Penn Vet Cardiologist to Compete in Pan Am Games

Meg Sleeper, VMD, chief of the section of cardiology at University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) is at the top of her game. She has been teetering between first and second in the nation, and was second in the world for a time as well. Sleeper hopes to solidify her standing at the top of the pinnacle when she rides in the Pan American Games, Oct. 22 in Chile.

Sleeper, who was featured on's Ask The Vet LIVE session on conditioning horses, competes in what could be considered the marathon of equestrian sports, endurance riding. It's a long distance horse race that covers up to 100 miles. In Chile the ride will be 75 miles and Sleeper says competitors will probably average 11-12 miles an hour to finish in six hours.

"It's basically a canter the whole time over rolling terrain," she explains, There are four to five veterinary checkpoints along the way to evaluate the condition of the horses. Conditioning is a key element of the discipline, and at recent competition in North Carolina, Sleeper's horse was awarded top-conditioned horse.

Cadie, Sleeper's mount for the games, is an eight-year-old Arabian mare that Sleeper bred herself at her Frenchtown, N.J. farm. She's a petite gray that Sleeper says, "is very opinionated. She feels that I should just be quiet and sit there, and she will make it happen. I like to be able to pace her, though. She can be very strong in the beginning."

Training is a challenge for Sleeper, a clinician, associate professor, and a researcher at Penn Vet. Though her research and clinical work at Penn Vet's Matthew J. Ryan Hospital on the Penn campus is focused primarily on dogs and cats, her special interest in cardiovascular disease is closely related to the conditioning work that is required of a successful endurance competitor.

Sleeper's husband Dave Augustine helps enormously with the training and plays the crucial role of groom and right hand man at competitions. Sleeper also cross trains the mare in the sport of dressage.

"The training is a keystone for us because it develops balance and core strength in the horse, which protects them from injuries over the miles of conditioning and competition. It has also greatly improved my riding," she said

The Pan Am Games are held every four years in North, Central, or South America and though Sleeper has qualified before, she has never been able to go on her own horse. The cost was just too prohibitive. This time, however, she and her husband decided to go for it, and are reaching out to supporters to help make the $16,000 trip possible.

"The support has been heartwarming," she said. "Without it, this trip wouldn't be possible."

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