The role of the veterinarian during endurance racing

During endurance events, veterinarians are the guarantors of animal welfare and horse health. Without them, the race will not take place! Michel Payan and Lionel Payen, event officials, talk about their role during the FEI races and discuss the challenges they face.

In international competitions, veterinarians play two roles, faithful partners to ensure the smooth running of the race. During this event, horses make a significant effort, for which they are selected and trained. Firstly, these are official veterinarians who are members of the commission and play the role of “judge”. Their purpose is to monitor the good health of the horses and their ability to continue the race, from the initial control to the final control, by checking that they demonstrate satisfactory physiological and motor constants. To do this, at the end of each circle, that is, every twenty to thirty kilometers, they examine the heart rate, the real recovery rate, good metabolism, observe the horses in a circular trot, etc. In case of pathologies or fatigue, they will offer the Jury to take necessary measures to avoid putting the horse at risk, such as disqualifying him or asking him to re-observe him immediately before proceeding to the next round. Official veterinarians can also send the horse to a specialized treatment team to help it. These attending veterinarians must warn of possible serious injury. They are trained as quickly as possible and appropriately take responsibility for emerging pathologies. “The veterinarian is responsible for the well-being of the horses during the races and in the stables. We also advise the organizers on changing the rest time depending on the terrain and weather.”says Michel Payan, a veterinarian with over forty years of experience and a competition official with over twenty years of experience. The veterinarian also plays a role in the fight against doping. “Veterinarians who take samples are authorized by the FEI, but under certain criteria, when we have doubts or when an accident occurs, we can take samples. This helps ensure our sport stays clean.” adds Lionel Payen, an endurance veterinarian with over 30 years of experience.

“They allow the discipline to continue, but also emphasize French know-how.” – Martin Denisot.

To accomplish these tasks, it is important to be able to rely on trained and experienced veterinarians. “From the moment races exceed eighty kilometers, these are distances where the sport becomes very specialized. So it’s good to rely on veterinarians who have real-life experience with hardy horses.” means Lionel Payen. “FEI Veterinarians must have practice experience and training requirements to be promoted to FEI level. The appointment of a professional who does not train with equestrian horses is not possible.”, says Michel Payan, Director of the FEI course, which took place in mid-March at the Federal Equestrian Park in Lamotte-Bevron, in the Loir-et-Cher. In this case, thirty-five French, Belgian and Spanish veterinarians completed their mandatory continuing education, which allowed them to confirm their continued status as international officials. This updating of knowledge on current regulations and time for exchange between professionals is important because veterinarians must work as a team. There are often six to ten veterinarians at the races who quickly and efficiently check on horses arriving in groups. veterinary gate“. “We must evaluate all horses according to the same criteria because the same horse may be examined by several veterinarians during the course of a race. The horse’s racing history must be clear and we must be able to warn each other when we find that the horse is not bad enough to stop, but not completely satisfactory either.explains Lionel Payen. These competition officials are driven by a passion for horses, sport and endurance. “We have real relationships with riders who are very concerned about the health of their horses. Their goal is to have time to perform without ever endangering the horse. Being a part of this success is very rewarding and exciting.”, Lionel Payen testifies when asked about his motives for working as an endurance veterinarian. An answer which is the same as Michel Payan’s answer which adds: “It’s a very pleasant general atmosphere and in favor of the horse. There is a very direct relationship with the latter, you cannot persuade him to run one hundred and sixty kilometers if you do not have a real relationship with him!. Officers in competition also offer lessons and potential professional challenges, as Michel Payan shared: “I had a horse that reported volvulus in line before the first checkup. It’s okay when you’re in the clinic, but there we were deep in the bushes! Everyone needs cooperation.” He also gained additional experience in addition to what he acquired in his firm. “Horses do not need to cover 160 kilometers to show things that are very characteristic of endurance and easily extrapolated to other disciplines. We can meet pathologies in campaigns that are regularly expressed in endurance. It’s very educational, no matter the level of the race, because we see a lot of horses during the day. We are accustomed to seeing horses in excellent shape, despite the effort they have put in and for which they have been trained. The horses of the French team or the Spanish team after one hundred and sixty kilometers in the Mondial d’Ermelo last autumn leave you dreaming. When we say they’re ready to go again, it’s true!” Veterinarians are essential to the smooth running of endurance racing. Without them there is no competition! For clubs, there is the possibility of organizing very small events without the obligatory presence of veterinarians, where observers then supervise. The option proposed by the rules of the French Riding Federation, “But nearly all clubs familiar with endurance still make sure veterans are present, for a trusting relationship that builds year after year.”notes Lionel Payen. “We must highlight the commitment of our French veterinarians to participate in competitions, both national and international,”thanks to Martin Deniso, National Endurance Technical Director. “They allow the discipline to continue, but also highlight French know-how and the quality of the training provided. France is a nation of endurance and they are an integral part of that success.“, he added.

Serious problem of recruiting new veterinary officials

While some veterinarians in their prime, such as Mathieu Lenormand or Maria Mas Ramon, have become increasingly involved in the world of endurance over the years, the discipline is experiencing difficulty in recruiting new veterinarians. There are several explanations for this. “It takes a long time to be at an event and the compensation is low. In addition, if someone wants to carry out treatment, special insurance is required for this. Colleagues would do an endurance test for fun, but they realize that the price of their insurance can be multiplied by ten if they claim it … Access is not necessarily easy, but it must be done because we love discipline and have a privileged position. observation point, explains Michel Payan. Working as a veterinarian is time consuming, and an endurance officer requires extra days off, or usually days off. “When the organizers tell me that veterinarians are expensive, I answer that they are the first sponsors of endurance.“, – Lionel Payen declares with conviction. A difficult situation, which, however, is not inevitable, since vocations are not completely absent. Faced with this, the French Association of Endurance Veterinarians is mobilizing efforts through interventions in schools and with colleagues. “We tend to overlook high school graduates if they don’t show a daily interest in the discipline. We are campaigning to bring in young people and not lose too many older veterinarians who don’t necessarily enjoy taking exams. As the president of this association, I must say that the FFE is helping us a lot. His support and cooperation is very interesting”, concludes Michel Payan.

Please note: to become a horse veterinarian, you must pass an entrance exam to enter one of the four French national veterinary schools and then study for five years. It is the only prerogative to be a veterinarian during a national endurance race, and under certain conditions it is also possible to be an official while still a student, as Lionel Payen did. Most of the time they attend their first FFE race accompanied by other, more experienced veterinarians. This naturally creates companionship that brings the little ones together and allows them to gain experience.

To become an official veterinarian in an international endurance race, you must first pass an online test to become an official FEI veterinarian, have at least five years of experience as a veterinarian, and complete a certain number of FEI training courses before climbing to the top. various existing levels.

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