A world of vets at the World Equestrian Games

Amber Myers, a Michigan State veterinary student, performed blood work at the Rood & Riddle clinic inside the WEG stables. Students are coming from all over the country to help.
Amber Myers, a Michigan State veterinary student, performed blood work at the Rood & Riddle clinic inside the WEG stables. Students are coming from all over the country to help.

Horses here for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games should not have any trouble finding a veterinarian at the Kentucky Horse Park.

U.S. Department of Agriculture vets, Kentucky state vets, vets from Lexington's Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, Fédération Equestre Internationale vets, volunteer vets, student vets.

"It's the largest equestrian sporting activity that's ever occurred in the U.S." said Dr. Chris Newton of Rood & Riddle, the Games' official veterinary partner. So it is likely to draw one of the largest gatherings of equine vets, as well.

Horse sports are inherently dangerous to both horses and riders; horses have been seriously injured and even died at previous Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Events as well as other equestrian events, so officials want to be prepared.

Newton helped organize the influx of staff necessary to provide free vet services to hundreds of horses — competitors and exhibitors — in Lexington for the 16-day event.

There was no shortage of volunteers.

Another big challenge: covering the costs. Normally, veterinary pharmaceutical companies are eager to sponsor events like this. But the global economic downturn has made finding sponsors much harder, Newton said.

So some things had to be scaled back. Originally, plans called for building a permanent veterinarian treatment structure at the Horse Park as part of the Games' legacy, but the money just wasn't there, he said.

Newton is assisting Dr. Kent Allen of Middleburg, Va., who is coordinator of the WEG veterinary activities. Rood & Riddle is providing many vets, but Allen has tapped others from Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, the other major clinic in Lexington, and from around the country.

Rood & Riddle has set up a full-scale diagnostic clinic at the Horse Park that can treat minor problems. Anything serious will be sent immediately to Rood & Riddle's hospital campus on Georgetown Road, a few miles away, where they have multiple operating rooms.

100 vets a day

Vets and nurses are staffing the Horse Park clinic almost around the clock.

"They want them to be there so they can provide immediate support for any horse that may need attention," said Dr. Tom Riddle. His specialty is reproductive veterinary medicine, but as a big sport horse fan, he's looking forward to the jumping competition.

Starting with the arrival of horses on Sept. 10, eight to 10 vets, including surgeons, began staffing the center at all times.

That's just the beginning.

Veterinary students from across the country — 52 in all — are coming to help out, and pick up a lot of extra credit at after-hours lectures.

Some of the students, along with U.S. Department of Agriculture and Kentucky state vets, will have the important task of tick-detection. They will be hand-searching (literally with a fine-toothed comb) piroplasmosis-positive horses for ticks each time they exit and enter the stable and grazing areas to ensure the blood-borne infectious disease is not transmitted to other horses.

A vet and a horse ambulance are at each venue at the Horse Park.

On high-risk days, such as the eventing cross-country phase and the combined driving marathon, dozens of vets will be stationed all over the park: at every jump, at every obstacle, and on each leg of the 100-mile endurance route.

That's in addition to the team vets many countries will bring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Kentucky Department of Agriculture vets to monitor for infectious diseases, and the FEI vets there to handle drug testing and regulatory enforcement.

All told, there may be 100 vets at the park each day.

Tight security

Security at the horse stables is extremely tight.

"One issue they deal with in events like this is medication control. Access to the horses is very restricted," Riddle said. That's designed to protect the horses and the riders alike.

"A disaster would occur if someone went in and administered a medication that shouldn't be (given). ... They have to be extremely careful that anyone who enters the horses' grounds is supposed to be there, is qualified to be there."

The clinic also capitalized on the critical mass of vets and sport horse enthusiasts with seminars for the public at the Horse Park during the Games.

If everything goes as planned, the vets will have plenty of time for chatting because there will be no big emergencies.

The best-case scenario, as far as WEG is concerned, would be a bunch of over-prepared vets with very little to do.

"Obviously, this is the first time it's ever been in the United States, and I'm hopeful they're going to be so pleased with the way this goes that it won't be a once-in-a-lifetime event for me," Riddle said.