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One of the things that distresses owners is
high veterinary costs. The well respected Dr. Rick Arthur,
currently the medical director for the California Horse Racing Board,
wrote the following while still a practicing veterinarian working
the Southern California circut. It was originally printed in the February
2006 TIA Newsletter and is still very revelent today.
“Several years ago The Blood-Horse did a survey of owners about the
most frustrating aspects of owning racehorses. Number one was poor
communication with their trainers and number two was vet bills. I
was interviewed for the same article and contended they were really
the same issue.
“There is one point almost all owners miss--even very experienced,
longtime owners--which I find bewildering; Nothing is done to any
horse on the racetrack by a veterinarian without the direct or
implicit approval of the trainer. The trainer controls the
veterinary costs, not the veterinarian.
“As evidence, I can tell you what every trainer’s veterinary charges
will average per horse per month in my practice, and I suspect every
veterinarian can do the same. The monthly averages are amazingly
constant for every trainer, and those averages range from about
$50/month to over $1,000/month per horse, depending on the trainer.
What’s the variable? The trainer, not the veterinarian.
dollars almost every routine service available 25 years ago is
cheaper today. So why do veterinary medical costs seem so high?
There are a number of reasons. Some of the reasons simply mirror the
same factors in the human health care field, where costs have risen
astronomically in the last few decades.
“When I went to work for Dr. Robbins in the mid 70’s, we had the
second fiber optic endoscope on the Southern California Thoroughbred
circuit. Since that time diagnostic ultrasound, digital radiography,
video endoscopy, nuclear scintigraphy, arthroscopic surgery, laser
surgery, (and now MRI) and many more technologies have all have been introduced
into the racetrack practice.
“All of these technologies are expensive and add significantly to
the overall veterinary medical costs. They certainly can improve the
quality of veterinary care and, therefore, should be cost effective
if used judiciously and properly.
“For example, Tiznow, Johar, and Pleasantly Perfect all had
musculoskeletal problems identified with nuclear scintigraphy
earlier in the same year that they won their Breeder’s Cup races.
The specific diagnoses obtained with nuclear scintigraphy led to
specific rehabilitation plans for their successful returns to
"Horse owners should be aware arthroscopic surgery on
racehorses at the racetrack is cheaper than the equivalent surgery
on your dog.
"Another factor similar to the human medical experience is the
introduction in recent years of a number of patented, useful, but
expensive medications. During the 1980’s the pharmaceutical industry discovered marketing
directly to consumers resulted in higher profits. Any evening, while
watching TV, you can see ads for specific drugs to control
everything from acid reflux (the same drug as Gastrogard®) to
“The pharmaceutical industries now uses the same strategy to market
medication to the equine consumer, the horse owner. You all see the
ads for these medications in The Blood-Horse and similar magazines.
Examples include Gastrogard®, a treatment for ulcers, and Adequan®
and Legend®, both used to treat arthritic problems.
“The third factor is simply increased demand for veterinary
services. For the most part, large veterinary bills are not necessarily the
cost of individual procedures or treatments but the number of
services being performed. This is particularly apparent in claiming
horses where the “leave no stone unturned” approach to veterinary
care has become the standard operating procedure in many barns.
Maidens and high class horses are not immune to this approach.
“Every trainer is afraid the next trainer may find an undiagnosed
problem and move a horse up; owners don’t like it either. The
competition in claiming races has become severe and veterinary
services have become a key consideration.
“The belief becomes seldom is a horse simply too slow or lacking in class. The
conclusion is the horse must
have a veterinary medical problem which needs to be corrected. This
could include injecting joints, using anabolic steroids, any number
of perfectly legal medications to address real or perceived
problems. Those costs add up quickly.
“Many trainers, especially those with large stables, have a routine
program where all horses receive the same set treatment prior to
a race. This approach simplifies stable management but can get very
expensive. For example, a horse could receive Banamine® (a non steroidal anti
inflammatory medication), Roboxin® (a muscle relaxant), and Azium® (a
cortisone) the day it’s entered; phenylbutazone (commonly referred
to as Bute, another non steroidal anti inflammatory) and a vitamin
shot the night before the race; Lasix® and estrogens (anti bleeding
medication) the day of the race; and an endoscopic examination after
“With those alone, an owner could spend $200 to $300 every time the
horse competes exclusive of any other treatments prior to entry. How
much of all this is really necessary?
“Ironically I am not paid for my most valuable service, examining
10 30 horses every day for lameness or other problems. For whatever reason, owners, trainers, and many veterinarians have
the notion that veterinarians are selling products rather than
services. The products are a backward way to pay for professional
services, an inherently flawed system.
“How does an owner control veterinary costs? Certain costs are hard
to control, particularly where serious illnesses or injuries are
concerned. Colic, colitis, pleuro pneumonia, or a life threatening
fracture can cost thousands of dollars and are unpredictable, just
as they are with your pets or family. However, routine veterinary care is very much discretionary. You
should let your trainer know what your level of tolerance is--what
level of veterinary care you want. Communication with your trainer
will make sure that those decisions are made in your best interests
and hopefully in the best interests of your horse.
"One point to never forget is that the owner’s interests, the
trainer’s interests, and the horse’s interests are not always the
“Preventive health care procedures such as vaccinations, deworming,
and dental care are always cost-effective. Addressing a specific
veterinary medical problem such as a lameness or respiratory problem
should almost always be worth the cost. A major error in attempting to control veterinary medical costs is
eliminating diagnostic procedures. Remember, without a diagnosis,
medicine is poison and surgery is trauma. A properly diagnosed
problem can save considerable costs by avoiding unfocused and often
unnecessary veterinary medical expenses.
“Finally, an owner needs to communicate with his trainer. If you
can’t communicate, you need to change trainers rather than blame
your veterinarian. If you
don’t trust your veterinarian, shame on you for not making a change.
“Thirty years of experience has taught me that asking a trainer to
change veterinarians rarely works; you will probably need to change
trainers. Veterinarians work with certain trainers because of
personal relationships that go beyond professional talent.”