The Olympic Veterinary Clinic: It's All in the Details

Olympic veterinary services manager Christopher Riggs, BVSc, PhD, DEO, DipECVS, MRCVS, led a group of foreign media representatives through the impressive Olympic veterinary clinic and facilities at the Sha Tin Racecourse, host to all competition except for the eventing cross-country. Riggs was a few minutes late in meeting the Aug. 15 tour group, having just returned from the Hong Kong airport, where the first group of horses (mostly eventers) had already been transported for the trip home.

Riggs is a native of Great Britain and a veterinary orthopedic surgeon by trade. About five and a half years ago, the Hong Kong Jockey Club hired him as its head of veterinary clinical services. When the 2008 Olympic equestrian events were moved from Beijing to Hong Kong three years ago, Riggs assumed the position of Olympic veterinary services manager.

Dr. Riggs leads a tour of the Olympic veterinary clinic

Olympic vet-services manager Dr. Christopher Riggs leading journalists on a tour of the veterinary clinic. He's in one of the spacious exam rooms, complete with padded stanchion, well-equipped diagnostic and treating supplies (left), digital radiography equipment (not pictured), and state-of-the-art General Electric Logiq diagnostic ultrasonic equipment (at right).

A small laboratory enables clinic veterinarians to conduct blood, urine, and hydration tests on site--not only for "doping test" purposes but also as important regular measures of horses' health.

The clinic, which was constructed as part of the Olympic venue, contains seven treatment stalls equipped with lines for administering intravenous fluids or medications. If a horse is sick or hurt enough to warrant full-fledged hospitalization, an equine ambulance stands ready to transport him the 3 kilometers (a little less than 2 miles) to the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Equine Hospital, with its state-of-the-art facilities. The surgical procedures performed on horses at these Games took place at this hospital. (The hospital was not included as part of the clinic tour.)

A neat and fully stocked dispensary contains drugs, medications, supplements, bandages, and other veterinary supplies--and no, they're not given out for free. Teams pay for what they use, and they're also billed for veterinary and pathology services. (These being the Olympic Games, Visa credit cards are the preferred method of payment.)

Farriery supplies available for the Olympic horses

Just some of the extensive farriery supplies.

Lose a shoe? Step into the roomy, air-conditioned farriery tent, erected adjacent to and accessible through the clinic building. With a full selection of shoes and complete equipment--two gas forges, two anvils, two drills, a tapping head, an electric grinder/finisher, two work benches, an arc welder, and a complete set of shoeing tools--head event farrier Ian Hughes and his "deputy," Kelvin Lymer (as Lymer put it laughingly), stand ready to assist with every shoeing need. Individual team farriers may use the facility by appointment, although only the largest and most well-heeled teams import their own farriers, Hughes said. Most teams rely on the in-house farriers; naturally, all have their farriers back home shoe their horses before they leave for the Games so as to minimize the chances that they'll need farriery attention in the midst of competition.

Every floor surface throughout the clinic is paved with nonslip rubber matting to help ensure horses' safety, and of course there's A/C throughout. The Olympic vet clinic is bright, airy, spotlessly clean, and ready for any healthcare need that might arise, large or small. Along with nearly everything else at these Games, it's earned rave reviews from teams and officials, who praise the Hong Kong Jockey Club's attention to detail, consideration of expert input, and eagerness to ensure the welfare of the Olympic horses.

Don't miss award-winning equestrian journalist Jennifer Bryant Olympic Equestrian blog. She will be giving us behind-the-scenes looks and glimpses of what's happening at the Olympic equestrian events.

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,

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More