Where Rules Matter Most: Managing Your Horse’s Medication

Know the rules and know what’s best for horse health and pain management.

From AQHA Corporate Partner Merial

Knowing the acceptable limits for you horse's medication is important. Journal photo.

You may have watched as a horse was singled out after his class by a drug tester who followed him back to the barn area to collect a blood or urine sample. Maybe you’ve even experienced it yourself. This testing is for a good reason - it ensures compliance of the rules, which are driven by a mission to protect equine welfare.1

AQHA rules outline the specifics in regard to both allowed and prohibited medications, drugs and other substances.   

Clearly, in the world of equestrian competition, prohibited substances should be avoided. But sometimes there is confusion about allowed therapies, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Abiding by the Rules: Shows vs. Barns

Timing and dosage can vary greatly between what is allowed for a particular show and common barn and at-home practices for medication administration. Before giving your horse any medication, check the rulebook for the association in which you are planning to show. AQHA’s rules are here.

For example, NSAIDs, used to treat conditions such as the pain and inflammation associated with equine osteoarthritis,2 usually have restricted doses based on allowed blood levels at the time of competition, as well as withdrawal time recommendations.

Managing your horse's health is an important part of horse ownership. Download AQHA's Common Horse Health Issues ebook to make sure you're prepared to deal with common issues like laminitis and West Nile.

“Managing joint health is often an ongoing process - and it doesn’t stop just because you have a show or competition,” says Dr. Hoyt Cheramie, Senior Manager, Merial Large Animal Veterinary Services. “Veterinarians may suggest an NSAID, but it’s important to give the correct dose, especially when showing.”

Weight Watching: Where Tablets Fit in Your Horse’s Regimen

With the recent announcement of a tablet formulation, Merial, the makers of EQUIOXX® (firocoxib), wants to ensure that horse owners, exhibitors, trainers and veterinarians are giving EQUIOXX in compliance with each association’s rules.

“While EQUIOXX Tablets are a great option for routine use in noncompetition settings, equestrians need to be aware that they are labeled for 800 to 1,300 pounds. This may mean they aren’t the best option for some competition horses,” Dr. Cheramie says. “The approved dose and withdrawal time of oral firocoxib to ensure accepted blood level requirements for showing is 0.1 mg/kg given a minimum of 12 hours before showing. Thus, for the purposes of competition drug testing, any horse weighing less than 1,254 pounds receiving the 57 mg tablet is receiving a higher dosage than competition rules allow. Depending on the weight of your horse, this could make it difficult to stay within the allowable limits. For instance, a 1,000 pound horse would get 25 percent more firocoxib by weight than permissible by the competition rules when given a full 57 mg EQUIOXX tablet. This would put the horse at risk for testing above the allowed blood level for firocoxib.”

Equestrians must sometimes estimate the weight of a horse when administering treatment, but even those with years of experience routinely misjudge horses’ body weight.3 When giving any NSAID, an accurate body-weight assessment - preferably with a scale or, at the very least, a weight tape - is necessary for proper dosage.3 Over-dosing can cause overages of allowed levels, while under-dosing can result in a less than effective result.

“When showing, the paste or injection formulations of EQUIOXX offer the most accurate dosing to help riders and trainers stay in compliance with their association’s medication rules,” Dr. Cheramie says. “Paste can be dosed to 50-pound increments, and the injection can be dosed to the exact weight of the horse, making it the most precise.”

Keep track of the important details for your horse, including medical records in one place with the Ride to Win app from Merial. Download for free today.

Here are a few reminders when treating your horse with an NSAID prior to competition, according to the AQHA rulebook.  

  • NSAIDs are to be administered to a horse only for a therapeutic purpose - the treatment of illness or injury.
  • There are specific administration guidelines for each conditionally permitted NSAID that must be followed,which can be found in the AQHA Handbook of Rules and Regulations.
  • Only one NSAID (of those permitted to be used) may be used at a time.
  • The dose should be accurately calculated according to the actual weight of the animal.
  • Based on the drug and dose, AQHA may have recommendations for latest administration hour prior to competition. For EQUIOXX, that withdrawal time is greater than 12 hours.

Many competitors choose EQUIOXX because it is the only equine coxib NSAID and can be used for up to 14 days.4 This 14-day duration is longer than all other NSAIDs.1

Show smart.

Don’t risk over- or under-dosing during training or before a competition. Talk to your veterinarian about the best administration options for your horse and consult your individual association’s rules regarding medications.


As with any prescription medication, prior to use, a veterinarian should perform a physical examination and review the horse’s medical history. A veterinarian should advise horse owners to observe for signs of potential drug toxicity. As a class, nonsteroidal anti‐inflammatory drugs may be associated with gastrointestinal, hepatic and renal toxicity. Use with other NSAIDs, corticosteroids or nephrotoxic medication should be avoided. EQUIOXX has not been tested in horses less than 1 year of age or in breeding horses, or pregnant or lactating mares. For additional information, please refer to the prescribing information or visit

®EQUIOXX is a registered trademark of Merial. ©2016 Merial, Inc., Duluth, GA. All rights reserved. EQUIEQX1620 (11/16)

1 American Quarter Horse Association Handbook of Rules and Regulations.. Available at: Accessed November 22, 2016.

2 United States Equestrian Federation. NSAIDs and Your Horse. Available at: Accessed September 30, 2016.