Two USHJA Horse Welfare Rule Proposals You Need to Know About



It’s that time of year again. The USHJA Annual meeting is just around the corner, and with it a series of proposed rule changes. Everyone can review the proposed changes at the USHJA website, and current members can login to provide feedback.

Many of these rule change proposals suggest altering division specifics and other technical aspects of the hunter/jumper showing world, but two stood out to us for their implications to horse welfare. They have the potential to ignite a change in the greater horse show environment for various disciplines.

HU 100.0 136-19 : Muzzles

Horses and ponies may be shown with their muzzles shaven or unshaven. An unshaven muzzle shall not be penalized in any hunter class.

First Germany outlawed shaving whiskers in 1998, and France as well as other countries in the EU recently followed suit. While this rule change doesn’t ban the shaving of whiskers, it does explicitly state that hunter judges may not penalize a horse for having natural whiskers.

When it comes to deciding on how to clip and prepare a horse for the show ring, whiskers have been a hot issue this year. We’ve written on the subject of clipping before, and more and more riders are opting to go “natural” by letting their horse keep these natural sensors. However in a show barn, it’s not uncommon to hear owners say that their trainer insists they clip whiskers for the hunters. If this rule passes, do you think we will start seeing a lot more whiskers in the ring?

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GR 414.0 127-19 : Bisphosphonates

4. It is a prohibited practice to administer bisphosphonates to any horse under four years of age. Horses four years of age or older may be administered bisphosphonates that are FDA approved for use in the horse and are administered according to label requirements and only for diagnosed cases of navicular disease. GR411 must be followed.

Bisphosphonates, a bone modification drug known as Osphos or Tildren, is intended for use treating Navicular symptoms, and has become more prevalent on the circuit in the last several years. Gaining popularity used as preventative treatment, many veterinarians believe the drug causes problems for horses when not administered for its intended purpose.

It works to help Navicular changes by hindering cells that remove bone in its natural, continuous cycle of formation and removal. Which is great for Navicular horses, because the drug slows bone loss. However, it can be problematic if given to a young horse that is still developing bone as it grows. You can learn more about the drug and its pros/cons in this January 2019 article.

If this rule change were to pass, no horse under four would be allowed to show if given any kind of bisphosphonates. Additionally, the wording ropes in regulation on using these drugs for their intended use versus general maintenance and care. Could this be the beginning of more regulations surrounding this drug?

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Whether you show rated, show local, or ride for fun in your backyard, horse welfare should be our first and foremost concern as equestrians. It will be interesting to see if these rules pass, and what the feedback from members is about them.