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Ongoing contamination in the equine food chain

Updated: Jan 1, 2022

The drama of contaminated equine feed stuffs continues with the announcement last week that another eight feed companies have been cited as having the illegal substance Zilpaterol in their food processing supply chain*. But why are we surprised?

The problem of contaminated equine foodstuffs was first highlighted in 1980 by the disqualification of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner TIED COTTAGE and two mile champion chase winner CHINRULLAH. Recent experiences tells us that the issue is ongoing and remains largely is my opinion that this will continue to be the case as long as pre-mixed feeds are used in equine diets.

My own personal experience of feed contamination was significant and also occurred in 1980. As a licensed race horse trainer (a career spanning 12 years), my story centered around a highly successful horse FOLK HERO, ridden by Lester Piggott in the English Lincolnshire that year. A beaten favourite on the day, Folk Hero was routinely tested post-race and found to have traces of Theobromine in his system. Duly summoned to Portman Square, the presiding chairman Lord Fairhaven assured me, “Mr McCormick, this is an inquiry, not a trial…”. These words stayed with me as the Jockey Club Security representative sampled my feed bin which contained a pre-mix feed called ‘Tenderleen’. This feed also tested positive for Theobromine and the culprit was attributed to cocoa bean contamination in the feed. Needless to say, the manufacturing feed company denied any knowledge. From that moment, I swore never to use pre-mixed feeds for any equines under my charge. A resolution that I stand over to this day.

Years of clinical experience and research into optimal and safe nutrition for both competition and pleasure horses has convinced me of the need for horse owners and trainers to use ‘straight’ products of oats, supplemental minerals and flaxseed as a source of high concentration Omega-3’s and alpha linolenic acid (ALA) in equine diets. This straightforward diet best suits the sensitive digestion of horses and is much like that used by successful horse folk pre-1960, before commercial mixed feeds were first introduced to the market. It is not coincidental that from this time we began to see deterioration in trainers ‘strike rate’ performance and an increase in gut related health problems in horses. Using ‘straights’ also brings quality control back to those who feed. But the real question is: Does our need for convenience (pre-mixed feeds) supersede our desire for quality?

Accidental drug contamination in the food chain is not going away any time soon. Unresolved, it is sure to raise its ugly head just when least expected.

Author: Dr. Richard. J. McCormick, M.V.B, Dip.Eq.St, M.R.C.V.S. Licensed Veterinarian (Kentucky, USA, Ireland & United Kingdom). Contact @ or




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