Behind the scenes at the Olympics

Behind the scenes at the Olympics

E-mails from 2 U.S. veterinarians tell what it was like working a world-class event
Sep 01, 2008

Dr.Katherine Kohn
Hong Kong — They worked long days, sometimes from dawn to midnight, caring for 218 world-class performance horses competing in the 2008 Olympic equestrian games.

Dr.Susan J. Spier
But it wasn't all labor-intensive. Members of the veterinary community enjoyed some lighter moments, too, along with close-up views of the competition and ceremonial pomp.

Two members of the international veterinary team gave DVM Newsmagazine's online readers a taste of what it was like for DVMs working the games, e-mailing regular updates that became a kind of running Olympics diary on

Operating room: This is the operating suite in Hong Kong where Dr. Jack R. Snyder, chief treating veterinarian, and Dr. Cedric Chan repaired a horse's hairline leg fracture during the Olympics..
They were Susan J. Spier, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, an internal-medicine expert who teaches at the University of California-Davis, and Catherine W. Kohn, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, instructor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at The Ohio State University.

Both have considerable experience providing veterinary care at previous Olympic games — it's Kohn's fifth Olympics — and at other major equestrian events. Spier's husband, Jack R. Snyder, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, an orthopedic specialist who also teaches at UC-Davis, served as chief treating veterinarian at the Olympics. All three were part of a 30-member international team of staff veterinarians from the United States, China, Australia and Great Britain who worked with and advised veterinarians for the various national teams.

Here are glimpses into various aspects of the veterinary team's experience, based on Spier's and Kohn's e-mails:


Tight quarters: 'The horses have better housing,' Spier says of this metal cubicle where she stayed one night.
"We arrived at the venue on the last bus from the hotels at about 7:15 this morning (Aug. 6). It is both functional and very attractive. The horses are all comfortable in their stables. The barns are spacious, well-ventilated, air-conditioned and quiet. Indeed, the facilities at this venue are second to none that I have seen," Kohn reports. "We have an excellent clinic, with state-of-the-art equipment. We can perform X-rays, ultrasonography, endoscopy and thermography."

Warning: A sign reminds the Hong Kong public to take reasonable precautions against bird flu.
She was writing about the facilities provided by the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) at Sha Tin Racecourse, where all the equestrian events were held except cross-country, which was 35 minutes away at Beas River Country Club.

Both Kohn and Spier were impressed with the Beas River facilities, too — except when it came to staying there overnight.

The repair: Before-and-after views of the leg of a horse Spier's husband repaired with compression screws.
"We (usually) stay at a nearby hotel that has a shuttle service to the venue. We also can stay overnight at the venue in groom's quarters," Spier writes. "One photo I'm sending shows the metal container I shared with another vet, Kate Savage, Dipl. ACVIM, a professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Not very luxurious! The horses have much better housing!"

The equestrian games were moved to the cosmopolitan port city of Hong Kong because China couldn't guarantee a disease-free environment for horses in Beijing.

Headed home: Keymaster flew back to Sweden with his leg in a cast and was reported doing well..
Though separated from the rest of the Olympic games by 1,200 miles, the veterinarians never mentioned feeling isolated in Hong Kong. "This venue has terrific Olympic spirit," Kohn writes midway through the games. While the Beijing venue was holding a spectacular opening ceremony, "We too had a lovely opening ceremony here at the Hong Kong Jockey Club," she says.