Keeping the WEG Healthy

Lexington-area veterinarians prepare to keep the World Equestrian Games horses healthy.

In all horse sports equine welfare is paramount. But the major international championships present the most horse-health challenges and also attract the most scrutiny. No other equestrian competition involves the transport of more horses, from all corners of the globe, to a single location than the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Equestrian Games (WEG).

An Olympic Games features three equestrian sports or "disciplines"; the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games Sept. 25-Oct. 10 in Lexington, Ky., will, for the first time, feature eight. That's an estimated 800 to 900 horses traveling from nations with unique disease profiles and challenges to the United States, a nation with its own unique disease profile and challenges.

The objective, of course, is to make sure the horses are healthy when they leave their home countries and that they don't introduce any foreign diseases to American equines; to keep all of the horses healthy and sound during the competition; and to send the foreigners home without any unwelcome souvenirs in the form of U.S.-based diseases.

To that end, FEI-appointed veterinary officials and a phalanx of Lexington's finest equine practitioners are working to ensure the 2010 WEG is uneventful, at least from the horse-health standpoint.

The Supporting Players

The cradle of the U.S. Thoroughbred industry, Lexington, Ky., is blessed with world-renowned equine hospitals and -veterinarians--assets that no doubt helped Lexington win the WEG. And the facility that's going to feature most prominently during these Games is Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, the 2010 WEG's official equine hospital and veterinary partner.

"We were approached by Alltech (the 2010 WEG title sponsor) and asked to be a sponsor," says N. Chris Newton, DVM, a partner in Rood & Riddle. "We're awfully excited to be involved, and we will have a pretty dominant presence."

Some of the Rood & Riddle veterinarians have taken on specific roles pertaining to the upcoming Games. Newton, for one, will offer support in the stable area and help organize the placement of the treating veterinarians. Assisting with organization will be Newton's colleague, Frederick B. Peterson, VMD, who will handle the scheduling of officials and ensure the necessary equine ambulances, medications, equipment, and personnel are where they're supposed to be.

Peterson understands the planning and effort required to manage the WEG's veterinary needs, having organized the veterinary support for the 2010 WEG test events. (Each of the eight disciplines held a dress rehearsal of sorts, called a test event, at the Kentucky Horse Park, site of the WEG.)

"The biggest challenge was the endurance trial," says Peterson. The planned 100-mile ride had to be shortened by 25 miles when heavy rain turned the course to slop. It was held in exactly one year before WEG; test event organizers hoped for typical Kentucky fall weather but instead got temperatures that fell into the 40s instead of the usual 60s and 70s. The ensuing slipping and sliding of horses in the muddy conditions kept Peterson and his crew of 23 veterinarians hopping, treating various injuries.

"But as they say in Kentucky, if you don't like the weather, wait a day and it will change," says Peterson. He and his fellow ve-terinarians are prepared for the climatic extremes that can occur during a shoulder season: September and October in Lexington can bring everything from the chilly, raw weather of the endurance test event to summerlike conditions, with high humidity, potential thunderstorms, and the mercury hitting 90, he says.

In Case of Emergency

There is no existing veterinary clinic at the Kentucky Horse Park. But if a WEG horse needs immediate attention, services must be available. The 2010 WEG organizers had hoped for the construction of an actual clinic at the Horse Park, but "that got scrapped due to the economy," according to Peterson. Instead, a temporary clinic will be set up for the event.

The veterinary center will feature two ultrasound units and other diagnostic equipment, plus "two surgeons there 24/7 on a rotational basis," says Peterson. "We should be able to do most anything there." Should a case require the aid of a full-service equine hospital, the patient will be transported to a nearby facility (Rood & Riddle, unless the person responsible for the horse--generally the rider or driver--requests otherwise, says Newton).

Located just 4.7 miles from the Horse Park, Rood & Riddle is a quick trip by equine ambulance. Newton, for one, is uncon-cerned about potential increased volume at the already busy hospital.

"We have a staff of more than 150," he says. And yes, all hands will be on deck during WEG, he adds. "We have the capability to handle five to seven extreme emergencies at a single time. It would be extremely atypical of a WEG to have more than one or two emergencies at a time."

Import, Export, and Disease Control

As discussed in the August issue, this year's WEG represents "the largest airlift [of horses] since World War II, and the largest single importation of horses ever into North America," according to Newton.

The South American horses will enter the U.S. via Miami, where they'll spend a week in quarantine. The Australian and New Zealand horses will spend their quarantine in Los Angeles, while those coming from Europe, Russia, and Asia will all depart via Europe and land at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Ky., about 80 miles north of Lexington., where they will spend a minimum 42 hours in an on-site quarantine facility before shipping to the Kentucky Horse Park.

Even after arrival at the Horse Park, some horses still will be kept in a quarantine of sorts, Newton says. For instance, stallions and mares coming from Europe and other parts of the world affected by the sexually transmitted disease contagious equine metritis (CEM)--a disease not found in the U.S. horse population--will enter the facility via a designated CEM quarantine area, Newton says.

Another non-native disease that officials don't want establishing a foothold in the U.S. is equine piroplasmosis, a tick-borne protozoal infection.

"We just recently in the U.S. had our first outbreak, in the Texas area," Newton says. "Multiple horses tested positive, but that's been nipped.

"Any horse (at WEG) that tests positive will be confined to a special stabling and grazing area, which will be heavily treated for ticks," he continues. "Horses will be constantly surveyed for ticks."

Other cautionary measures against piroplasmosis include the mowing of course paths before the endurance and eventing cross-country competitions and the prohibition of dogs from Horse Park grounds to further guard against ticks being introduced, Newton says.

Education and Promotion

Rood & Riddle is teaming with Alltech and with the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP, also based in Lexington) to produce two seminars, one for veterinary practitioners and another for horse owners, Newton says.

A professional-level symposium, "Promoting Peak Performance in Equine Athletes," will be held in Lexington Sept. 22-24. Horse owners, riders, and nonveterinary professionals are invited to register to attend the seminar "The Winning Edge: Promoting Peak Performance in the Equine Athlete," (of which The Horse is a sponsor) Sept. 24 in Lexington. Topics include shoeing, adopting and retraining the ex-racehorse, the FEI drugs and medications rules, and equine joint health.

Seminar registration is $75 online before Sept. 7 and $90 (on-site only) thereafter. For more information or to register, visit

If you'll be in town for WEG, you're also invited to take a tour of the Rood & Riddle facility (registration required, and tour-group size is limited). One-hour tours will be held twice daily during the WEG. The $5 ticket cost benefits the Kentucky Equine Humane Center and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation. For more information and to purchase tour tickets, visit

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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