Guide to participating in a long-term laminitis study

October 21, 2011

I’m hearing and reading about a lot of clinical trials and thought I’d share some of my own experiences for longer trials, which I define as 12 to 14 weeks. I would not be interested in doing another one that studied my horses’ metabolism under certain conditions. I would still be willing to test a new drug or supplement.

The problem with trials is the same as any agreement between two parties: If there is a miscommunication, it can lead to hard feelings on both sides. Everyone needs to be very clear up front what is going to happen during a study.

I debated whether to do a very sterile article that speaks to both the researcher and the horse owner. But, I feel like the horse owner is facing some big hurdles with studies, and I really needed to write this for the horse owner. So, with apologies to researchers the world over, here are my concerns for horse owners considering doing a study.

Before I get into specifics, let me lead off with this dose of reality: Research is all about money. Even if it seems to be a trial to collect statistics on a particular disease, someone is planning to use those statistics for monetary benefit. The research has to generate revenue, or it would not have been undertaken.

Your horse likely has the disease being studied, and you are working off emotion. In that state, you are going to agree to everything under the sun in the hopes that your horse might get better. That kind of thinking will get you nowhere. Check your emotion at the door and look at a potential study from all the following perspectives.

1) Participate in studies where you have control if you need to make changes. If someone wants to study how your horse reacts to eating so many pounds of hay a day, and halfway through a 12-week trial, your horse starts to balloon up, you need to be able to cut down on the hay rather than watch your horse founder just because you agreed to do a study. Don’t agree to stick to a rigid schedule if your horse is going to be the loser in the end. Have an out. Get that point in writing.

2) Agree only to studies where you are provided with all results in real time. Get in writing that you will be given all results related to your horse, and make sure the researcher keeps that end of the bargain. Researchers may be tempted to hold back information. For example, a researcher may not tell you your horse’s insulin level is rising as a result of something happening in the study. Be the advocate for your horse and require knowing the results, so you can change your horse’s living situation if necessary.

3) Set down the rules and have penalty clauses if the researcher does not fulfill his end of the bargain. Require payment or some other compensation if the researcher is late or spends an hour talking on the phone and wasting your time. Your time is just as valuable as his.

4) Clearly define who is doing what. If you researcher says he will provide a supplement being studied, document how that supplement will arrive, from where, who is paying for it, who will follow up to find out where it is if it doesn’t arrive on time (you should not have to make that call), whether you will have access to the same supplement once the trial is over and how much it will cost you after the study. If the researcher says he will take care of all medical bills for the horse during the trial, write down specific things you want covered (deworming, shots, teeth floating, colic treatment, other emergencies, etc.) and make sure that’s in your contract. Two people can have vastly different interpretations of what “medical bills” means. If the study is supposed to pay for hay, grain or board, get it in writing.

5) If you are being paid to be in a study, understand that your horses and time are being rented for the length of that study, and the cost of the researcher trying to do that study himself with a herd of his own would be enormous. Make sure you are compensated adequately for your work with your horse and the research documentation you must take care of during that time. Money does not come easily right now for researchers or horse owners. But, that researcher is not going to give you a break on a medical bill if your horse is a patient. Don’t undercompensate yourself for your own time when doing work for him.

6) Understand what you’re getting into time-wise. It may not sound like such a big deal to weigh your horse’s hay, but you might be weighing it every day three times a day for 12 weeks, and you might be documenting every day how your horse walks and whether it has a pulse in its feet. It gets old fast. If drawing blood is included, make sure your horse has the type of personality to withstand being a pin cushion for the duration of the study.

7) Make sure your goals and those of the researcher are the same. If you want to know why your horse foundered, and your researcher just wants to test how long it takes your horse to founder in a particular environment because that’s the project he’s working on, you’re not going to get out of that study what you want. Your researcher is not going to change course and do what you want. Ultimately, you will be unhappy.

8) Require credit for you and your horse if you want it. When the researcher writes up the study, you and your horse should be named at the end of the study if that’s your wish.

9) If there’s equipment involved, make sure the contract includes the dates for the arrival and pickup of that equipment. If the equipment takes up most of your kitchen, charge rental space for the time that it occupies your kitchen. If your horse were in a stall at the researcher’s facility, you’d be paying plenty in rent for that space.

10) Remember these words: Your time is not free. When’s the last time someone did something for you for free?

11) If these tips are at odds with the desires of the researcher, and the researcher won’t agree to your terms, that’s OK. The world will not end if you don’t do the study, and your horse’s welfare and your sanity are your only concern.

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