Paralympic Horses Stay Healthy in Hong Kong

The Olympic horses and riders might have left the equestrian venue last month, but the lights at the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Sha Tin facility are only now beginning to dim, as the Paralympic Games came to a close only a couple weeks ago.

The 2008 Games included 73 athletes and 71 horses from 28 countries and regions, participating in five days of competition. Gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded for team dressage, individual dressage tests, and individual freestyle dressage.

This year marked a milestone in Paralympic competitions, as the events were formally associated with the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) for the first time. FEI Foreign Veterinary Delegate Leo Jeffcott, MA, BVetMed, PhD, FRCVS, DVSc, VetMedDr, had a quick break between the Games before returning to Hong Kong to keep an eye on the Paralympic horses. While Jeffcott has officiated at six Olympic Games, this was his first Paralypmic experience.

"There was a very relaxed atmosphere throughout the 5-day competition period, and the athletes, horses and officials all seemed to enjoy the whole experience immensely," Jeffcott said. "The riders enthralled the the spectators with their enthusiasm and outstanding performances."

Bettina Eistel

Germany's Bettina Eistel and her horse Fabuleux picked up an individual bronze.

According to a statement circulated by the FEI, more than 30,000 spectators attended the events.

Jeffcott's job started when the horses began to arrive.

"There were five horses that did not travel as well as the other 66 Paralympic horses arriving in Hong Kong in late August," Jeffcott noted. "They spiked temperatures, were somewhat dehydrated, inappetant, and exhibited respiratory signs. The horses were monitored very closely by the Treating Vet team and treated successfully with fluids, antibiotics and NSAID medication."

The Vet Commsission and President of the Ground Jury agreed to complete the necessary medication paperwork so that these horses would still be able to compete within the medication control program, which was also being instituted for the first time at a Paralympics. All of these horses recovered fully in time to pass the vet inspection Sept. 5, and one even went on to win two medals.

The horse inspection presented a slightly different challenge than that faced by vets at the Olympic Games. While all horses were ultimately accepted, four displayed slight lameness that caused some concern. However, Jeffcott said the vets weighed this with the demands of the horses were realistically going to face in competition, as some mounts were only required to walk, and some only to walk and trot, depending upon the rider's grade.

One horse was passed after vets discussed the case, but was then withdrawn by its team after it competed in one event.

Lee Pearson

Britain's Lee Pearson has won nine gold medals between three Paralympic Games, on three different horses.

"Its action was not considered to be completely satisfactory," Jeffcott explained. "The Vet Commission re-examined the horse the next morning and confirmed a persistent right hind lameness . The team agreed to withdraw the horse from further competition, and Dr. Chris Riggs, Veterinary Services Manager, then carried out a detailed examination and provided rexcommendations on future management of the horse."

Overall, competition went smoothly, and the run of good weather enjoyed by the Olympic athletes carried through the Paralympic Games as well. While Jeffcott said the conditions were hot, competition was limited to early morning and evening hours to minimize stress on the horses and athletes.

"The horses managed these conditions very well and were able to be cooled in the efficient shade tents with cooled water and misting fans after they competed and before they returned to their air-conditioned boxes," Jeffcott noted. "The stabling and veterinary facilities were top class and probably the best that the Paralympics have ever experienced."

You can read more about the Paralympics and see photos from competition and behind-the-scenes via the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Web site.  

The FEI also launched a new Web site to cover the 2008 Paralympic equestrian events in Hong Kong.

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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