What if....you are asked to give a horse an injection?
What if…. You are a Groom and someone has asked you to give an injection to a horse that you care for?
Many Grooms have extensive knowledge of first aid, basic medical treatments, wrapping legs, and giving both IV (intravenous) and IM (intramuscular) injections. The substances that are commonly given are joint support injections and sometimes even antibiotics, analgesics (for pain management), and sedatives. But is giving injections legal for a Groom?
I posed this question to our resident legal expert and event rider, Jenn McCabe for the California Horse Lawyer. While the majority of this article is specific to California, the take home message is clear – have written permission from the horse owner, know the laws in your particular state, and have liability insurance if you are an independent contractor.
Here’s what Jenn shares with us!
“This is a tricky question that I spent quite a bit of time thinking about, consulting Veterinarians about, and researching. While there does not appear to be a California law that reads, “professional equine Grooms are prohibited from administering drugs by injections,” that is really not where a Groom’s concern should be in this scenario. The more concerning issue for a non-horse-owner Groom is liability for negligence, especially if the Groom is working as an independent contractor.
I don’t mean to say that your concern for liability trumps your concern for whether what you are doing is illegal. But in this case, the Veterinarian, as a professional, is the one that should be concerned with whether what they are doing is illegal… since you, the Groom, are merely acting under their professional orders to treat.
Licensed veterinarians are heavily regulated on the state and federal level. In California, Veterinarians are permitted to prescribe drugs (including those administered intramuscularly and intravenously) within the context of a Veterinarian-client-patient relationship. To comply with regulations, they must label the drugs, they must keep accurate records of the drugs they dispense, etc. There is a lot of responsibility associated with ordering any drug to be administered by third party non-vet (horse owners, Grooms, etc.), which is why Veterinary school is no easy feat… and why Veterinarians ALWAYS have malpractice insurance (they can incur liability too!).
A Groom that is tasked with administering drugs under the direction of a horse-owner and his Veterinarian has a duty to do so in the manner a “reasonable person” would (licensed Veterinarians are held to a higher standard of conduct). In other words, if a Groom does not exercise the sort of care that a reasonable person would and should, he exposes himself to personal liability. Grooms can avoid being liable for negligence simply by acting reasonably under the circumstances; “reasonable care” doesn’t require a super-human effort, but mere common sense in most situations.
Follow directions. Act with caution and care. Ask for help when you need it. When in doubt, it is perfectly acceptable to call the Veterinarian out. And just in case, carry adequate liability insurance and have written permission from the horse owner to administer drugs.”
Now I’ll pipe in with a few more thoughts from the Groom’s side of things, now that we have heard the legal issues. When you give a horse an injection, be it IV, IM, or sub Q, you are taking a risk that not everything will turn out ok. IV injections can go into the artery instead (this is very dangerous and potentially deadly), there could be a drug reaction, vaccines can cause deadly allergic reactions. Horses can also knock you down, step on you, and otherwise fight dirty over getting a shot. Add to this the actual substance you are being asked to inject – is this a banned substance and you are a few days from the show, or actually at the show? (New USEF rules make this an area where you can be held accountable for a horse that tests positive).
There are more than just legal issues at play here – there are also ethical things to consider. I have seen and heard stories of Grooms being asked to do this and that at home and at shows, and for me, I want no part of it. My answer to being asked to give injections is a resounding no. I don't want to risk injury to the horse, being a part of giving a horse something that's illegal for the show world, and I definitely don't want to send a horse that's been sedated out with a rider.
Jenn McCabe is an equine law attorney whose office provides business consulting and litigation services for the horse industry throughout California. Her office also provides consulting services to out-of-state equine attorneys and other California law firms. Please visit her website at www.CaliforniaHorseLawyer.com for more information.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are opinion only and based on the experience of the article's author and not to be construed as legal advice in any respect. Consult an attorney before taking action based on the contents of this article. Jenn McCabe, Liv Gude, and Professional Equine Grooms, LLC. expressly disclaim all liability in respect of any actions taken or not taken based on any contents of this article.