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☛ Mechanical Horse Under the Influence 8-6-14






By Rick Dennis
Aug. 6, 2014
At first glance, this articles title suggests an apparatus resembling a horse traveling on rails, making a series of stops and turns and acting much like the mechanical cow we see in the training arena. However, this article is about the horse that performs, whether on the racetrack or in the performance arena, under the influence of drugs.


Lately a heightened awareness of horse doping has been bestowed upon us by the news media, news articles and by legislative action in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.  U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D – New Mexico is a co-sponsor of a bill addressing the horse-doping fiasco in the United States. “The chronic abuse of race horses with painkillers and other drugs is dangerous and just plain wrong,” Udall said.


Essentially, the bill addresses the horse-doping epidemic in the United States by establishing a federal regulatory commission empowered to design a uniform, federally controlled, enforced and prohibited drug policy for the welfare of the horse. This bill mimics the federally mandated drug and alcohol-testing program established by the 49, CFR, Part 40 rules and regulations for federally mandated workplace drug testing. However, the bill seems to have stalled, due in part to opposition by horse-racing lobbyists.


Being familiar with the human federally mandated drug-and-alcohol testing program from its inception, I can state, without reservation, that this is an excellent model rule and in one case, “the government got it right!”  In my opinion, it’s going to take a program of this magnitude to regulate drugs and horses and clean up and regulate the entire equine industry.

Click for copy of Udall’s Bill>>


In a recent news release, a surprising turn of events emerged from the Thoroughbred Racing Industry, entitled:  Group of North American Trainers Propose Gradual Elimination of Race-Day Medications


August 1, 2014 – Saratoga Springs, NY – The following group of North American trainers has proposed the gradual elimination of race-day medication in the United States.  Under the proposal, no two-year-olds would receive race day medication beginning in 2015, and no horses of any age would receive race-day medication starting in 2016. In addition, this group is supportive of the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium’s efforts to approve model rules for twenty-six controlled medications by the RCI board of directors.


“We believe it’s time to take a proactive position regarding the administration of race-day medication. American racing has always been a global leader, and it’s time to restore confidence in our game and in our international standing,” said D. Wayne Lukas, a Hall of Famer who is one of the trainers supporting this proposal. Todd A. Pletcher, another leading trainer is also on the list.
Click for trainers release statement>>

Click for trainers supporting phase out of drugs>> 

In my opinion, this is the industry’s attempt to police itself rather than have a government-mandated equine drug-testing policy and program model rule bestowed on it. If the industry is actually going to police itself, it should ban the use of drugs entirely, whether in training or showing, which would eliminate the necessity of establishing a federally mandated equine drug-testing model rule, except for:


Establishing drug testing laboratory certification and testing standards, uniform collection, i.e., (Split) sample methodology, transport Chain of Custody rules, positive drug test review standards, and the types of prohibited substances tested for, in “random” and “for cause” testing, to ensure regulatory compliance.


In my recent analysis of the horse drug-testing industry, I discovered a sea of policy designs, authors and a gambit of rules and regulations ranging from state to state and organization to organization, encompassing both the performance-horse industry as well as the racing industry.  Each one, in some fashion or another except for the original, was a copy-machine reproduction and included any flaws the original contained. A federally mandated “Model Rule” would standardize the equine drug-testing industry across the board!


As a Risk Analyst, I could challenge, at will, the majority of equine drug-testing programs on their ability to withstand a legal challenge in a court of law. I contribute this, in part, to the inexperience of the authors, policy designs, as well as the flaws in the original. Overall, certain programs and policies often defied logic in content preparation and rule adoptions that would, if left unchecked, wreak havoc on the participant.


A particular item of interest is deciphering whether certain portions of the penalty phrase were so broad in context as to corral as many individuals as possible, whether members of the association or not, for the purpose of accruing as much “penalty” money as possible from individuals, even to the extent of circumventing Texas nonprofit laws and individual civil rights. Or is this gross assessment of alleged blame a blatant attempt to legitimately punish the violator without obtaining his or her true identity, e.g., the “shotgun effect.


Other areas of interest defying logic can be identified with the nonprofit that on one hand prohibits the use of a specific drug type, e.g., a tranquilizer, but on the other hand, this drug is permissible on show day allegedly in the best interest of the horse’s welfare. A further example is illustrated in the program which states a specific drug is allowed at a specific level but leaves it up to the administrator of the drug, usually the trainer, to correctly administer the correct dosage.


This is akin to asking a railroad worker how to fly a rocket ship. Could this be considered entrapment or a “CYA” move on the part of the nonprofit, which is simply, a perfect depiction of ambivalence, ambiguity, and a dichotomy in one drug-testing policy.


However, my favorite is the nonprofit promoting the use of drugs for showing purposes, for the “Welfare Of The Horse.”  When does providing a horse with drugs to enable it to show have anything to do with its welfare? Those opposing horse doping could easily view this as  “Animal Abuse” – not welfare, as well as the exploitation of an animal for self-serving purposes without regard for the animal or the riders’ safety!


After reviewing a myriad of equine drug-testing policies, as well as IRS 990 filings from nonprofits, the realization came to light regarding the magnitude in accrued drug-testing revenue certain nonprofits were receiving due to their equine drug-testing program. For example, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) reported $1.8 million dollars in gross receipts in one year. At this point, one should ask whether or not the true philosophy behind some equine drug-testing programs is legitimately based on the welfare of the horse as is published in their “Mission Statements” or are their programs a result of some mathematical wizard realizing a “Money Pit” for the nonprofit?


As with all subjects, there are those who promote drug use with horses during training and showing and those who adamantly oppose this treatment of horses and view it as abuse, myself included. In my opinion, from a professional trainer’s standpoint as well as my expertise in the realm of drugs of abuse and private-sector drug testing, there is no logical reason for the use of drugs in either capacity to justify the means, except for self-serving purposes, e.g., nonprofits want to keep the participation up for the percentage split of entry fees and the trainers’, owners’ and exhibitors’ desire to keep a horse showing whether impaired or injured. Again, self-serving purposes!


In my 16 years of drug enforcement, I heard a litany of reasons why an individual wanted to use drugs, which I dismissed as illogical and self-serving. Notwithstanding, I’ve heard this song before and unfortunately it’s the same-case scenario repeating itself. More often than not, the real reason for an individual’s drug use is for a self-serving purpose. In drug enforcement, we categorize an individual’s use of drugs as a victimless crime due to the event being self-imposed. However, in my opinion, the horse being drugged is a true victim and a specific target of self-serving intentions by the administrator.


In the past, I’ve had two Snaffle Bit Futurity horses with the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA): Dual Train and Nic Chex. Dual Train was a finalist and Nic Chex was a strong contender. Neither horse was drugged during training or showing. Each horse walked into the arena drug free, performed drug free, and left drug free. One excuse I’ve heard for using drugs during training and showing purposes is that they have to train hard and their horses get sore.


Another excuse addresses the use of Ace Acepromazine during warm-up and showing is, “I give a little Ace so I don’t have to lope the horse so much, thus saving his hocks.”


Has doping horses in the performance-horse industry become a replacement training tool for hard work and determination, especially for the lazy rider or trainer’? I find these excuses incredulous to say the least, especially when the individual is training a horse for one event such as cutting or reining while a reined cow horse has to learn three events: reining, cutting, and cow horse in the same time period.


One of the most fascinating lessons I learned pertaining to the effects of drugs on a living anatomy was included in my training at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs training school in 1973. A scientist from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) delivered a very powerful demonstration using drugs such as narcotics, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, sedatives, and psycho hypnotics on laboratory mice to fully demonstrate the effects of drugs on the living anatomy.


The demonstration with the most desired effect involved a mouse being injected with cocaine to demonstrate how a particular drug made the body operate above its natural performance level.


I learned that everyone’s anatomy, including man, beast, fish or bird, is designed to operate at a certain level of performance with built-in genetic safeguards to prevent damage due to overexertion by slowing down the system.  After injection, the mouse was placed on a wheel and the subsequent demonstration revealed the mouse ran the wheel until it died, thus disregarding the body’s genetically built-in safe guards and “only responding” to the cocaine’s induced effects instead.


So it is with horses. A horse is born with DNA from the sire and dam making up the genetic structure designed for growth, learning, behavior, sex, athletic ability, etc.  I’ve never seen a DNA report for a horse where drugs were part of the genetic makeup. During a horse’s developmental stage, cellular growth is directed by this genetic structure to stay abreast with the rate of growth. As the young horse develops, its muscles, tendons, ligaments and bone structure are genetically designed to develop at a certain rate and level of performance to carry it through to adulthood. When this genetic development is altered with the introduction of a foreign substance, such as drugs, then the rate and level growth period is out of kilter.


If a horse’s body muscles develop faster than say its ligaments, tendons and bone structure, due to an alteration of its DNA-designed growth pattern by drug use, then the youngster’s body will not withstand the power and load the drug-induced musculature has subjected it to.


Therefore, as in the law of physics, “for every action, there is a reaction,” and this is when ligaments break down, bone splinters occur, bone fractures develop, hocks disintegrate and, in some cases, young horses’ lives and careers disintegrate along with their bodies. A horse should not be a disposable item due to an individual’s self-serving purposes!


In a more simple illustration, just imagine installing an engine into an automobile designed to operate with an engine at a certain power level, altering this design by installing an engine of greater power. The end result will be that all of the supporting parts of the automobile will begin to break down due to an increase in the stress factor. Keeping the automobile running will require repairs and the replacement of parts. Unfortunately, the horse doesn’t have this option or luxury.


In the quest for horses to run faster and jump higher so to speak, doping or using drugs to enhance performance seems to be the norm today in showing and training arenas among some philosophies and is a sad but true commentary for such a wonderful sport. The object of the horse industry is to breed a superior animal and demonstrate its superior genetic capability, both in the performance arena and the breeding shed.


When drugs are used in the training arena, show pen, or on the racetrack, the observer is not seeing an animal performing at its natural state but instead is witnessing the performance of a “mechanical horse,” whose ability is falsely induced.


In essence, this could be conceived as a fraudulent act, especially when the general public or the co-competitor is not aware that this seemingly amazing animal is performing at such heights because it is performing under the influence of a drug or drugs. My opinion is that in order to erase this fraudulent appearance, the participant or exhibitor should have to list the drug or drugs this animal is performing with prior to exhibition in order for the betting public or the co-competitor to make a rational decision whether or not to either bet on the horse or compete against it in the performance arena.


One of the most illogical and convoluted thought processes I’ve heard is an individual stating that, “trainers are better today so I use drugs to keep up with the competition.”  After hearing this statement, I would like to know how many winning runs and arm-pumping displays of satisfaction and excitement edging a trainer toward the “million-dollar rider” status was actually accomplished on drug-free horses.


For those trainers endorsing the use of drugs in their training and showing program, this is a very dangerous and slippery slope to travel and actually places them in a very precarious (Catch 22), double-edged sword position, which can cut both ways.


On one hand, the owner of the horse who knows a trainer uses drugs in his or her program is either for or against drugging their horse. If the latter is the premise, this could cost the trainer a lot of lost revenue generation from individuals who view horse doping as horse abuse.


The same is true for organizations that allow the use of drugs on show day. A powerful voice against drugging horses is rising among the populous and this populous is a powerful voice to be reckoned with! Overall, there isn’t one excuse or scenario that an individual or trainer can offer me to justify his or her reason to drug a horse – either to train or show – that I’ll find logical. If they need more time to train a horse for a futurity, then the futurity should be for 4-year-olds and not 3-year-olds.


In my opinion, when a trainer uses drugs to keep a horse in training that’s sore, uses drugs to enhance the performance of a marginal horse, or promotes changing a nonprofit’s equine drug-testing policy by enabling the use of drugs on show day, is merely doing so to benefit his or herself and is a clear illustration of this individual’s desire to win at any cost, even to the detriment of the horse! On the other hand, some folks may simply view this as animal abuse, cheating, a total disregard for the welfare of the horse and a moral violation of the “Spirit of Competition”!


“Until Next Time, Keep ‘Em Between The Bridles!


Copyright 2014, all rights reserved.


Richard E. “Rick” Dennis

Managing Member

Wind River Security, Consultation & Risk Analysis

Wind River Drug, Alcohol & DNA Testing

Wind River Ranch – Reined Cow Horse Breeding, Training, Exhibition & Sales

Office/Mobile: (985) 630-3500


Web Site:

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  1. Good article
    Kim Heon

  2. That’s puttin’ ’em in their place!

  3. “Outstanding article” i’m reposting on my site.

  4. Sure busted their A– this time. Good for you!

  5. Your horse-doping articles will go down in history. Marvelous writing!

  6. I believe “greed” motivates drugging horses.

  7. Well, it seems the famous NRHA “million-dollar riders” aren’t too famous anymore!

  8. The horse industry is just corrupt.

  9. That’s shaming ’em in style. Good job!

  10. I love your articles.

  11. We should save our horses and fire the trainers. I’m so mad!!

  12. Just greedy, heartless, SOB’s.

  13. Nice. I liked how he organized the subject of fraud when the horse is showing on drugs. I agree totally and in the early 2000s, the European buyers quit coming here because the horses here could run on drugs and they can not use over there! DC

  14. Greed. The root of all evil. Personally I would like to see a drug stop in place. Like I told Glory, maybe just bute and banamine for those times of a long haul. They do not mask everything but sure can help a stiff horse or body sore. Those hauls are hard on a horse. You can do all the massage and magnets, lights, whatever and it will not recoup in 24 hours. Just like us. (been there – done that, Arab Nationals). Not to mention the work load placed on them at a show.

  15. I wonder what drugs were allowed back in the days of our old champions like Doc O’Lena or even before him. I mean, we had champions and super horses that deserve their place in history. Then greed took over and there ya go.

    Just curious what the stats would be. It’s just a vicious cycle — owners want to win and put pressure on the trainers, trainers want to win to earn more money and fame LOL – horses just want to be cared for.

    Not to speak ill of the dead, but didn’t Bill Freeman die broke?

  16. Glory,
    Thank you for keeping us updated with that issue – we have many, many discussions right now as the Million Dollar Gang does not get the opinion we have in Europe.

  17. Rick,
    The book arrived today. Thank you for your prompt shipment.

    I’ve been raising registered Texas Longhorn cattle successfully for about 14 years. Love the breeding challenge and would like to breed Quarter Horses on a very small scale. I had been interested in looking at NCHA, NRHA and NRCHA. However, reading the recent doping articles and seeing the changes the million-dollar NRHA trainers want to make all in the name of money rather than horse welfare, I’m rethinking if I do breed, I think it will be more ranch related, ranch sorting or SHOT.

    Looking forward to the insights you provide in your book.


  18. Thank you. Hope the NRHA executive committee and board take note. Great article.

  19. Great article. I totally agree. Anti-drugging also requires strict enforcement and strict penalties. I hope any and all organizations have the financial ability to train individuals to enforce rules and follow through with the penalties. I’ve paid numerous “drug” fees and never ever been checked. Where is this money going?

  20. Like your article Mr. Rick.

  21. Thanks for your courage in taking on the horse industry in the doping issue.

  22. What you and Glory are doing is great. Ttyl

  23. Great job cowboy!!!
    Kim Murphy Simon

  24. What a wonderful thing you’re doing for the horse!

  25. From: “Nena J. Winand”
    Subject: Letter to NRHA BOD/EC regarding proposed drug rule change
    Date: August 7, 2014 at 2:19:13 PM MDT
    To: “”

    Dear Madam President, Mr. Commissioner, Members of the Board of Directors, and Executive Committee Members,
    I am writing to express my opinion on proposed rule change 54-01-15 (General Rules and Regulations G. Animal Welfare and Medications Provisions Applicable to All NRHA Events. Section 7. The Therapeutic Substance Provisions.). I am commenting from the perspective of an active NRHA member and Non-Pro competitor, as well as that of an equine veterinarian and AAEP member.
    I do not support the proposed rule change for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the language used is quite non-specific and tangential to the real central issue: ethical prescription. A compilation of fairly current guidelines for such is available from AAEP. This document, which I am attaching below, addresses specifically the expectations of ethical prescription for non-racing performance horses. These are our guidelines for ethical practice, and this is what we as NRHA members and competitors should expect veterinarians to adhere to. The document addresses several issues central to the current argument surrounding the proposal, including the use of psychotropics, prescription in the absence of a specific diagnosis, and administration of medications in proximity to competition.
    It is my opinion that fostering a competition environment that allows the use of psychotropics and/or excessive pain-masking medication, or any number of scenarios not supported by these guidelines fails to protect the welfare of the horse as well as the integrity of the sport. There is no level playing field under these circumstances, we merely serve to create a facade for those who are naive to the practices which have become so common. I believe that pursuit of this course of action, which is not congruent with current ethical thinking or with the guidelines adopted by other equestrian governing bodies will be quite detrimental to the public view of the sport of reining and of the NRHA.
    I believe that the current rule regarding therapeutic medications is preferable, and that any further modification of the existing rule should involve a group of AAEP members with relevant practice and regulatory experience, and perhaps representatives of the pharmaceutical testing and toxicology industry (the testing industry has historically had to respond to rapid flux in the  spectrum of substances being tested for, and such individuals are best positioned to develop testing protocols and address technical testing issues). These are not simple issues. Further, these issues have been navigated by other organizations engaged in the regulation and management of equestrian sports, including AQHA and USEF, the state of California and various European governmental agencies. One would hope we can learn from their experiences as we develop and implement therapeutic medications policies.
    Nena Winand

    Nena J. Winand, DVM, PhD
    30 Torok Road
    Groton, NY 13073 USA

    Ph: 607-898-4818

  26. Thank You !!! Stay On It.
    If no one used horse Dope only two things would change.
    1. The Winners and Losers
    2. The Pace and Pressure applied to young horses.
    What could be wrong with that?

    The big dogs are a problem but may at least start with the advice of unethical Vet.
    The bigger problem is with the guys you never have or will hear of that would sell their soul to be Somebody. These guys deal with second hand info and rumors of the miracle mix.. Karma holds em back but not before they torture their share of the American Horse. Ron

  27. Hi Rick Can you post this on Facebook so more people can read it also you can introduce them to All About Cutting just think if all the horse lovers would get behind this problem and the ages were all moved up by a year for showing how many good horses would still be sound
    Thank you

    • I believe it’s on Facebook!
      Glory Ann

  28. Just having balls big enough to write it makes me like it! Eliminate the Ace and cutting would be fun to watch! Seeing one run off or rear up is kinda exciting and humorous. During my 20s I taught both those tricks. Now in my 50s.

    Most owners love horses, some have no clue! Thanks to you. Some may think about it.
    Ron R

  29. Thank you so much for running the articles on drug use, especially today’s
    piece by Rick Dennis. Absolutely awesome and much needed.

  30. Really nice article. Your writing is one of a kind.
    Jo Ann

  31. It takes a guy with a lot of guts to clean out the rats. Your the right guy for the job. Thank for your help!

  32. Saw on your site you are writing articles for this magazine Impressive!! I see the “MECHANIC” is still fighting bad guys. LOL. Call me and we’ll have a beer and catch up.

  33. Really like your post and article on FB.

    Crystal Waycasey Clark

  34. Rick,
    Got a question. Can you explain to me what happens when a horse has a problem and you give drugs to keep working it?

    • First of all I’m not a vet. From my experience as a pro-trainer and from speaking with my vet who recommends rest for an injury instead of drugs to train or show, the problem can develop into a worse issue if not properly addressed.

      A minor injury can develop into a much larger problem requiring more drugs to address the issue.

      In the worse-case scenario, the horse can experience a manifestation and quite possibly develop into a crippling injury for life.

      I always take the “Let’s fight another day” philosophy and let the problem resolve itself before returning the horse to training or showing.

  35. Rick,
    Grazie I post your wonderful article in European and Italy mags.

  36. I wonder what it’s going to do to the industry when these articles get around that the Million-dollar gang shows drugged horses?

  37. Rick,
    From the way I see it, some trainers think they run the association and will do anything to win. Even cheating! Thank you for exposing this horse-drugging problem. Much appreciated.

  38. Very nice and moving article!

  39. I applaud your courage! Awesome article!

  40. Rick,
    The definition of STUPID: Hearing the truth, knowing the truth, refusing to change!!! The nonprofits!!! Good job!
    Sue Ellen

  41. Rick,
    As a former prosecutor, I really like the way you weave the criminal element in your writings, especially the “fraud” and “conflict of interest.”

  42. Rick,
    This is a terrific article.

  43. Excellent manifesto.

  44. Incredible article! I can’t believe this is happening with trainers!

  45. Don’t think they can match your credentials! I wonder what their’s are.

  46. Must have a wee Scott in ya Laddie! Takes a brave one to write this! Really nice!

  47. Rick
    I have copies of all your articles. Can’t believe our nonprofits aren’t acting on your knowledge experience and free advice! Goes to show you the wrong guys are running the show! How do we get ’em out?

  48. Rick,
    I’ve been following you for awhile now and I must say your articles have been great! For the past 15 years, I’ve been showing with the AQHA and the only thing that’s changed is that they’ve gotten worse. The same people are running’ them and my question is, “How do they stay in power so long?” From their track records, they they obviously have no business skills or we wouldn’t be losing all this money and going downhill and ruining both associations.

  49. Rick,
    I read your horse doping article and Mrs. Kurtz’s last post about the AQHA asking for our help. I had to laugh. Now that they’re exposed and in a bind, they need us.

  50. Twenty mature horses were ridden at trot by an experienced dressage rider and a novice rider, as well as trotted in hand. Kinematic measurements of markers placed on the horse’s head and sacral bone were carried out. The asymmetries of the vertical head and sacral bone motion were calculated as lameness parameters and compared with paired t tests.

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