Students learn the ropes at World Equestrian Games

Externships, symposium part of AAEP's involvement in the event
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The United States hosted one of the premier equestrian events in the world this year, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners was on hand to ensure the safety and welfare of the athletes as well as give some veterinary students the experience of a lifetime.

The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, held Sept. 25-Oct. 10, brought more than a half million spectators and members of the equine industry from 60 countries to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. The games are considered the world championships for eight equestrian sports. They are held every four years, two years prior to the Olympic Games, and are governed by the Fédération Equestre Internationale.

Students such as Carrie Porter from North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine practiced their farrier skills and learned about sport horse hoof care during externships put on by the AAEP. The American Farrier's Association also hosted students during the games.
When the students weren't on duty, they attended educational sessions led by many of the veterinarians working the World Equestrian Games. Students shown in this photo practiced how to position a recumbent horse on a glider for movement. A full-size, articulated dummy and ambulance made the experience possible.

A few days before the games, the AAEP, in conjunction with Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital and Alltech, hosted the Veterinary Sport Horse Symposium and the Sport Horse Owner Workshop, which drew more than 350 sport horse veterinarians and 70 sport horse owners, trainers, and riders. At the symposium, top-level sport horse practitioners covered comprehensive sport horse care, with presentations on respiratory disease, orthopedics, nutrition, podiatry, and imaging. Meanwhile, at the workshop, presentation topics included nutrition, shoeing, regulations for the use of medications, and adoption of former racehorses by individuals interested in competing in other sports.

Once competition started, AAEP's headquarters, also located at the Kentucky Horse Park, served as a resource and hospitality station for practitioners working during the games. The association's experts were on hand to provide timely and accurate information to the media throughout the WEG, thanks to the AAEP's On Call Program. Drs. Alan Ruggles and Larry Bramlage were prepared to respond to questions from the media during live telecasts of events on NBC Sept. 26, Oct. 3, and Oct. 10.

Throughout the competition, fourth-year veterinary students completed externships by assisting top sport horse veterinarians, thanks to the AAEP. The association sponsored the program, which brought 33 North American veterinary students, one from each of its student chapters, to work with some of the 60 veterinarians caring for the elite athletes at the games. Students were nominated and selected by faculty advisers and AAEP-member mentors at their chapter. Selected participants were evaluated on academic performance, leadership at their veterinary school, and their commitment to equine sports medicine.

The program was supervised by Dr. A. Kent Allen, WEG veterinary services coordinator; Dr. Julia Wilson, veterinary student team coordinator; and Dr. Tracy Turner, veterinary student team assistant coordinator. The externship qualified as a clinical rotation.

While earning externship credit toward their veterinary degrees, students rotated work assignments. They gained clinical experience in the official WEG equine hospital and responded to ambulatory emergencies. They spent time learning about the role of adjunctive therapies such as acupuncture, massage, and therapeutic ultrasound. They supported federal veterinarians and officials who were in charge of regulatory functions such as monitoring drug testing and compliance with equine piroplasmosis and contagious equine metritis rules.

Plus, students were required to attend daily lectures to learn about the physical demands and rules for each event, common injuries associated with each sport, biosecurity and regulatory measures, and triage of athletic injuries.

"Many said the highlight of their experience was working with Dr. Jean-Marie Denoix, a veterinary anatomist with phenomenal skills in ultrasound," said Dr. Wilson, a large animal internal medicine specialist at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine's Equine Center. Dr. Denoix is a professor of veterinary anatomy and biomechanics at Alfort in Paris and author of the "Equine Distal Limb" textbook.

In addition to giving a presentation for the students, Dr. Denoix would allow students to observe while he scanned the horses that came through the clinic with musculoskeletal issues and then discuss the anatomy of the injury site with the students.

Another popular feature of the rotation, according to Dr. Wilson, was the time students spent at the on-site forge, where they learned more about making shoes than is currently covered in veterinary curricula.

"A lot of the students enjoyed shadowing the team veterinarians. They were able to get a good idea of what a day in the life of a competition veterinarian is like, as they have to keep a close watch on the elite athletes and fine tune what they can do within rules," Dr. Wilson said. "It was really a unique opportunity that everyone involved got a lot out of. We're hoping the success of this venture for all of us will lead to something similar at the Olympics in London in 2012."

For more information about the students' activities at the WEG, read the AAEP's blog, "WEG the Tale" at From taking a front-row seat at the dressage competition finals to struggling to communicate across language barriers, students describe the challenges and triumphs of caring for top-level sport horses.