Vet Preparations in Progress for World Equestrian Games

While the attention of most equine enthusiasts was turned to Hong Kong for the equestrian events of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, preparations were well under way for the next major international equine competition: the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG).

The World Equestrian Games are the championships of the eight equestrian disciplines recognized by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) and are held every four years. The 2010 Games at the Kentucky Horse Park mark the first time the event will be held outside of Europe, and it's also the first Games to include all eight disciplines at a single site.

With just two years to go, many of the plans to keep both the competing and local horses healthy are in their final stages.

Kent Allen, DVM, is serving as WEG's veterinary coordinator. Allen brings years of experience to the job, having served as the team veterinarian for the U.S. Equestrian Team and as vice-chairman of the FEI Veterinary Committee. Allen was the veterinary coordinator for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and was the foreign veterinary delegate for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

But nothing he's done rivals the scale of the upcoming WEG.

"An Olympics is a small horse show compared to this."
--Dr. Kent Allen
"An Olympics is a small horse show compared to this," Allen said. "It's the scope and the scale of the (Games) that's daunting. As I've learned from working on all sides of it as a team veterinarian, veterinary coordinator, and a veterinary delegate, the level of complexity increases logarithmically with the number of horses involved."

With an estimated 800 horses descending on Lexington, Ky., from all corners of the world, WEG 2010 will require the largest airlift of competition horses ever completed.

Although details have yet to be finalized, Allen said the bulk of the quarantine will likely take place at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Officials with WEG, USDA, and the State of Kentucky will work together to process the competition horses coming in from Western Europe, which will make up the largest group of equine athletes. These horses will require a two- to three-day quarantine period.

Horses from other areas of the world will travel through one of the established USDA import centers in Miami, Los Angeles, or Newark, N.J., where they will remain for longer quarantine periods, depending on where they're coming from.

Once horses clear quarantine and arrive at the Kentucky Horse Park, a cadre of around 150 veterinarians, including both local volunteers and specialists with discipline-specific expertise, will be available to see to the animals' needs.

Veterinarians will be able to work out of the World Equestrian Games Veterinary Clinic. The clinic is jointly sponsored by Rood & Riddle Veterinary Hospital and Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, and it is in the final stages of planning.

According to Allen, this clinic will be a permanent legacy facility and will offer diagnostics, basic outpatient care, and a quiet, organized area for veterinarians to work. He expects it will be up and running in time for the 2010 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Proposed outdoor stadium

Artistic rendering of the outdoor stadium.

As well as the obvious construction underway at the host site, the Kentucky Horse Park, other work is underway to keep--not just the competitors--but the state and country's horses healthy.

Equine health officials have been working since 2002 to balance international equine competition with the threat of foreign disease equine piroplasmosis (EP). Piroplasmosis is a tick-borne disease caused by two parasites, Babesia caballi and B. equi. The parasites are able to hitch a ride on certain ticks, in which they can amplify, thus creating the potential for spread to horses.

Piroplasmosis occurs through much of the world. Areas not considered endemic include the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, England, Iceland, and Ireland. Horses that get EP might have a fever, anemia, jaundice, hemoglobinuria, central nervous system disturbances, and they sometimes die. But most infected horses are less severely affected and might show few or no clinical signs. These horses might carry the parasites for prolonged periods, during which they are potential sources of infection.

To prevent EP from entering the country, the USDA currently tests all imported horses for antibodies during quarantine. Horses with antibodies to B. caballi and/or B. equi are not allowed entry into the United States.

But in the scope of international competition, it's inevitable that some qualifying horses will also carry these antibodies.

The United States has in the past granted waivers for horses positive for EP to enter for events such as the 1984 and 1996 Summer Olympics. However, EP-positive horses were not allowed to participate in events that would involve prolonged exposure to vegetation and opportunity for tick attachment--such as the now rarely used long format (roads and tracks) phase of eventing.

One of the eight disciplines included in the World Equestrian Games, endurance riders and their mounts trek for miles, often ranging far into the countryside. The ability to host this discipline (and other field events) was crucial to the proposal to bring the Games to the United States for the first time.

The World Games 2010 Foundation, USDA, State of Kentucky, and FEI are working on the issue. Tick surveys, including drag sampling, mammal trapping, and C02 trapping, are ongoing on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park and surrounding areas.

According to Rusty Ford, equine manager for the office of the State Veterinarian Robert Stout, DVM, and Allen, specific recommendations relating to tick control and quarantine are expected to be released later this autumn.

"Our overall goal is to make sure that we make the competition safe and that we allow as many horses to compete as possible, and yet we make sure we maintain the integrity of the USDA quarantine so that piroplasmosis would never become an issue in the state of Kentucky," Allen stated.

While this might seem to be a daunting task, Allen is not going it alone. Between World Games staff, the USDA and Kentucky State vet, veterinarians, and volunteers, he says he's confident this is all going to come together to provide "a tremendous shot in the arm to the U.S. equestrian community."

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.

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