As the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games nears, UC Davis’ own husband and wife veterinary team are preparing to lead the Olympic equine veterinary facility.
Jack Snyder and Sharon Spier have worked at every Olympic game since 1988 when they were first asked to help during the Korea games because of their combined experience and the lack of equine veterinarians in Korea at the time. They will also provide veterinary services at the World Equestrian Games in 2010.
The duo held a press conference Thursday at the Center for Equine Health to discuss their experiences before leaving for Hong Kong on Friday.
Since nearly all 280 competing horses will not be allowed to leave the Olympic compound once the games begin, a full clinic including a pharmacy must be provided at the core equestrian venue in Sha Tin, next to the Hong Kong Jockey Club racetrack. Horses are not even allowed certain pain medications during the games, Snyder said.
“We can’t even use those kinds of things on a horse,” he said. “The idea is that the horse has to be 100 percent on its own and since the horse can’t talk, it can’t tell us what it needs.”
Some common injuries the veterinarians can expect are soft tissue problems, fractures and torn ligaments. The biggest concern however, is the heat in Hong Kong.
“The biggest thing of concern for these games is heat and humidity,” Synder said. “It’s extremely hot and humid in Hong Kong right now. The problem is that these horses need to be cool. A lot of the competitions will be held in the evening or early morning when it’s cooler to try to avoid high temperatures and humidity.”
“There will be 8,000 liters of fluid in case the horses need it,” Spier said.
Last year the couple went to a test-run event at the exact location where the events will be held this year.
“There has been absolutely no question that the Chinese have done a great job. There has been nothing held back. It has been perfect,” Synder said. “Even last year, they were more prepared than I’ve seen some Olympics before the real games.”
Equestrian events for the games include a cross country race, dressage – equivalent to a “horse ballet” – as well as jumping competitions.
“I hope that this year there are no serious injuries. We just want the best for the horses,” Spier said.
Paul Mickel, the animal resources supervisor for the Center for Equine Health was also present at the press conference and has worked with both doctors at the School of Veterinary Medicine.
“I’ve worked with Dr. Spier when she’s out here,” Mickel said. “She runs an ambulatory service and if we have any major sicknesses and such, she comes out here and takes care of everything here for us.”
Synder said some of the most rewarding moments in his Olympic past have been seeing horses, which looked like they weren’t going to be able to participate, successfully compete and win medals.
“Probably the best was when I had one [horse] that was very questionable and it ended up winning a gold medal,” he said. “And another one that we were treating for intestinal problems – we fixed it without surgery and it ended up winning a medal.”
ANGELA RUGGIERO can be reached at email@example.com.