It is often said that one must consider an issue from multiple perspectives prior to forming an opinion. To that end, I ask for the opportunity to express my view on the most recent developments in the field of animal welfare and humane treatment as it pertains to administering medications to our valued equine athletes. I’ll begin with a brief recap of the medications program and continue on to more recent events.
In 2011, your leadership approved the NRHA Animal Welfare and Medications Rule to be added the 2012 NRHA Handbook. In addition to the rule, the board also approved two implementation policies. A European policy started the penalty phase in 2013 at specified events in Europe. The second policy, for events in areas outside of Europe, contained a multi-year research phase, followed by a penalty phase. I will be referring primarily to the latter throughout the rest of this update.
Beginning last fall at the August NRHA Board of Directors meeting, the board considered a proposal that would have made significant alterations to the medications rule. In light of the proposal and surrounding discussion, the board did not approve the changes, but agreed to extend the medications policy research phase for an additional year; and the board agreed to appoint a task force to review the current medications rule and policies.
The task force convened and reported back to the board in November 2014. After consideration of the input, the board agreed to revert back to the previous policy that called for a penalty phase in 2015. However, we felt even more work was needed before the penalty phase could begin, so the immediate past president appointed a new task force to continue analyzing our rule and policies, as well as penalties and testing procedures.
This second task force met several times and then communicated its findings to the board in February 2015. The board reviewed their recommendation, debated numerous options and voted on several amendments. They ultimately approved more detailed definitions of penalties including fines, suspensions, probations, etc., as well as more restrictive penalties at select levels. As a board, we felt these additions were appropriate and reaffirmed our commitment to ensuring the health and welfare of our horses.
As the medications policy has stated since its inception, NRHA must give members 180 days notice of a change. Therefore, it has been posted in the Members Only section of nrha.com since February 13, 2015, just five days after it was approved. This stipulation was added originally in 2011 to give you, a valued member, time to become aware of the changes before you might face possible repercussions. Due to this, the interpretation at the time was that we could not test for penalty at the NRHA Derby, but must begin that hase starting with the 2015 NRHA Futurity.
This interpretation was made after review by the current Medications Task Force chair and executive staff, with my endorsement following their deliberation. You should know, this was not a delay or reactive stance from your leadership, but an interpretation of the 180 day clause while trying to manage many, many alterations and amendments that occurred in less than a year’s time. With hindsight often being 20/20, I concede there may have been a better way to handle this very complicated process. Your elected board will assess this action at their August meeting and give their feedback to help improve the process for the future. As a board we must always strive to improve our association and to never rest in that endeavor, but I am proud to celebrate the proactive efforts we’ve made for our sport, and primarily for our horses.
With that said, we continued with the research phase during the 2015 NRHA Derby. A total of six horses in the non pro and six in the open derby were tested. This count was based on a balance of medications fees paid by Derby entries and an estimation of testing expenses. As to how horses were selected, staff used a random number generator prior to the draw. The random numbers were then correlated to a count of horses in the show pen, not a draw number or back number. With late entries and scratches occurring amidst the show, it was absolutely impossible to predict if a certain horse would be tested. This type of selection is an industry standard and supports random testing to ensure the integrity of the program, which exists to provide for the proper care, and welfare of our animals. We recently received results from the laboratory, and I’m glad to report the show results would not have been affected had we been in the penalty phase.
In August of this year, your board of directors will be presented with a proposed rule change that includes a medications testing fee for NRHA events. This rule change proposal follows a similar approach used by other organizations, and allows NRHA to develop a fund to test horses on a broader level, pay for testing officials, laboratory testing, educational materials and funding for necessary legal and administrative costs.
Above and beyond all of this, I want you to know that I take the welfare of our horses personally, and I hope you are as proud as I am for what NRHA has done. We have taken serious consideration and thoughtfulness to create a medications program for the horse; with the same love and passion as if we were caring for our own family. Their welfare is, and will always be, of the utmost importance to us. I will stand beside you and promise that NRHA will never sacrifice the horse due to any outside pressure. As always, if you have questions or concerns, I am at all times available to visit with you, and to hear your concerns so that we can make our NRHA relationship stronger. Sincerely,
Rick Clark NRHA President