We must speak for the horse, says endurance vet

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The growing prize money on offer in endurance has led to a fierce rise in competitiveness, which has  increased the risk to horses, delegates to an international endurance veterinary conference ahead of the World Equestrian Games were told.

Veterinarian Dr Martha Misheff, in her opening remarks at the day-long International Endurance Veterinary Conference (IVEC) in North Carolina, said it was incumbent upon veterinarians to speak for the horse.

The conference, near Tryon, drew nearly 100 veterinarians and other endurance professionals from about 20 countries, including Europe, Middle East, South Africa, Northern and Southern America and Australia.

Misheff, a US equine surgeon living in the United Arab Emirates and a member of the FEI veterinary committee, told delegates: “We mustn’t forget the horse; because it is the horse to which we owe our careers, and the many opportunities with which we have been provided.”

She said the worldwide growth of endurance and the attendant increase in the monetary value of horses and potential prize money had led to a fierce increase in competitiveness.

“This has brought about many advances in nutrition, husbandry, farriery and training,” she noted, as well as improvements in veterinary care.

“But, as always, there is a less savory side …

“It has been clearly shown in Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse flat racing that if the potential prize earnings are many times greater than the monetary value of the horse, risk-taking and subsequent breakdowns and deaths increase significantly.

“We have seen a similar phenomenon in endurance; there is an enormous pool of horses that are never quite good enough to reach the top, or that have reached their pinnacle and are on their way down due to age and infirmities, but are obliged by their connections to continue to compete because of financial incentives.”

Some top horses can change hands for hundreds of thousands of dollars, she noted.

“Regretfully, some of that risk is exacerbated by unscrupulous actions by horse connections and by our own members of the veterinary profession, who succumb to the temptation of the ‘easy fix’ in an attempt to get a horse through a competition.

“This can undoubtedly be financially rewarding, and even inflate one’s ego. But as responsible stewards and caretakers, it is incumbent upon us to speak for the horse.

“Remember to use your best judgment. Remember to protect the well-being of horses under your care.”

She said horse doctors must strive to continue to elevate the profession and adhere to the highest standard of professional ethics.

“We must commit ourselves not only to the FEI Code of Conduct, but have the courage to adhere to an exemplary moral and ethical standard by which we commit to serve both our clients and our horses with humility and compassion.”

One of the key presenters at the conference was Dr Stephanie Valberg from the United States, a renowned veterinarian in the field of muscle pathology. She stressed that tying up was not related to accumulated acid lactic in the muscle, but to other mechanisms related to calcium regulation of muscle.

She also presented her later research on myofibrillar myopathy, a condition that could explain recurrent rhabdomyolisis in arabian horses.

Dr Marc Walton introduced the audience to endurance in South Africa and shared his experiences regarding the most common injuries seen and their management in this geographic area.

Dr Emmanuelle van Erck from Belgium highlighted the importance of using data from field exercise tests on improving the performance of endurance horses.

Dr Massimo Pucetti, who works in the UAE and Italy, described how he performed pre-purchase exams, sharing his experience by showing numerous x-ray and scans from case studies.

Dr Monica Mira, also an organiser of IVEC, presented some preliminary results on using a portable inertial sensor-based system during endurance competitions to help veterinarians objectify their gait assessments.

Morgane Schambourg presented the results of her study, supported by the FEI, on using a special device to check for hyposensitivity in limbs of horses subjected to neurolytics (nerve blocks) before competition, a banned procedure thought to contribute to catastrophic injuries in endurance races.

Physiologist Dr David Marlin showed which strategy winners of endurance competitions seem to be using in comparison with non-winners, after statistical treatment of the data of major championships and other international competition.

The panel discussion at the end of the day covered several topics. One issue raised was how FEI demands had increased competition costs so much that it had decreased the ability of many people to join the sport in countries such as Uruguay and Australia.

IVEC is organised before every biannual world championship, providing the international endurance community with the latest research in the sport.

Speakers from all FEI groups are represented in the programme. The next IVEC is planned to take place at the World Endurance Championships in Pisa, Italy, in 2020.

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