Louisiana reverses rules to loosen drug restrictions in horse racing

Pick Pony |June 7, 2024, 1:33 p.m.

The Louisiana State Racing Commission recently voted unanimously to reverse two contentious "emergency rules" regarding drug use in horse racing. These rules, which were due to take effect on Saturday, have been criticized for potentially endangering horse welfare.

Groups such as Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy, along with numerous Thoroughbred racing organizations, strongly opposed these rules. They criticized the commission's sudden decision to relax restrictions on drugs often misused in horse racing. Their pressure led to officials reversing the decision.

“We are very relieved, because the new commission rules placed both horses and riders at great risk of injury and even death, and it would have had terrible consequences for the Thoroughbred racing industry,” said Fred Hudson, director of Equine Welfare for Animal Wellness Action.

The regulations were aimed at the casual use of clenbuterol, a drug for respiratory issues but can imitate muscle-building steroids. That's why clenbuterol is entirely prohibited in Louisiana's Quarter Horse racing. The emergency regulations also permitted doubling the allowed dosage of Depo-Medrol or methylprednisolone, a steroid injected for pain and swelling in joints. Overuse can harm the joints and cause horse breakdowns.

Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy persistently urge this commission to align with the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority’s Anti-Doping and Medication Control program (HISA). HISA is a federal racing authority working to standardize national medication rules. These rules aim to end race-day doping of horses and set other appropriate horse-safety standards.

“If this racing commission were operating under HISA, it would never have instituted its lax rules in the first place and would be always acting in the best interest of horses to prevent future tragic deaths from liberal use of medications.” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and a key architect of the national law.

HISA maintains strict rules on the medications in question, and trainers could face suspension for up to two years for violations.

Louisiana's Rep. Clay Higgins sponsors a bill that animal welfare advocates argue is misleadingly titled as the . The purpose of this bill is to nullify HISA.

More stringent regulations on horse racing medications have led to 2022 being a record year for equine safety. The data from HISA tracks in 2023 support this, showing that the restrictive approach to corticosteroids, clenbuterol, and other controlled medications is effective. In 2023, HISA tracks experienced a 32.5% lower breakdown rate than non-HISA tracks.