Hi, my name is Valerie Dromey and I'm an Irish veterinary student who has come across the pond to do three weeks' work experience in the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital clinic during the World Equestrian Games--and what an experience it has been! Horses are athletes and, like any athlete, there have been one or two that have acquired various ailments. The equine competitors at WEG have an army of caretakers doing all that they can, save wrapping them in cotton wool, to keep them sound and in good health for the big day. However, in a competition like this so many challenges are faced that inevitably, some horses will not perform to their full ability or won't perform at all.
The stress of travel alone can potentially cause jarring, lameness, shipping fever, dehydration, and even colic. This is the first time WEG has been held outside of Europe, so for most equine competitors this means a grueling journey is endured just days before performing on the world stage. With anywhere between 10-24 hours spent in a plane (depending on departure loacation), 42 hours in quarantine (70% in Cincinnati), and the final trip to Lexington, one should add jet lag to the litany of challenges the horses' health has faced. Upon arrival at the Kentucky Horse Park, horses are examined by the veterinary team to assess how the horses have coped with the travel. Rood and Riddle is providing free blood sample testing, which has provided invaluable information on horses' health status.
In a new environment, horses are susceptible to picking up an infectious disease to which they have never been exposed before. With some 900 horses piled into the one location, the Horse Park is currently a melting pot for a number of viral (e.g., equine influenza), bacterial (e.g., strangles) and protozoal diseases (e.g., piroplasmosis). Measures are in place to reduce exposure to infectious diseases.
Finally, a number of horses require vet care following their exertions on the field. Some horses involved in the more physically demanding disciplines such as endurance and cross-country require rehydration and stabilization. Injuries acquired during competitions such as jumping and cross-country need to be sutured or bandaged. There is a Rood and Riddle clinic on site at the Horse Park for horses that can be treated conservatively. For horses that require more extensive medical or surgical care, they are transported a short distance to the hospital. Once these horses leave the Horse Park, they are not allowed back in, regardless of whether they have competed yet or not. Vet checks are performed in the more strenuous events such as endurance and eventing, and vet officials are constantly monitoring horses. Any horse that appears painful or is not in good enough health to compete is not allowed to proceed in the competition. One theme that rings true at the Horse Park is that the safety and welfare of the horse is paramount.
I have been having the time of my life so far getting to work, in my opinion, in the most exciting facet of veterinary medicine--equine sports medicine. Meanwhile, I've been getting the opportunity to watch world-class competitors in their respective disciplines. What can I say... life is good!