Olympic Workshop Reviews Horse Health Concerns

"Horses will be better cared for than the human athletes at the equestrian Olympic Games in Hong Kong this summer," said International Olympic Committee Medical Director Patrick Schamasch, MD, at the end of the pre-Olympic Workshop held by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) Feb. 17 in Lausanne, Switzerland. A total of 160 delegates from 25 national federations attended the event.

Presenters highlighted systems and protocol designed to protect the equine members of the equestrian partnerships during the event. They included:

  • Setting the scene--John McEwen BVMS, MRCVS, Chairman of the FEI Veterinary Committee;
  • Overview of facilities and local arrangements--Chris Riggs BVSc, PhD, DEO, Dipl. ECVS, MRCVS, head of Veterinary Clinical Services, Hong Kong Jockey Club;
  • Understanding the weather situation in Hong Kong for the Olympic Games--the results of a two year study with the Hong Kong Observatory--Professor Leo Jeffcott MA, BVetMed, PhD, FRCVS, DVSc, VetMedDr, University of Sydney, Australia, veterinary delegate for the 2008 Olympic Games;
  • Air conditioned facilities and cooling stations--David Marlin BSc (Hons.) PhD, David Marlin Consulting Ltd, Newmarket, U.K.;
  • Results of horse monitoring--Catherine W. Kohn VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, professor, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences The Ohio State University, U.S.;
  • Horse transportation logistics--Martin H. Atock, managing director, Peden Bloodstock, Leyenburg, Rheurdt, Germany.

Martin Atock, from the official horse transportation agents Peden Bloodstock, said the horses should arrive in Hong Kong in great shape.

"When we flew horses to Sydney we had two technical stops but they flew well," Atock said. "They were relaxed before traveling, having spent 14 days in quarantine and there is no reason why they won't travel to Hong Kong just as easily. If you stick to the rules and take the advice you are being given they should arrive safely and comfortably."

The series of presentations allayed fears about the challenge presented by Hong Kong's sub-tropical climate. Andrew Higgins, BVetMed, MSc, PhD, MRCVS, chairman of the FEI's Welfare Sub-Committee, said "information is available and documented and if there is anything you don't understand or can't find then you only have to ask and the FEI will be more than happy to answer your questions. Follow regulations, and when in Hong Kong follow the biosecurity measures--we are importing healthy horses so let's keep them healthy!"

Prof. Leo Jeffcott, MA, BVetMed, PhD, FRCVS, DVSc, VetMedDr, veterinary delegate to the 2008 Games, emphasized the need for rider understanding of the conditions.

"We don't want to make you complacent," Jeffcott said. "This is a great venue but we also need a great effort to ensure success and that includes responsible riding in these conditions. Horses must not be over-stretched and should be really fit--if we don't have responsible riding then everything we have put in place will come to nothing."

FEI President HRH Princess Haya reviewed the workshop, stating: "We are unique in our sport because horses and riders are equal partners but the horses cannot speak for themselves and therefore we must protect them in every way we can. Today's workshop has been very important because it is about communicating what we have learned over a number of years--information that can help all of those coming to Hong Kong this summer to be fully informed so that they can be prepared and give their very best."

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