Washington International Horse Show: Showing in the City

There aren't many shows, if any, where horses are stabled on the crowded downtown streets of a major city like they are at the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS), which will take place Oct. 25-30 at Verizon Center, in Washington, D.C. At many shows horses are stabled in tents or permanent stalls at the venue in a pastoral setting with horse-friendly schooling areas and sometimes even hacking trails. But things are a little different at WIHS.

When faced with the "un-horse-friendly" challenges of city showing, which include very limited access to schooling areas, an unusual shipping system (First, horses stage at Prince George's Equestrian Center, in Upper Marlboro, Md., before shipping to Washington D.C. in vans supplied by the show's official carrier, Johnson Horse Transportation), and unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells, what can you do to maintain your horse's health?

Washington International Horse Show

Competing at the Washington International Horse Show requires bringing the horses into the big city.

Stephen G. Soule, VMD, of Wellington, Fla., has been the United States Equestrian Federation show jumping team veterinarian at numerous events around the world, and he was a member of the Veterinary Commission for the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. Additionally, Soule has been the official veterinarian at the WIHS since 1976, and after 35 years of observing show horses stabled in unique conditions, he offered his perspective and advice.

On the positive side, Soule doesn't believe the stabling limitations posed by the WIHS are detrimental to the horse.

"I've seen so few problems over the years that I don't think the horses suffer in any way because of this," he explained. "Plus, they can't be longed or ridden for hours so in a way the horses are fresher."

On the downside, the biggest problem, in Soule's opinion, is transporting horses between Prince George's Equestrian Center and Verizon Center in such a limited time span.

"The logistics of transporting horses and housing of everyone is what I feel poses the greatest amount of difficulty," he explained. ""They may arrive at 10:00 the night before and then have to school at odd hours at night "Then when they are finished competing they have to get back onto a truck and travel back. The grooms, riders, and owners also have to make the commute, so, it's a logistical undertaking."

Further, he said, if a rider has horses competing in different divisions, he or she "may have to split up shifts and have the manpower to deal with that since some will have to stay at Prince George's and others at Verizon Center," he explained. "It needs to be well-orchestrated, so logistically it can be very complicated but (in regards to health) for the horses it's not that detrimental."

To ensure the horses remain as healthy as possible, Soule emphasized the basics: "Make sure to use the appropriate (protective shipping) boots and bandages and recognize that dealing with transporting horses back and forth in such a limited time period may cause them stress."

When (the horses) arrive, grooms and caretakers should be prepared to make the horses as comfortable as possible, as quickly as possible, so they can relax.

An additional consideration for horses competing at the WIHS is the documents required by the Board of Health of the District of Columbia. The Board specifies all horses must arrive on show grounds with proof of a negative Coggins test within the past 12 months of the horse show and a Routine Health Certificate issued within 30 days prior to the event for horses crossing into the District. Both documents must be presented to the show secretary upon arrival, and an official from the District Board of Health is present to inspect all certificates.

The point that Soule emphasized as his major concern was encouraging owners to be prepared for the unexpected.

"If a horse does face an emergency situation you have to be prepared to transport it a fair distance to get to the closest veterinary clinics," he cautioned. That said, he also noted that the horse show has a Humane Equine Aid and Rapid Transport (HEART) Horse Ambulance on site to care for those emergencies and provide emergency transportation if needed.

In case of an emergency, Soule noted that he and the HEART team will help guide the owner and provide the best options based on the situation.

"I always have a lot of information but it can take a little organizing to deal with an emergency," he added.

Additionally, he cautioned that not every horse might be the right choice to take to the WIHS, especially if he or she doesn't handle stressful or different situations well. "Some individuals are better able to adapt than others, and some may not perform as well as they do when they are at a static horse show," Soule explained. "Not being able to warm up the same way they normally do may affect their performance more than their health. For a horse that is idiosyncratic, this might not be the show for those horses."

His best advice: "Plan ahead and be prepared!"

About the Author

Diana De Rosa

Diana De Rosa is a veteran equestrian photojournalist and reporter. She owns a public relations firm called Press Link. She has covered the past six Summer Olympic Games and every World Equestrian Games and has traveled to over 30 countries writing stories and taking photos.

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