Colleen Hofstetter: U.S. Eventing Team Veterinary Panel on WEG Selection

Colleen Hofstetter dug down into the depths of the Land Rover US Eventing Team Veterinary Panel to find out exactly how the veterinarians go about selecting team horses to represent the U.S. on the world stage. Many thanks to Colleen for this well-researched piece, as well as to Joanie Morris for her input.

Karen O'Connor and Mandiba. Photo by Samantha Clark. Karen O'Connor and Mandiba. Photo by Samantha Clark.

From Colleen:

A trip to Normandy has been on the minds of many upper level riders for months and months, and the anticipation is coming to an end in a few short weeks. An integral part of the decision making process regarding which horses will be wearing the stars and stripes are the recommendations of the vet panel.

Officially called the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team Veterinary Panel, this group has been carefully watching and monitoring the horses and riders for more than 18 months who have made the cut from amongst the best of the U.S.

Armed with oodles of knowledge about horses and a car full of technology, the Land Rover US Eventing Team Veterinary Panel has been making the rounds at horse trials and CCIs across the U.S. as well as getting information from across the Atlantic.

The current Veterinary Panel consists of three members and five Associate Veterinarians working together across two continents: Dr. Mark Revenaugh from Oregon heads up the eventing program, and the other two members of the Veterinary Panel are Dr. Duncan Peters, from Michigan and Dr. Susan Johns, from Virginia. Dr. Kent Allen, from Virginia, Dr. Rachel Gottlieb from Oregon, and Dr. Bruce Kuesis from California, as well as two vets in Europe (Dr. Marc Koene in Germany and Dr. Tim Randle in the UK) are all associate members of the Vet Panel.

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica at Rolex. Photo by Kasey Mueller.

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica, who were evaluated by the U.S. team vets post-Rolex. Photo by Kasey Mueller.

The current Veterinary Panel was formed in 2013 when Mark Revenaugh received a phone call on behalf of USEF Eventing Eligible Athletes Committee. Dr. Revenaugh explain that he knew the demands of the job as he had worked closely with Dr. Brendan Furlong, outgoing team vet, for many years.

Additionally, Dr. Revenaugh had opened his own practice in Oregon, specializing in diagnosis and treatment of lameness in sport horses. But Dr. Revenaugh reconsidered after the Eventing Eligible Athlete Committee and the Eventing High Performance committees proposed some new ideas for how to structure the Vet Panel, and sweetened the pot a bit. “The second request came with the option of me naming my own Vet Team to cut down on time away from my practice and family, as well as being able to put together a strong team of veterinary partners, each with their own specialty or niche,” Dr. Revenaugh said.

This proved to be the clincher for Dr. Revenaugh, and he already had several people in mind. “Taking on this responsibility was a bit daunting, considering the expertise of the outgoing team. The core vets of Brendan Furlong, Catherine Kohn and PJ McMahon was a hard act to follow; we give them the credit for the standard we try to live up to in our current roles, and it was a very high, established standard”

“The outgoing panel had worked together for many years and their body of knowledge regarding high performance horses was extensive, their professional standards exceptional; and I knew we would all have to continue that level of expertise.” With these thoughts in mind Dr. Revenaugh, who had previously served as a Team Veterinarian for the U.S. Driving Team and worked extensively with High Performance horses, considered additional veterinarians and began to assemble his team.

Becky Holder and Courageous Comet. Photo by Samantha Clark.

2010 WEG team members Becky Holder and Courageous Comet. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Dr. Susan Johns, who is based at Virginia Equine Imaging in Middleburg, Va., was a natural choice for the panel. Dr. Johns had working knowledge of world class equine athletes through her previous roles with FEI teams in 2008 and 2010. “I received a call from Joanie Morris, USEF Managing Director of Eventing, who explained that my name had been put forward by several riders from the Eventing Eligible Athlete committee, as well as by Dr. Revenaugh. Knowing that Mark would be heading the team, and having worked closely with previous teams, I felt so honored. I really do consider it an honor to work closely with people who are so dedicated to this sport. I have had great examples of dedication from Dr. Kent Allen and the other members of the previous Panel.”

While knowing that accepting the position would mean a good deal of travel and extra hours when back at VEI, Susan accepted the job and now travels with the U.S. Eventing Team while in the United States and throughout Europe. “I love being at the events to watch the horses I work with throughout the year show off their hard work!”

Dr. Duncan Peters completes the Veterinary Panel. He too has previous experience with FEI teams, is a multi-discipline licensed FEI veterinarian certified in dressage, eventing, jumping, driving, vaulting, and reining, and was a member of the Veterinary Commission for the 2010 World Equestrian Games.

Dr. Peters also developed the log book that riders named to the High Performance list are to use to track the health of their horses. “The log is an extensive record keeping book of what is done from a veterinary standpoint (diagnostics, treatments, medications, injuries, concerns) as well as from a general performance horse management standpoint (workouts/training, nutrition, shoeing, complimentary therapies, acupuncture, physiotherapy, supplements, etc),” Dr. Peters explained. “It facilitates an open dialogue – we can share information back and forth freely; we have very open discussions between riders, coaches, individual veterinarians, and selectors.”

Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville, also evaluated after Rolex. Photo by Jenni Autry.

What isn’t listed here is the extensive letters and certifications the above vets have after their names. DVM, MS, DACVSMR, ACVSMR, ISELP, NAVRMA, USEF, USEA, FEI…and the practices carry many accolades as well; Hagyard, Furlong, first licensed use of scintigraphy in NJ, VEI, Marion DuPont, Northwest Equine Performance, instructor of digital diagnostics. With 67 years of experience between the three of them, it would be an understatement to say these people are quite smart.

Along with their medical backgrounds, all three primary vets are riders themselves. Dr. Peters owns six horses and rode competitively in hunter/jumpers as well as playing polo. He is an avid fox hunter and has dabbled in most other things equestrian (endurance, driving, western, low level three day eventing).

Dr. Johns evented through the one-star level when growing up in California and, living in the heart of Virginia horse country, has access to many riding opportunities when time permits.

When living on the east coast, Dr. Revenaugh kept his horses at Chesterland and rode competitively in three day eventing, training with Bruce Davidson Sr. Now on the west coast, Dr. Revenaugh and his family have several horses at home and make riding a family affair. “We all have extensive experience as riders and competitors, so we have seen the other side of the coin,” stated Dr. Revenaugh.

“I think that makes a difference. However, we are not in the business of telling people which horse will win, but rather which horses are likely to complete a competition. The selectors can factor in the ‘heart’ of a horse, but ‘can they do the job’ is the question we need to determine.”

While all the vets may not be in the same place at the same time, there is a good deal of conferencing regarding team horses, especially as it gets closer to major competitions. Technology has reduced to need for face to face conversations, and reliance on vets in England and Germany has reduced the need for frequent travel to Europe.

Karen O'Connor and Mandiba.

2010 WEG members Karen O’Connor and Mandiba.

Being able to obtain first hand information on horses based in foreign countries is vital, as well as saving the USEF money on travel. Additionally, it gives the Panel an idea of what is going on over there. “For example – the use of KT Tape came from Europe,” says Dr Revenaugh. “That is a therapy growing in this country, but common in many European countries. And take a country like Germany – the German Federation drug testing is very strict, more so than in the US. Their system has forced people to accept that mindset so it has forced people to get things done without a lot of drugs. Weed out what works.” Practices such as this make it apparent that the Germans are doing something everyone else is not.

Dr. Johns has a good deal of the responsibility of traveling to the major east coast venues and is present at some of the training sessions and other team functions. With her SUV packed full of equipment, she is able to complete ambulatory sports medicine, lameness and diagnostic imaging services including digital radiology, scans, acupuncture, and fluid therapy – just about anything short of surgery cases.

When at major competitions, the vets can most likely be found at the warm up rings for dressage and show jumping, watching team horses. Of course on cross country day, they are in the vet box or back at the stables.

Boyd Martin and Shamwari 4. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Boyd Martin and Shamwari 4, who made a strong case for a spot at Luhmülen. Photo by Jenni Autry.

When asked about typical treatments after cross country, Dr. Revenaugh mentioned that they will treat blunt trauma, strains, soreness, stifles, loss of shoes. “But,” he notes, “The nature of typical injuries has changed, and that is due largely to the change in the way courses are built and jumps are made. With modern courses, if there is a problem a horse typically runs out or past it which has reduced rotational falls and the resulting injury. The way courses are built invites avoiding a jump rather than attempting something a horse is questioning. New course building and frangible pins have decreased complex injuries. And we also see less exhaustion issues without the long format.”

After Selection Trials, a member or members of the Vet Panel will conduct medical evaluations/post competition exams on the recommendation of the selectors. Horses will be given a thorough evaluation to determine how they came through the competition and what they need to continue to perform at their best.

Generally the evaluation consists of the horses being jogged, leg flexions, lunging, blood work, and other diagnostics if needed such as radiographs and ultrasounds. Baseline data has been compiled by this time so new information is added and compared to what has been already noted.

Dr. Peters, a certified member of the International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology, is the evaluation vet and his philosophy is to have an open dialogue with riders, coaches, and private veterinarians. “We are looking at how a horse has fared from a muscular and skeletal standpoint. We are not looking to pick up something that someone didn’t catch that would knock them out of contention for a spot on the team. We have a very open dialogue.”

The Selection Trials began with the 2013 Rolex Kentucky CCI4*, and horses have been evaluated on the recommendation of the selectors at many of the designated events. Luhmühlen this past weekend was the final Selection Trial, per the Selection Procedures.

“The horses will be evaluated before they are selected, after the Preparation Event at Great Meadow in July, and again before they ship to France in the middle of August. There is a great deal of responsibility in caring for top level equine athletes, but that is primarily what this group of professionals prefers to do.

“I see quite a bit of the team horses throughout the year, watching them progress and peak at the right time is rewarding; everyone works so hard all year. It takes a circle of people to keep things going,” says Dr. Johns.

Does the Veterinary Panel get it right in their assessments of which horses are most likely to be able to complete a competition? “It’s not a matter of ‘picking’,” says Dr. Peters. “That is what the diagnostics tell us. That is what we can tell the selectors.”

Which horses move on to the next level in the team selection process all comes down to the soundness of the horse and their bio-mechanical ability to complete a major competition; the Veterinarian Panel understands and respects the hard work everyone has put into their horses. Not an easy job, but one well worth it, especially if the US comes home from Normandy with healthy horses wearing medals.

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