At Olympic Games' End, Vets Breathe Sighs of Relief

With the 2008 Paralympic equestrian events set to begin Sept. 7 and the Paralympic horses already settled in the climate-controlled stables at Sha Tin, the veterinarians' task isn't over yet. But Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) Foreign Veterinary Delegate Leo Jeffcott, MA, BVetMed, PhD, FRCVS, DVSc, VetMedDr, FEI Veterinary Commission President Nigel Nichols, BVSc, and their colleagues must feel as if their greatest challenge is behind them.

The demands of Olympic-level competition, combined with Hong Kong's subtropical climate and the arduous journey required for most horses, placed unprecedented scrutiny on the veterinary and management measures taken to help ensure horses' well-being at the 2008 Games. Riders, team veterinarians, and officials alike said they were pleased with the Hong Kong Jockey Club's spacious, air-conditioned stables; state-of-the-art veterinary clinic; convenient access to the club's full-service equine hospital; and additional cooling measures, including the world's first Olympic-sized air-conditioned indoor arena, roomy misting tents, and numerous stationary and mobile ice and chilled-water stations.

Even Beas River, the location of the eventing cross-country course, about 30 minutes from the main competition venue at Sha Tin, was equipped with a temporary veterinary clinic containing four stalls, an exam area, an anesthetic-recovery box, and IV-fluid lines and with computed radiography, ultrasonography, and endoscopy available on site; plus, of course, copious cooling facilities.

"From the veterinary perspective, the equestrian Olympics were a huge success and a great tribute to the many people who assisted in its complex organization."
--Dr. Leo Jeffcott
Painstaking organization was the hallmark of these Olympics' equine management. Example: the choreographed, police-escorted, roads-closed-to-other-traffic transport of the eventing horses from Sha Tin to Beas River.

Veterinarians' tasks were eased by the fact that Mother Nature was largely cooperative. The region's notorious typhoons bracketed the Olympic schedule but did not affect the competition. Cross-country day was as ideal as Hong Kong in August can be: overcast, with temperatures in the 70s and low 80s and largely undampened by rain. Over the 12 days of Olympic competition, most horses left the ring looking unsapped, despite unflagging humidity.

"Incidents" were rare. A handful of horses did not pass their pre-competition veterinary inspections, and it was later revealed that Mythilus, the mount of U.S. dressage rider Courtney King-Dye, suffered from transport-stress-induced atrial fibrillation on arrival but was successfully treated and pronounced fit to compete.

Keymaster, a Swedish eventing horse, fractured the first phalanx of his right foreleg Aug. 11 while on cross-country and underwent a successful surgery the following day. The surgeon, Olympic head treating veterinarian Jack Snyder, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, of the University of California, Davis, later treated Brazilian jumping mare Ad Picolien for an inflamed bursa in a hind leg. Ad Picolien is expected to make a full recovery but was withdrawn from Olympic competition.

We caught up with Jeffcott this week, while he was enjoying a short time at home in Sydney, Australia, before heading back to Hong Kong for the Paralympics.

"From the veterinary perspective, the equestrian Olympics were a huge success and a great tribute to the many people who assisted in its complex organization," Jeffcott stated in an e-mail message. "The environment in Hong Kong was always going to be difficult, but with the best veterinary facilities ever provided for the Games and surprisingly good weather for competition, the horses performed exceptionally well."

About the Author

Jennifer O. Bryant

Jennifer O. Bryant is editor-at-large of the U.S. Dressage Federation's magazine, USDF Connection. An independent writer and editor, Bryant contributes to many equestrian publications, has edited numerous books, and authored Olympic Equestrian. More information about Jennifer can be found on her site,

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