No news is generally good news--and nowhere is that more true than at the Olympic Games equestrian events. I'd much rather expend my keystrokes telling you about cool things in London and great horses and horsemanship than about equine illnesses and injuries.
Preparation, of course, is more than half the battle when it comes to ensuring horses' well-being at an international championships. By all accounts, the veterinary team at Greenwich Park has done an outstanding job of ensuring that horses will receive whatever attention they need, lickety-split. In an exclusive interview, veterinary-services manager Jenny Hall, BVSc, MRCVS, filled us in.
Hall, the British equestrian-team veterinarian (who by the way did a large-animal medicine and surgery internship at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square upon graduation from vet school), oversees a team of 240 who staff and manage the on-site veterinary clinic and emergency-transport service at Greenwich Park. Hall had to recruit and train her entire work force, which includes everything from veterinary specialists and farriers to veterinary technicians, receptionists, and equine-ambulance drivers.
Under their care are the Olympic event, jumping, and dressage horses, of course; but also the modern-pentathlon Olympic horses and the horses that will be arriving in a couple of weeks for the 2012 Paralympic Games. A staff of 240 might sound large until you consider that the veterinary clinic is open and fully staffed 24/7 the entire time that horses are in Greenwich Park. Even then, Hall said, the workers are pulling a series of long, rotating shifts to keep everything covered.
As veterinary-services manager, Hall also had to design and plan the veterinary clinic itself--which FEI foreign veterinary delegate Kent Allen, DVM, has praised for its utiility and completeness of equipment and supplies. The clinic can provide radiography, ultrasonography, and endoscopy services and also contains a diagnostic laboratory that is providing clinical-pathology services (testing of horses' blood and urine for banned substances) during both Games. A fully stocked pharmacy can dispense necessary supplies. There is a fully equipped farriery forge, but it's located in the stabling area, not in the vet clinic as at Hong Kong 2008. Six misting fans are available and were used at the finish of eventing cross-country, but they haven't seen much use otherwise thanks to the horse-friendly London summer weather (most days so far have hit the low 70s, with a couple around 80 last week, and tolerable humidity despite almost daily rain showers).
"We're pleased with how well it's worked," said Hall. "We're lucky, aren't we, that imaging equipment today is so small and portable that we can fit everything we need in a temporary facility."
The 2012 Olympic equestrian venue has drawn raves from competitors and officials for its
excellent equestrian-facilities design, layout, footing, and stabling. Its location in an urban park makes transport to and from central London a snap and, unlike at past Olympics, makes the equestrian venue feel connected to the rest of the Games. But one thing big cities don't have is equine hospitals. And that, said Hall, was her biggest challenge in preparing for emergencies.
"There is no specialized equine hospital next door," said Hall, "and that's why the ambulance was provided."
The ambulance is a super-high-tech vehicle, built specially for these Games and one of only three of its kind in the world (the other two are in Ireland and Dubai, used in racing). Built at a reported cost of 94,000 British pounds, it's an air-conditioned, air-ride vehicle with closed-circuit TV. Like a human ambulance, it's big enough that veterinary personnel and even a groom can travel with a horse and administer triage if needed during transport, Hall said. The ambulance can even accommodate a recumbent horse if necessary, and a hand-operated turntable in the floor enables horses to walk both on and off if necessary, instead of having to back out as in a conventional horse trailer.
The vehicle may sound lavish, but considering that Greenwich Park is 45 minutes to an hour from the nearest fully equipped equine hospital, it's a necessity, according to Hall. Although the Olympics thus far have been colic-free, with no major injuries, it's not difficult to conjure up scenarios in which being an hour from a hospital with no en-route triage capability could spell a grim outlook.
Should a horse require hospitalization, Hall said, it would most likely be shipped to Bell Equine Veterinary Clinic in Mereworth, Kent, roughly an hour south of Greenwich Park. The full-service facility offers surgical, lameness-diagnostic, imaging, dental, and many other services.
But we hope that a trip to Bell will be unnecessary for any Olympic or Paralympic horse, and meanwhile Hall is confident that her team is up to most any situation it may encounter.
"Nothing is going to happen that a member of my team hasn't witnessed," she said.