To Bute or not to Bute:

It really shouldn’t be a question, rhetorical or otherwise.  Bute (Phenylbutazone) is a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID).  NSAIDs are useful in treating inflammation caused by a variety of injuries, they can be used to not only reduce the inflammation in soft tissues but also to reduce pain.

If your horse has been injured NSAIDs can be a very useful secondary treatment protocol to help your horse feel more comfortable while it recovers from an injury.  NSAIDs, like many other drugs, are sometimes abused.  Quite aside from masking an injury to allow a horse to compete when it really ought to be resting to recover from an injury there are other instances of abuse of the drug.

Masking pain can encourage a horse to move through a wider range of motion than is appropriate to his recovery from an injury.  Masking the pain can set the recovery process back by a significant order of magnitude.  Sometimes, it is more appropriate for the horse to be allowed to “feel the pain” in order to slow it down during the injury recovery phase.

Excessive use of NSAIDs can have a host of side effects, mostly unintended.  Yet ironically many horse owners have a tub of powdered or liquid “Bute” in their tack box, and always prescribed by a vet.  I confess I have a tub of powdered Bute that has been in my kit for a numbers of years.

As a former athlete, having competed in five half ironman races as well as a number of other sporting events, I am all too familiar with the healing process from sports related injuries.  And, I can tell you that a lifetime of Ibuprofen is definitely not a good, or appropriate, option for dealing with injuries. In fact, I have always preferred to deal with the pain rather than mask it.

Unfortunately some vets are treating the client, focusing on their needs, not the client’s horse’s needs.  If your vet ever suggests that you treat your horse with drugs to numb the pain of a ride, either before or after, get a new vet! That is not an appropriate use of the drug. The aid is intended to help aid recovery, not mask injury.

Update: April 1, 2023

Today, I was in attendance at the Can/Am Horse Expo to volunteer at a breed booth. I was very saddened to be witness to a young woman repeatedly doping her horse with bute and some other “over the counter” sedative, in addition to packing its ears with fluff balls to dull its senses, all to enable her to ride it at a walk around an arena.

It turned out that she was afraid to ride the horse in front of a large audience, all the while the announcer bragged on her riding ability. According to the announcer this young horse has performed at diverse events from team roping, through western equitation to horseback shooting, trail riding, and according to the owner, even more.

What I saw, was a very anxious young woman, with a green broke horse (who has obviously spent far more money on her wardrobe than she has on riding lessons) pulling two hands on a Tom Thumb bit on drugged young horse. The horse was scheduled to be ridden through a breed introduction four times throughout the day, each time it was doped.

Another horse, at the same event was so doped it could barely keep its head up – what a show!! Some advice from Martin Black.


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