The Wonders of WEG: Dr. Anne Baskett on Caring for The Stars of The Show

Photo courtesy of Dr. Anne Baskett.

Coordinating the veterinary care of an estimated 900 of the world’s most elite performance horses is an unimaginable job – and an eventer took it on.

Dr. Anne Baskett, who evented through the Intermediate level in her native Canada, is co-managing the veterinary services operations at the World Equestrian Games alongside her husband, veterinary surgeon Dr. Bill Hay. Anne has over 15 years of experience as an FEI eventing, dressage, and show jumping veterinary delegate and was a selector vet for the Canadian Eventing Team when they won the silver medal at WEG in 2010.

Constructing the plan for WEG started over a year ago. Today, less than two months before the first horses arrive in Tryon, every conceivable detail is outlined in the official WEG 2018 vet services and bio-security manuals, and plans are underway for constructing a temporary on-site vet clinic.

I talked to Anne at Tryon Equine Hospital, the facility she runs with Bill.

What are you and Bill responsible for in this role?

As Veterinary Services Operations Managers, we coordinate care for all WEG horses from the time they arrive until they leave the TIEC grounds. I’ve identified all the vets needed at the site – about 80 from around the world who are volunteering their time. And that number doesn’t even include team vets, FEI vet delegates, regulatory USDA and NCDA vets, volunteer specialists for illness and bio-security, and on-course vets for endurance and cross-country. We work closely with the team vets to handle any injuries during the games and are organizing equipment, meds, bio-security, treatments, and on-course vet presence.  

You’re an eventer. How will that help you navigate your role at WEG?

I’ve competed in eventing and been an FEI treating vet and official so I know, because of cross-country, event horses (and endurance horses) will likely require the most post-competition care of all the WEG horses.

Eventing is a sport where everyone wants to help, in spite of all the moving parts. I’ve always gravitated to the eventing community. Eventers are passionate about their horses and it makes it easier to treat their equine partners. Eventers tend to have a good knowledge of horsemanship because they have to. Dealing with a range of treatment scenarios from eventing has given me a template for the three-phase driving event and endurance.

You’ve worked on this for over a year. When do you start working directly with the WEG horses?

The first horses touch down on September 2nd. They’ll arrive at different airports depending on where they’re coming from. Ten flights from Europe will fly into Greenville-Spartanburg airport, about 45 minutes from the venue. These horses will do their pre-arrival quarantine in a specially constructed barn at TIEC. Horse ambulances and veterinarians will escort the horses from the airport. Other horses from South America and Asia/Australia will fly into Miami or Chicago and arrive by van at TIEC.

Each plane ships 50-75 horses and arrives on different days so horses don’t have to wait at the airport and can rotate through quarantine.

What do you say to people who worry about bio-security?

Actually, the overall disease risk is assessed as very low because of the extraordinary health and fitness of these horses. They are the most elite athletes treated with the highest standards of preventive medicine and veterinary care. They are so closely monitored . . . every movement and contact is tracked long before they arrive. These horses come healthy and fit. The bio-security plan is similar to the London 2012 Olympics, just on a bigger scale.

Dr. Baskett watches intently during a horse inspection at the Bromont International Three-Day Event. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

What plans are in place for treatment?

The team vet is the first line of treatment, although not every team will have its own vet and we’ll provide veterinary care if a team needs it. Whenever a horse is in training or competition, vets are on the field of play and at the rings.

We’ll also have a clinic set up at TIEC with experts in imaging, surgery, and internal medicine. It’s essentially a full-on temporary facility complete with stalls, onsite radiology and ultrasound, a pharmacy, lab services, tech support, and imaging. Tryon Equine Hospital, University of Georgia, and NC State will serve as referral centers for emergencies.

Are there different approaches to caring for horses in non-eventing disciplines?

Different disciplines have different challenges. One thing I’m convinced of after all these years of treating horses and keeping them well, is how much fitness plays a part in keeping any horse healthy and sound. And WEG horses are certainly fit.

What excites you most about your role?

Having this level of competition here in our hometown and being up close to the top horses in the world. Compared to the Olympics, WEG is much bigger in scope because of the multiple disciplines. It will be an incredible experience being behind the scenes and working with vets from all over the world.

Dr. Baskett enjoys a light-hearted moment during The Fork at Tryon. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

What are the biggest challenges?

One challenge is keeping everything organized at such a big venue. We’re lucky that Dr. Yves Rossier will share the role of managing the veterinary aspects of all the different competitions and the onsite clinic. It would be impossible with just one person.

It’s always challenging from a people perspective, because team vets, riders, and everyone involved with a horse’s success – they all care very deeply about treating their own horse. I understand where the competitors are coming from in terms of managing the rules and regulations . . . and balancing that with the ultimate responsibility to the horse.

Hopefully there won’t be any emergent issues that prevent competitors from participating, and that any injuries to horses are treatable. I know the heartbreak that can come with all that.

You and Bill spent 20 years together building a practice, constructing a facility, and raising two girls. How do you make it work?

Somehow we come to a division of labor without much need for a discussion. I guess we gravitate toward the things we’re good at. Bill is bricks and mortar and foundation. Everything on top, how it’s presented, turns out to be my domain. Bill has more of a role in the design and building of things like the vet clinic, and I focus more on the vets and staffing. For WEG, we will continue as we did during the test events, dividing up tasks as they come along.

What do you look forward to most after the last horse leaves the grounds?

Sleep! And eventing my young homebred, Blue Rodeo (aka Stanley). I hope I remember how to ride! I’ll also be happy to get back to treating horses.