar to Dex). 

Administered: Intramuscular or intrasynovial injection

  1. Fluticasone 

Used For: respiratory distress like asthma

Administered: Inhalation

Other Ways Your Horse Can Test Positive

If you or your veterinarian have not administered any prescription medications recently, there are other ways your horse could have been exposed to steroids. 

Shared Stalls and Equipment

Some steroids, like flunixin, can be reabsorbed by a horse through urine or droppings. Never put your horse in another horse’s dirty stall, particularly at an event or while traveling. Only use clean feed troughs or bowls, especially when sharing them between horses. Feed and treatment residue may remain in the bowl from the previous horse and your horse may ingest it. 

The Wrong Grooming Products

Check all your shampoos and liniments before purchasing. Some shampoos and liniments may contain caffeine, which is a substance prohibited by the FEI. Ensure all grooming and bathing areas are clean prior to use as residue may remain from the previous user. 

Contamination from Humans and Other Animals

Cases of contamination from humans and other animals have occurred. According to the FEI, if a stable hand who is taking medication urinates in the horse’s stall, the horse may reabsorb the medication and test positive. Hands should be washed in between administering different medications, and making grain, as traces from previous medications could enter the horse via cross-contamination of feed. Beware of dogs and cats who are taking various medications and do not allow them to enter your horse’s stall.

Environmental Stowaways

Certain plants could cause your horse to test positive for a prohibited substance. These plants include poppies, crocuses, nightshade, and lupins. If you live in an area known for coffee production, your horse is at risk for exposure to substances such as caffeine, paraxanthine, theobromine, and theophylline. Work closely with your local officials to determine what environmental contaminants are specific to your area.

Check all Products Closely

Even over the counter supplements could contain banned substances that are not disclosed on the label. Work with your veterinarian to determine which products are steroid-free and are safe to use.

Zarasyl prides itself on being a competition-safe alternative to steroids. All ingredients are odorless, non-volatile, water miscible, chemically stable, non-irritating and non-toxic. Zarasyl is oil free and being water based ensures a moist, semi-occlusive environment. Our customers have reported success using Zarasyl to manage skin conditions such as summer sores, scratches, and rain rot. Traditional management methods for these conditions often include steroids, but thanks to Zarasyl, they weren’t needed. 

Don’t risk using prohibited steroids on your competition horse. Try Zarasyl on scratches, wounds, proud flesh, cuts, sweet itch and more!

Click here to learn more about FEI Drug Rules.