Here’s how a team of local equine practitioners oversaw a temporary on-site clinic, a core team of 35 to 70 veterinarians at any given time, and more to keep horses competing at the 2018 World Equestrian Games healthy throughout the event.
Not only did more than 700 horses fly in from around the world for these championships, but also an army of equine veterinarians left their practices and traveled to the TIEC to help ensure horses remained healthy throughout the event. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse
When the last of the equine athletes that competed at the 2018 Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Equestrian Games (WEG) shipped out of North Carolina’s Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) Tuesday night, Sept. 25, the head veterinarians finally took a deep breath.
Tryon Equine Hospital owners and co-veterinary services managers Anne Baskett, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, and Bill Hay, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, as well as FEI veterinary delegate Yves Rosser, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, oversaw a massive veterinary presence during the 12-day, eight-discipline event. They directed a temporary on-site clinic and a core team of 35 to 70 veterinarians at any given time, in addition to all the team vets.
“We were the interface between the arrival quarantine and the USDA, biosecurity, the team veterinarians, and the veterinary commissions,” said Baskett.
This included making sure all vets had access to radiography, ultrasound, endoscopy, treatment supplies, the pharmacy, and the laboratory. They also oversaw a team of equine physiotherapists. Industry partners such as Sound, Abaxis, and Henry Schein contributed their services to the clinic, as well.
“Our job was kind of to make all the moving parts mesh,” she said.
Traffic at the temporary clinic, complete with holding stalls, stocks, and several areas for team veterinarians to conduct diagnostics in private, was steady but routine.
“A lot of horses came up just to have elective fluids (due to the heat),” said Baskett. “We probably had five or six horses a day that had diagnostics done. The Abaxis lab processed 600 samples after horses arrived on the venue, as team veterinarians ensured that horses recovered well from travel. The pharmacy was very busy, too.”
Tryon Equine Hospital, located 15 minutes from TIEC, was available to receive horses as needed. Baskett said only four horses ended up being admitted: two for impactions after flying in (these received fluids and returned to competition), one with a soft tissue injury, and one for dehydration.
Dealing With the Heat
The Carolinas’ characteristic high temperatures in mid-September meant keeping horses cool and hydrated was a top priority.
“The most important thing we did was provide support to the teams and on the field of play, making sure everyone was okay,” said Hay. “But the heat and humidity are something we deal with on a pretty regular basis here.”
During the endurance ride, for instance, officials placed cooling stations with ice and water along the entire route. Eight equine ambulances were at the ready to help horses as needed or give tired mounts a ride back to their barns.
“Those were the days we had about 70 veterinarians involved with horse care,” he said. “They were helping check horses’ status and helping with maintenance of horses. A number of horses did get (intravenous) fluids as part of their normal recovery after a hard ride.
“We did have some horses that were more fatigued, hot, and tired, and they received higher quantities of fluids and supportive care,” he added. “Overall, horses recovered well, got back to their stalls, and were in good shape pretty soon after competition.”
The Carolinas' characteristic high temperatures in mid-September meant keeping horses cool and hydrated was a top priority. Cooling stations and misting fans helped horses stay health and comfortable throughout WEG. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse
Another taxing event affected by heat was the marathon portion of the driving competition.
“We had a cooling tent halfway up the hill in the driving marathon, and the organizers
lengthened the time (the driving horses) could recover,” said Baskett. “The drivers drove into the tent, cooled horses off, and kept going. It was nice to see that people really took advantage of the cooling stations.”
Preventing Disease Spread
Preventing infectious disease outbreaks was another top priority for the veterinarians. For an entire year before the WEG, Baskett, Hay, and their team worked on a biosecurity plan for the horses at the Games. They partnered with internal medicine specialists Paul Lunn, BVSc, MS, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVIM, and Nimet Browne, DVM, MPH, Dipl. ACVIM, from North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, as well as Josh Slater, BVM&S, PhD, Dipl. ECEIM, the equine biosecurity advisor from the past several Olympic Games.
“We had a full biosecurity manual specific to the Tryon venue, isolation stalls, separation of piro and non-piro horses (referring to tick-borne piroplasmosis, a foreign animal disease in the U.S.), and provisions for any horses that came in with or developed fevers,” said Baskett.
Every horse’s temperature was taken twice a day, recorded on stall cards, and collected by veterinarians daily.
“We had a couple of horses that arrived with mild fevers,” said Baskett. “They were kept in isolation areas, monitored for several days, had bloodwork taken, and once they were afebrile (not feverish) they were admitted. Thankfully, we had no problems.”
Diseases veterinarians were primarily on guard for included respiratory viruses such as equine influenza and equine herpesvirus (EHV).
“Even though it’s not an FEI rule, the state of North Carolina mandated that all horses coming to the venue had to be vaccinated for EHV-1 and -4, as well as influenza,” said Baskett. “All the horses were vaccinated with a primary series and a booster before they came.”
Many horses from other countries were positive for piroplasmosis, a disease that’s problematic elsewhere but not considered endemic in the U.S. While these carriers don’t show clinical signs of disease, there’s still a chance they can transmit it to other horses through tick vectors.
Two barns housing piroplasmosis-positive horses were kept separate from the rest of the WEG horse population. “There were a lot of measures implemented to prevent tick spread or presence,” said Baskett. “Those horses were examined every time they went out of their stalls for ticks (which are common in the region). They were sprayed and dewormed, and the premises were sprayed with insecticide.
The fields of play that weren’t in the ring—the endurance, driving marathon, and cross-country courses—had a lot of preventive measures, such as decreased vegetation, to prevent possible spread.”
It Takes a Village
Not only did more than 700 horses fly in from around the world for these championships, but also an army of equine veterinarians.
“I was really impressed by the number of vets that left their practices,” said Hay. “Many of them flew from Europe and around the world to come here and volunteer their time. They really are experts at what they do and were a pleasure to work with.
“I was also impressed at how well the officials worked with the teams as well as the individual competitors to talk about how to modify things, compensate for the heat, and make it a safe experience,” he added. “They had some hard decisions but did the right thing.”
The departure process for horses shipping out of Tryon was fairly straightforward. Some received IV fluids before they shipped, but most are seasoned pros when it comes to domestic and international travel and don’t get too stressed during transit. The heat wave has also broken.
“It’s nice and cool here today—good for traveling,” said Baskett the day after the WEG closing ceremonies. “Fall has shown up for them to ship home.”