Studying sports horse science in Holland - Veterinary Practice
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Studying sports horse science in Holland

BEN MAYES attended the latest veterinary sport horse congress in The Netherlands where, in addition to the top-class CPD, he was a VIP guest at the Jumping Amsterdam event

JUMPING Amsterdam is a tremendous horse show, and our near neighbours certainly know how to stage such an event. Couple that with a high-quality equine CPD event, the 9th Proveto Veterinary Sport Horse Congress, and the chairman, the German showjumping team vet, Jan-Hein Swagemakers, has a winning combination.

Elanco is a relatively new player in the companion animal veterinary pharmaceutical market, with its matriarch, Eli Lilly, entering the companion animal health market only a couple of years ago. Elanco is one of several well-known sponsors at this English-speaking two-day conference, but the only one that takes some 20 UK delegates.

My practice partner, Judy Scrine, attended last year and was highly complimentary about the sports horse orientated CPD with excellent discussion. She returned full of ideas for her burgeoning lameness clinics and it was great to be able to have horses’ mouth facts and tips without extrapolation from the racing thoroughbred.

Elanco is forward-thinking enough not to invite just partners. There was a refreshing mix of young vets, including recent graduates, as well as the usual suspects – myself, Simon Knapp and the ubiquitous Graham Potts and John Edwards.

There are some 250 equine practices in the UK, including mixed practices with significant equine work, and about 2,500 of 17,000 practising UK vets do predominantly equine work. So the 22 of us who attended are a mere smattering of representation, but I hope Elanco’s support and hospitality at Jumping Amsterdam and the Veterinary Sport Horse Congress will continue, so we can all go!

Elanco kindly arranged our flights and several of us met in an empty Heathrow T4 departure lounge on a grey January Thursday afternoon. As my enjoyable but stressful BEVA presidential escalator draws to a close, the rush from Gatwick, having returned from the Equine SkiPD 5.0 with only a three-hour gap, seemed quite the norm.

Having been met at Schipol by our dedicated Dutch hospitality duo, we were whisked to the hotel and had a swift half before a mystery bus tour of Amsterdam and her more famous areas, arriving at an historic listed indoor riding school with some imperious 19th century architecture.

The tour was given by the seasoned Dutch proprietor in excellent humour, and the buffet supper in the grand balcony room was accompanied by some opening remarks from Phil. It must be said, the Elanco team of Phil Wright, Rob Long, Louise Smith and Ed Whittle were extraordinary throughout the expedition and tolerated the standard Brit abroad/vet conference behaviour that we all know we are capable of, since those distant AVS days. The hotel bars on such trips rarely close before breakfast.

The majority of us made it to day one of lectures. Michael Schramme was the star attraction on the first morning and foot pathology, sports horse case management in ambulatory practice (Melissa Welker, USA), and an excellent comparison of MRI and ultrasonography by Michael closed the session.

The big Belgian is now a professor at Lyon (he rues that his children are becoming French) after some eight years in the States. It seems like only yesterday he and Roger Smith were doing their RVC double act.

Sven Kold (UK) reset the tone in the afternoon, with an excellent overview of the VDS work in the UK and the legal vulnerability of the equine vet, using the many “there but for the grace of God” examples that most of us are familiar with.

There followed an interesting interactive panel session of all the speakers (including Silvana Grass (Sweden) and Jack Snyder (US)) regarding sports horse legal cases, i.e. the ones that go wrong. Delegates, now numbering some 120, had submitted questions before lunch and the speaker panel had frantically prepared presentations to answer them. We all drew solace from the fact that wherever we’re from we are all in the same boat and are thankful for the VDS (and other indemnity insurers).

After tea, it was back to some science, with the inevitable influenza vaccine debate (three of the four vaccine companies were sponsors). Hans Nauwynck is a leading veterinary virologist from Ghent and he presented on how viral vaccines influence the immune system in the sports horse and their influence on respiratory and alimentary insults including bacterial infection.

The debate relating to the immune response to the various influenza vaccines in the market, their lack of OIE compliance and how much this matters, rages on. No wonder the UK equine practitioner selects the best offer from the nicer rep – or just sticks with the vaccine selected by his or her buying group.

This has been a vexing question for BEVA council in recent years, culminating in an influenza summit just before Christmas, with input from the human sector. One can sympathise with the drug companies over the extraordinary red tape that inhibits the introduction of up-to-date virus strains in the animal health sector, much of which has been waived in human medicine to allow vaccines to keep up with the rapid influenza antigenic drift.

The day finished quite late, well past 6pm, with an excellent review of intra-articular therapy by Jack Snyder. More Jack please, such an excellent speaker.

Equine entertainment

All the conference delegates can attend the Jumping Amsterdam horse show that takes place throughout the day in the same building. There is dressage, equine entertainment involving kids and ponies, stunt riding and, of course, show jumping.

The cream of European up-andcoming riders had been invited, but only one Brit show jumper and dressage rider (I think there were more last year). A buffet supper was served in the arena for the delegates, but the Elanco guests were treated to an excellent gourmet supper in the glass-fronted VIP restaurant. The majority of us did not really give the show jumping the attention it deserved.

A delegation was formed for a sortie into old Amsterdam, escorted by our enthusiastic hostesses. I recall watching premiership rugby in an ubiquitous Irish bar with Will Marshall, amidst a whirlwind tour of bars and clubs in the picturesque snow-covered streets and canals.

The culmination of this was not the red light district, although I think some may have snook away, but at a piano bar where we entertained by Think grand piano, extensive request play list, Elton John come Billy Joel but infinite rows of tents and his trannie granddad/ma in the corner acting as bouncer. One had to be there. Freezing street-walking, kebabs, attempts to find coffee bars, other activities and taxis ensued. There is more than one Novotel in Holland.

Several delegates from the Elanco party had late starts the next day: the usual suspects. But the majority of us/them made it to the first session. The morning saw more virology from Hans, Melissa’s talk crashing so some programme rehash and the Dutch approach to multi-limb performance issues (I think the term lameness is too strong) by Erik Bergamn and Dewi van Mechelen.

I found the afternoon sessions had my attention. More Jack Snyder and an excellent lameness video panel with much audience participation. IRAP, PRP, stem cells, steroids, high molecular weight HA: take your pick, stick it in. The European way (and the USA), perhaps we are just too conservative. Lots of videos of treated horses reaching the Olympics, but they didn’t win did they!

The final evening was, for most of us, a much more civilised affair. We were hosted as VIP Jumping Amsterdam guests in an open box with a private bar and buffet supper. Being in the arena and smelling the action, we were treated to an excellent puissance and a speed class, plus the burning horse and jousting stunt riders.

A couple of chaps did make a brief sojourn into town to retrieve their jackets from the night before, but they returned before the end of the show, albeit with pupils dilated – strong coffee indeed.

Many, many thanks to the Elanco team for taking 22 horse vets of all levels to this excellent sports horse conference. The hospitality, the science and the horse show were all an extraordinary experience for us humble penny-pinching practitioners and I trust another 20 delegates will be treated thus next year. I hope the event will continue for another 100 years so we can all go.

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