Vet's dream is to send all Olympic horses home healthy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 June, 2008, 12:00am

For Chris Riggs, success at the Olympics is not measured in medals but by the condition of the approximately 300 horses once they leave Hong Kong.

'At past Olympics they have lost horses, but it is my dream we can ensure all the horses go home fit and healthy,' said Dr Riggs, head of veterinary clinical services for the Jockey Club.

He is also the veterinary services manager for the equestrian events and facilities at the August Games, including the purpose-built veterinary clinic at the Sha Tin core venue, a temporary facility at Beas River and the equine hospital at the Jockey Club, which will serve as the 24-hour surgical facility.

The 900-square-metre clinic will be staffed by 11 international veterinarians, many with previous Olympic experience, who will assist national team veterinarians or provide care for some of the smaller teams who are not travelling with a veterinarian. A total of eight senior students and recent graduates are to provide support, along with Jockey Club staff.

Dr Riggs has been involved with other veterinary facilities in helping the horses cope with hot weather. Cooling stations are to be set up around the venue and 40 tonnes of ice are expected to be used on August 11 for the cross-country events. '[A horse's] cooling mechanisms are not quite as effective as [they] can be in other climates and therefore we help the horses cool down.'

Among the greatest challenges will be servicing the cross-country competition, which takes place over 6km at Beas River, where Dr Riggs said 15 of his clinical staff at the Jockey Club had been asked to provide backup. 'If we get through the cross-country day nice and smoothly, we'll be pleased,' he said.

The cross-country competition is the most arduous and dangerous of the events and the Jockey Club says it has ensured the Beas River venue and the equine hospital will be fully staffed. 'That's by far the biggest concern, but that's also the day we'll have by far the most vets on duty,' Jockey Club veterinary surgeon Gordon Sidlow, who will be on duty at the Olympics, said.

'The two main pressure points [for the veterinarians] are when the horses arrive and the aftermath of cross-country in getting the horses sound for the last day of eventing.'