Equine Wellbeing

Horse Sport Ireland

Can Ireland Sort Out Its Horse Doping Problem?

It is probably a strong indication that a country really has a horse doping problem when they start setting up Task Forces to address the issue (well produce a report). The recent announcement from the Anti-Doping Task Force in January 2016, that they have (surprise surprise) produced a report, will no doubt cause further discussion on the topic, but will this fix the problem once and for all?

image horse racing

Anti-Doping Task Force

The Task force which was set up by Horse Racing Ireland and the Turf Club in December 2014, is made up of 16 members and has representatives from all aspects of the horse racing and thoroughbred industries including owners, trainers, sales companies and breeders. It is chaired by the Turf Club which is the national regulatory body for horse riding in Ireland.


Why Set Up an Anti-Doping TF?

The task force was supposedly set up following the disqualification of Philip Fenton  a race horse trainer in November 2014 for possessing banned animal medicines at his stables in Tipperary. Originally they had been discovered during a Department of Agriculture inspection in 2012, which was then followed by an inspection by the Turf Club.

But the scandals go back much further, including the Department of Agriculture veterinary inspector John Hughes who was found guilty of illegally importing steroids, enough in fact for 62,000 doses which led to suspicions that steroids were being used illegally on an industrial level. As Ireland exports around 5,000 racing horses this has severe implications for the whole industry and the reputation of Irish horse racing.

The Value of Horse Racing to the Irish Economy

The horse racing industry is estimated to be worth over €700m to the Irish economy per year according to Teagasc and employs over 12,000 people, which is a strong motivating factor to make sure that the sport stays clean.

These figures can be broken down into approximately 10,000 sport horses which contribute an estimated €135m to the economy, with an additional 73,000 equines in the breeding sector worth approximately €225m, these figures are all according to a 2012 research  study by University College Dublin, and used by Teagasc in their report.

Horse Sport Ireland

However it is interesting to note that in the Teagasc report from the Irish Horse Sport Industry strategic committee, there is no mention in any of the recommendations of anti-doping regimes, or priorities for funding in this area for 2015 onwards.



Doping in the Media

Many of the doping cases that have been discovered usually end up covered by newspapers and online news and media outlets. Which means we can also find some of the more bizarre explanations for why a horse might have failed a drug test.

For example according to a report in 2015 from the British Horse Racing disciplinary panel report an Irish trainer by the name of William Treacy, was fined £1,000 because the drug Tramadol was discovered in his horse’s sample. The trainer suggested that his own medication for arthritis, which contains tramadol must have contaminated the horse since he often peed in the stable in the morning when giving his horse his morning apple.

Despite the number of media incidents a U.S. Senate hearing in 2012 heard that the percentage of positive drugs tests for racing was incredibly low, with more than 99% of horses passing the test and nearly 25% of all horses tested at any one race. However critics of these results have challenged the report and highlight that the racing industry also allows a number of therapeutic drugs to be administered to horses and these can be manipulated to enhance performance and still pass the drug testing regime.

What Affect Does Doping Have on Horses?

Doping is not only an Irish problem, in fact race horse across the globe have been known to be given enhancing substances. The first doping tests came into effect in the 1930s although some lobbyists would argue that doping itself actually dates back much further possibly 3,000 years ago. Even then the saliva tests that were carried out in the 1930s were more to ensure that rival horse owners weren’t trying to sabotage a horse’s performance.

Traditional doping would have included the use of cocaine, but this became easily detectable. Modern doping often involves the use of steroids which also cause muscle bulk to develop placing additional pressure on the fine legs and also affects the horse’s hormone system. Other doping systems involve putting liquids directly into the horses stomach just before a race, which was more common practice in the U.S.

What Exactly is the Turf Club Doing to Address the Doping Issue?

As the body responsible for regulating the industry the Turf Club has a clear role to play in leading out on this issue. As far back as 2014 the Turf Club started increasing the anti-doping regime.

They also received additional funds amounting to €150,000 from Horse Racing Ireland in 2014, however until the Department of Agriculture starts demanding change and putting more weight behind supporting the regulators, they could be on an uphill struggle given the size and influence that the industry has.

FEI Clean Sport Campaign

FEI Clean Sport website

As a potential model of a zero tolerance approach, the FEI is clamping down strongly on doping within its events and has developed a Clean Sport scheme, with a website to promote awareness around anti-doping and the global anti-doping and controlled medication programme (EADCMP).

The FEI veterinary department decides which events will be tested and then all levels of competition and all disciplines will be tested.

The following video is part of the FEI educational material and explains in more detail how the FEI anti-doping regime operates globally.

Anti DopingTask Force Recommendations

The Task Force report has made a number of recommendations including that the drug testing laboratory work should be centralised. This follows calls in other countries to centralise resources for testing such as in the U.S.. However if animal rights sites such as PETA are raising concerns about a tainted industry where steroid use is endemic, then it might need more than better drug testing facilities to eliminate the danger to horses.

So What Now?

It would appear that despite regulation doping is potentially an industry wide problem, especially in the race horse industry. Perhaps it is time that they took more notice of the FEI approach and embraced a zero tolerance stance on doping, however I suspect this is still a long way down the road.

The Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar for Horses

I have heard about apple cider vinegar (ACV) being used for horses, especially with older mares as a way to reduce their stiffness. So I was interested to learn more and also since ACV is often used by human for natural weight loss, what are the implications on my oder mare, will she lose weight?


What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?

Unlike refined vinegars that are often used in cooking and bought from supermarkets, organic ACV is made from organic apples that are simply crushed and allowed to mature. Traditionally this would have been done in wooden barrels but possibly health and safety now dictates that this now has to be done in stainless steel containers.

image apple orchard
image by Dan at freedigitalphotos.net

Since the vinegar is made naturally it retains a lot of the minerals, vitamins and enzymes that are present in apples plus there is the added benefit of additional organic acids acquired through the two stages of fermentation needed to produce the ACV. Natural ACV which is best for horses, contains the ‘Mother’ which is the concentrated culture of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria which should appear in good quality bottles of ACV, and assists in the fermentation process.



So What Are the Benefits to Horses?

You’ve probably guessed by now but Apple Cider Vinegar offers many different benefits to horses including the following.

Ease Arthritis Symptoms

This was how I originally came into contact with ACV as a way to treat my older Mare and see if it cured her stiffness, especially in Winter.


The ACV contains 5% acetic acid plus a number of other amino acids, all of which can act as a natural antiseptic to remove unwanted yeasts and bacteria from the gut (it works the same way in humans). Because it make the stomach more acidic ACV has also been shown to improve and prevent intestinal stones within horses, which if left unattended often need to removed surgically.

Natural Fly Repellent
image fly on flower
image by phanlop88 (freedigitalphotos.net)

ACV works in two ways to deter insects and flies from your horse. Like garlic it is believed that horses sweat the ACV onto their skin which many flies and insects don’t like. Or you can also make your own fly repellent using ACV, one suggested recipe from appleciderbenefits.com is as follows;


  • 500 ml Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 250 ml Water
  • 250 ml Avon Skin so Soft (bath oil)
  • 10 ml Eucalyptus oil (or citronella oil)


Simply mix all the ingredients together and apply it through a spray bottle.



Skin Infections

Simple skin infections such as ringworm can be treated by applying neat ACV onto the spot. Ringworm is a fungal infection and this technique can be applied for other fungal infections such as thrush in the hooves.

Another pet product that is suitable for horses (as well as cats and dogs) are these pet ear wipes that use ACV along with witch hazel and Aloe vera


Hoof Rot

ACV can be applied directly to hooves to prevent hoof rot or improve frog growth. The natural antibacterial properties help the hoof the deal with underlying infections that can be causing a problem with the hoof. For the hoof soak the foot 2-3 times daily until it is healed.


Shampoo & Conditioner

According to the Savvy Horsewoman ACV can be added to a bucket of water for the final rinse to smarten your horses mane and tail. Or you can buy shampoo with ACV already in it!


Encouraging Horses to Drink Strange Water

ACV cleanses water and kills off unwanted micro organisms that might be off putting to horses, especially if they are presented with water form a strange source. A few tablespoons is all that is needed.

“Brown Horse Eating And Grazing In Farm” by Kittikun Atsawintarangkul (freedigitalphotos.net)
“Brown Horse Eating And Grazing In Farm” by Kittikun Atsawintarangkul (freedigitalphotos.net)
Does ACV Cause Weight Loss in Horses?

One of the questions that I had at the start of this research was whether ACV could cause weight loss in horses, since it is widely used as a way of increasing weight loss in humans.

At this point I am still looking for the answer, I haven’t noticed any loss in condition in my own older mare, but at the moment she isn’t working and is happy to potter around the yard without using any additional energy. I did read on one forum on the earth clinic that a horse owner had noticed weight loss despite also noticing a slowing in feeding (not gobbling food) and shiny coats which were advantageous.

Another article on holistic horse named one of the benefits of using ACV on horses as managing weight and lowering body fat so presumably this is something to be watchful for, but I haven’t managed to find anything definitive on this topic (Yet).

Where to Buy Apple Cider Vinegar?

image apple cider vinegar for horses

Apple Cider Vinegar can be bought in most supermarkets and health food shops. However if you are looking to buy for a horse it is probably cheaper (actually definitely cheaper) to buy in bulk from wholesalers.

The product shown here is an organic ACV that can be bought through Amazon, the company is Bragg (owned by Patricia Bragg so is not a large multinational) and the product has some very good reviews from people who have been using the product for years.

The product can be bought in 16 or 32 ounce bottles (litre or half litre)
Bragg Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, 16 Ounce – 1 Pack



I would love to hear of any other uses for this amazing product so please feel free to add them in the comments section below. And if you have had any experience in using ACV and noticed any effect on weight loss I would be particularly grateful to hear from you, thanks.