Ohio State Veterinarian Faces Familiar Challenges at 2008 Olympics

Catherine Kohn, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at The Ohio State University, will be part of a multinational team of veterinarians caring for horses competing at the 2008 Olympics.

While thousands of athletes, spectators, and staff will converge upon Beijing for the majority of the sporting events, Kohn's team will be stationed 1,240 miles south in Hong Kong, where the eventing equestrian competition is held, including the dressage, cross-country, and show jumping events.

"I am an advocate for horses," said Kohn, whose team will provide veterinary care to hundreds of horses competing in the games. This marks her fifth Olympic games, including Los Angeles (1984), Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000), and Athens (2004). Now, Kohn is facing her biggest Olympic challenge yet: Hong Kong's humidity.
"The conditions in Hong Kong are very challenging because of the humidity," she said. "And although horses and people can acclimate to heat, no one has ever demonstrated that there's any way to acclimate to humidity. This is an extremely challenging environment."

But Kohn is no rookie when it comes to caring for horses in extreme conditions.

"Before the Atlanta Olympics, there was a lot of concern about whether it would be so hot that the horses wouldn't be able to compete safely," she said.

Prior to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Kohn and an international team of veterinarians conducted research on how to improve horse welfare at the games. Two events--roads and tracks and steeplechase--are no longer part of the three-day event, since they were shown to cause heat exhaustion in some of the horses.

Each year prior to the Olympics, veterinarians from their countries' respective equestrian federations are required to send horses to the event location and monitor their performance. Last summer, about ten different countries sent horses and veterinarians to Hong Kong to conduct studies on how the horses performed in the hot and humid temperatures.  

"We had a protocol for sampling the horses and monitoring them, and all the international researchers participated by making their data available to Ohio State for analysis," said Kohn, who presented the information at the 2008 Fédération Equestre Internationale annual meeting February in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The research showed that even with the extreme temperatures and humidity, the horses would be able to compete in the 2008 Olympics because of the state-of-the-art facilities available at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

"The facilities are so good that our research was able to convince people to go who otherwise wouldn't have gone," she said. "And there's no question that it will be challenging, and that's partly why I'm going because I have experience and have helped troubleshoot in these areas."

Her duties at Hong Kong include being on call to aid the horses during the competitions, supervising the loading and unloading of horses to and from the airport, providing medical support in the stables, and a multitude of tasks that might arise.

Kohn works in the Galbreath Equine Center at Ohio State where her clinical area of study is equine internal medicine. She left for Hong Kong Wednesday and will arrive with the international staff in preparation for the horses' arrival. Equestrian events at the 2008 Olympics begin Aug. 9.--Eric House

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