Pan Am Games Veterinarians: Preparing for Eventing’s Cross-Country Phase

Veterinary Services Manager Mike Pownall, DVM on Toronto 2015 Plans

The Pan Am Games are coming! “Toronto 2015” may be the event’s nickname, but you’ll find the equestrian events outside the city limits, primarily at Caledon Equestrian Park. Today, The Jurga Report shares a second special report from Ontario veterinarian Dr. Mike Pownall, Veterinary Services Manager for the Pan Am Games. Imagine the planning that goes into preparing for the possible medical and injury situations that might occur before or during the Games! Dressage horses are already on the ground and training, with competition starting on July 11.

Here’s Dr. Pownall’s personal preview of how his team is planning to cover the cross-country phase of the three-day event:

Although we are just days away from the arrival of Dressage horses for the first event of the Pan Am Games we find ourselves looking a week ahead as we begin planning for the most challenging week: the Three Day Event competition. After a week of the dressage horses under our belts, I am sure we will be able to handle the care and needs of an additional 50 horses that will be on site, so I am putting a plan in place to prepare the vet team for the cross country event. 

Mike Pownall, DVM Veterinary Services Manager for the Pan Am Games

The 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games face a similar challenge to what many countries that have hosted the Pan Am Games or World Equestrian Games, have faced, and that is the cross country phase is at a different location than where the dressage and show jumping events will be contested. Our first challenge, then, is assembling an offsite vet treating area with all of our equipment and medical supplies. We will also need about 15 vets and the same number of technicians and students to handle veterinary care on course, in the D Box, and after cross country while we wait to go back to the main stabling area at the Caledon Equestrian Park.

On the Tuesday before cross country we will have an emergency preparedness session where we will gather the veterinary team, the jump judges, the medical team, horse ambulances and numerous other volunteers and run through possible scenarios that we may encounter on course. We can’t cover every potential situation but we can train the teams how to think and respond collectively to whatever we may face.

To help instill a sense of the uncertainties we will face, we will use a group of cyclists who will ride around the course with veterinary and medical scenarios on cards. The judges, vets and medical team will then respond to the situation written on a card in random places on course. They used this system at the Winnipeg Pan Am Games in 1999 and it worked very well.

The challenges are different for each support group. For example, the human medical team might not have any experience with horses. How will they respond if a rider has fallen and the horse is in close proximity? It’s one thing to be near a calm horse in a stall, but it is another to work around an excited equine athlete. This reminds me of a classmate from veterinary college. He was the Canadian triathlete champion. We knew him in school to be very mild-mannered, relaxed and calm; he made the Dali Lama look excited. Yet when I say him being interviewed after completing the Canadian Championship, he was so intense that he would have made The Rock back off. Adrenaline changes every athlete, so we will work with the medical team on how to work around an excited horse.

Meanwhile, the veterinarians have the opposing challenge in that we are used to dealing with horses in distress, but how do we work with the medical team as they treat a rider and we are examining the horse? We don’t want to get in the way of each other and we need to focus on the situation we are facing and not be distracted by the other team.

The key to our preparation will be how well we communicate with each other. Most of our prep day will be ensuring we use the radios correctly, that we use proper terminology that everyone understands, and that we accurately describe a situation. The good news is that we will have several veterinarians who are very experienced with cross country events and they will be paired with experienced technicians.

My goal for the equestrian events remains the same: I want all of the vet team to be mind-numbingly bored–because if we are bored, we have healthy horses. The one event that has the most potential to kick us into gear is Three Day Eventing. With the right preparation, we will be ready to deal with whatever we encounter. Hopefully, our training is for naught and we spend the day enjoying watching the amazing horse and rider pairs conquer a challenging course.

Note: The eventing component of the Pan Am Games will take place at Will O’ Wind Farm in Mono, Ontario on July 18.

McKee-Pownall Equine Services made this video to be shown during one of Dr. Pownall’s presentations during the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. It stresses the partnership between veterinarians and horseowners. 

You can follow McKee-Pownall’s involvement in the Pan Am Games equestrian events via the practice blog.

Dr. Pownall and his wife, Dr. Melissa McKee, launched McKee-Pownall Equine Services in Ontario in 2002. It has now grown to four equine hospitals. Dr. Pownall recently completed an Executive MBA degree and also advises other veterinarians on business management through Digital Pulse Consulting and his practice-related blog at

Thanks, Dr. Pownall, for sharing this information. Thanks to all the veterinarians who have volunteered to staff the hospital and the cross-country course during the Games.




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