Emergency Preparedness for Eventing

Successful eventing horses possess unique traits and temperaments. They must be supple and well-mannered for dressage, strong, bold, and aggressive for the cross-country phase, and fit and balanced for stadium jumping. Kent Allen, DVM, of Virginia Equine Imaging, discussed the triathlon of equestrian sports--eventing--during the in-depth emergency care session at the 2008 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention, held Dec. 6-10 in San Diego, Calif.

In general, event horses are subject to tendon and ligament injuries, lacerations and trauma, hyperthermia (overheating), hypoxia (low oxygen), tying-up, electrolyte depletion, exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, and other speed-related problems.

For eventing, the FEI (Fèdèration Equestre Internationale) is the worldwide rule maker, and the Technical Delegate, Veterinary Delegate, and the Ground Jury with its President execute specialized duties for the organization. The Veterinary Delegate acts in cooperation with Ground Jury members, who serve as judges at the competition. The jobs of the Veterinary Delegate are to advocate for the horse, determine if horses are "fit to continue" in soundness and metabolic health; implement passport control, medication control, and advice; attend to necessary paperwork; and plan for emergencies.

While an event veterinarian should be ringside at all times, this is often difficult since there might be multiple rings or phases going on at any given moment. It is important to know drug and medication information to comply with United States Equestrian Federation (national governing body, USEF) and FEI regulations. If unsure of a drug rule, the event veterinarian should contact the USEF office so they only give accurate information to a competitor.

It should be decided in advance who will cover emergencies during the day or night where on-site 24-hour care is required. All vets and personnel should be briefed in advance of the competition, with zones designating where each veterinarian will be stationed on the cross country course. This allows each vet to become familiar with the assigned zone and to figure out how to safely move around the course to attend a horse. Organizers should determine how many trucks will be on course, and each vet should know where to go and when. Veterinarians and other officials driving on course must apply caution when riders are on course to avoid a collision. At some large competitions there is a single veterinarian who is responsible solely for communications to direct everyone safely.


Duncan Peters discusses horse safety at Rolex Event

Interview with Dr. Duncan Peters on event horse safety (April 24, 2008)
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For ambulance transport, ramp trailers are best to assist a standing, but injured, horse with loading. An ambulance capable of moving a recumbent (down) horse should be available. Veterinary officials should know the location of a referral hospital ahead of time, and they should make provisions for an extra ambulance to be on course while the other is involved with a patient.

The most serious issue on course at events is rotational falls, which happen when a horse hits a fixed obstacle between the knee and shoulder and somersaults over the jump. According to the presentation, these falls come with a 25% chance of rider injury and as much as a 60% chance of the horse incurring a serious fracture around the head and neck, with the possibility of acute death.

Staff should be trained beforehand on managing removal of a recumbent horse. Adequate screens, sleds, or a flatbed trailer should be on hand to handle this as delicately as possible. In an effort to reduce injuries, research is currently under way to develop frangible or collapsible jumps and "logs" made of Styrofoam.

About the Author

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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