Emergency Veterinary Care at Horse Shows

Most horse show emergencies are able to be cared for on-site, but if a crisis develops, the horse should be stabilized and transported to a full-care facility, according to Rick Mitchell, DVM, of Fairfield Equine Associates in Newtown, Conn. He presented during the in-depth session on emergency care at the 2008 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention, held Dec. 6-10 in San Diego, Calif.


Watch a video interview on show horse health with Dr. Rick Mitchell.
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An on-grounds clinic facility should be clean, well-lighted, and have good ventilation, running water, and electricity. It should be stocked with supplies typical of an equine practice, including diagnostic equipment (i.e., radiography and ultrasound units). This facility provides a place where clients can find the veterinarian, while giving them a quiet place to work. It might be necessary to arrange such a building with the organizing committee and show management prior to the show. Personnel at a nearby referral hospital should be contacted in advance to provide care if an injury or illness exceeds the scope of available horse show care. There should be some means of emergency transport available, with a select group of personnel trained in dealing with emergency situations.

Major concerns at horse shows are typically minor medical issues, such as hives, and it is necessary to know the medication rules of the sport so a horse has the chance to compete if the problem can be resolved quickly. The owner and trainer usually have a significant emotional and financial investment in seeing the horse participate in a competition. Medication and emergency treatment reports might need to be filed and permission obtained from the Veterinary Delegate and signed off on by the Ground Jury at Fèdèration Equestre Internationale (FEI) competitions.

Other common medical problems include the horse that is ill or not quite right on arrival, becomes dehydrated, has colic, trauma, or a laceration, or suffers a musculoskeletal injury. Many show horses are presented to the show veterinarian with a mild to moderate lameness for which it is important to rule out cellulitis (a diffuse bacterial infection of the skin and associated tissues) or dermatitis.

Mitchell pointed out that many show horses are continuously on the road and subject to transport stress and problems related to irregular feeding schedules. At FEI events an arrival exam is required to identify and isolate sick horses. The job of the show vet is also to evaluate if any trauma or illness renders a horse unfit to compete, then to advise the owner/trainer of an appropriate course of action.

During competition an ambulance should be located near the arena, supplied with instant ice packs, battlefield and elastic bandages, and other necessary veterinary supplies that allow for rapid intervention. Mitchell stressed that good service can be provided regardless of available facilities if a horse show veterinarian is prepared.

About the Author

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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