From Endurance to Dressage
Serious business this post. I'll probably lose readers after this, but hear me out.
Let me start by saying that my endurance roots have made me very, very cautious about administering any over-the-counter or even prescription medications to my horses. The only topicals I use are fly spray, Showsheen or similar grooming products, Scarlet Oil and Betadine Scrub for wounds, and Coppertox (or lately, my vet-created version of that thrush buster). And that's it. There's no Banamine in my medicine chest, no Bute, no Corona (Dr. B hates that stuff), no expired medications, nothing. If I need a medication, I always run it by Dr. B first, even if it's OTC.
My feed routine is equally as simple: quality hay, beet pulp, rice bran, fresh water, occasional carrots and apples, and horse cookies. In the summer, I provide a serving of electrolytes if the work will be hard and the weather warm. But really, that's it. I very much subscribe to the keep it simple, stupid plan.
But ... you knew there had to be a but or why the need for the initial defense?
Sydney is having some difficulty settling into his job. We've eliminated every possible source of his anxiety: he gets ridden regularly, 3 - 4 times a week; he gets turned out daily; he's in a large stall with a run that allows for quite a bit of movement throughout the day; his weight is excellent; he gets fed appropriately; he's not being harassed by a neighboring horse; barn life is relaxed and mellow; he has correctly fitting tack; his teeth have been evaluated; he's not sore or lame; he has excellent feet that are well shod; and on and on.
Over the last month or two, at nearly the same time we ran out of daylight, Sydney started demonstrating anxious behaviors when asked to work. He's a perfect gentleman in the barn, he stands very quietly for the farrier, he enjoys being groomed and saddled, and he even stands rock solid for mounting. But when I start to ask for the trot, he occasionally gets very anxious and demonstrates some very naughty behaviors: bolting sideways, small bucks, small rears, head wringing, etc. Sometimes his tantrums are over with very quickly, but other times they last for thirty or more minutes.
I have been working hard to figure out the reason for the tantrums and have altered my work with Sydney in order to reassure him that it really is okay. Finally, after getting nowhere except worse, it was suggested that I try a cc or two of Acepromazine. AAACCKKK! was my initial reaction. No way, Jose. Ain't gonna do it ... really? It might help? So, gulp, I did it. I gave him a 2 cc dose orally. It worked - or, I should say, it helped. I followed it up the next day with a one cc dose, and again the day after that. Each day went equally as well.
As usual, I called Dr. B with the results of the little experiment. She understood my plan of attack. We don't want this to be a permanent solution. What we're hoping for is a window of time in which to teach Sydney that nothing bad is going to happen and that work is actually fun. Acepromazine is a tranquilizer, not a sedative so it has no analgesic qualities that mask pain. It simply gives the horse a sense of well-being. If a horse experiences an event with a sense of well-being, he's more likely to be relaxed when presented with the same experience at a later time, like the next day. And if he has many experiences in which he has a sense of well-being, he will (hopefully) become a more relaxed and less anxious individual.
Dr. B actually had a better idea than to continue administering Acepromazine each day. Acepromazine is actually an antipsychotic that works on the brain. It has a number of possible side-effects, as do all drugs, but most people find that the benefits of the drug far outweigh the possible risks. We do the same for ourselves. We know that taking various medications can cause all number of side-effects far worse than the symptoms for which we are being treated. Watch any pharmaceutical commercial on TV and you'll see what I mean.
Dr. B.'s suggestion was Fluphenazine, a close cousin to Acepromazine, but it has fewer possible side-effects. Of course I Googled Fluephenazine and was rewarded with page after page of horrific stories told by people who had administered the drug only to experience horrible side-effects. Dr. B hates it when her clients Google stuff since most of the information we lay people can find is unbalanced and not very scientific. She quickly reassured me that Fluphenazine is far safer than Acepromazine and is actually quite widely used.
So what's the downside? Well, Fluphenazine is on the BANNED substance list with USEF, as is Acepromazine. It's not permitted in any sport monitored by USEF which means it cannot be used if you show. In addition, the detection time for Fluphenazine is two to three months from the last administration of the drug. That's a long time.
Is there an upside? Yes, here it is. Fluphenazine is given as a 5cc IM injection. It lasts for nearly a month and then begins to fade away. This means that Sydney should experience a month-long feeling of well-being. Our hope is that this will give us enough time to give him many, many work sessions that are anxiety-free. I won't have to administer the Acepromazine each day since he'll have the Fluphenazine working in his body all day long. Of course this means that Sydney can't show until about April, but it's no biggie since the first show I would consider taking him to is in June. And, if we can't get him relaxed and working well, he won't be ready to show anyway.
If the first go-round of the Fluphenazine wears off too quickly, or isn't effective enough, the injection can be given again. Dr. B has a permanent equine resident at the vet hospital who gets several doses a year. Since I didn't plan on showing Sydney until summer, that gives me a month or two to decide if this does the trick. Dr. B feels that since the Acepromazine has demonstrated to be quite effective, she's very confident that I'll see good results with the Fluphenazine as well.
So ... did I lose you? Am I a terrible horse-owner for even considering administering an antipsychotic drug to my horse? Let me know what you think. And as always ... please consult your vet before giving your horse any kind of medication.
Post-publish Edit - There's a follow-up post here.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at Second Level. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read