Three-Day Eventing Horse Inspections

Here’s what to know about horse inspections, which are designed to evaluate the horse’s fitness to compete.
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three-day eventing horse inspections
Horse inspections are designed solely to evaluate the horse's fitness to compete in the competition ahead. | Photo: Amy Dragoo

Horses and three-day event riders from all around the globe have descended upon the Kentucky Horse Park, in Lexington, in preparation for the 2022 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by Mars Equestrian, which takes place April 28-May 1. But before the event even begins and again before the final phase of the event, all equine competitors must undergo a horse inspection—an aspect of the competition that can make even the most seasoned riders sweat.

At all Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) sanctioned events the veterinary delegate and the ground jury (cumulatively called the panel) evaluate each horse twice—once prior to the competition and once prior to the show jumping phase (the third and final phase)—to ensure he is fit to compete. spoke with Lisa Crump, DVM, an FEI eventing veterinarian, to find out exactly what goes on during horse inspections.

Before Inspection

Crump explained that by the time an equine competitor is brought before the panel for inspection, he or she will have already undergone a veterinary examination upon arriving at the competition venue. “During the (first veterinary) exam the horse is identified according to its passport, its vaccination status is verified, and it is established that the horse does not have apparent contagious or infectious disease,” she said. “The baseline health is evaluated by a physical examination, including listening to heart and lungs, palpating limbs to investigate abnormalities, and (making) general observations.”

At this point the veterinarian does not yet evaluate the horse’s gait and/or soundness, she said.

What are Horse Inspections?

Horse inspections are designed to evaluate the horse’s fitness to compete in the competition ahead; they’re not designed to be as in-depth as the first veterinary examination or a typical soundness or prepurchase examination.

An inspection will result in one of three outcomes:

  • The horse is accepted to move forward with the competition;
  • The horse is not accepted to continue in the competition; or
  • The horse is sent to the holding box (more on that in a moment).

In the event the horse is not accepted, the president of the ground jury will discuss the decision with the rider.

“Understandably, emotions can run high because riders have invested significant time and effort into preparing a horse for competition,” Crump said. “The ground jury and the veterinary panel must be open and available to discuss their reasons with the rider, but the decision is not open to appeal. The ultimate responsibility lies with the inspection panel.”

The first veterinary examination and the horse inspections are the only official examinations the veterinary team performs. Crump noted that the veterinary commission is available to riders after cross-country to assist in evaluating their horses’ recovery and to further examine any horses the ground jury might identify as needing additional attention. The veterinary team also provides treatment advice should a rider or a personal veterinarian request it.

“All riders are encouraged to seek advice from the delegate or associate veterinarian at any time,” she said.

What Does the Panel Look For?

As mentioned, the horse inspection is not intended to be a lameness exam. “But clearly, a horse that is lame is not fit to compete,” said Crump. “The difficulty comes in because there is normal variation in the way horses move (their gait), and there are varying degrees of abnormal gait or lameness.

“In addition to the gait, the panel considers the demeanor of the horse: Does it seem rested, fresh and ready to compete, or tired; This is generally more of an issue at the second horse inspection, held after cross-country, before the jumping test,” she continued. “Are there marks from spurs or use of the whip, cuts in the corner of the mouth from the bit, or other injuries visible?”

Crump has developed a system of evaluating horses for when she serves as a veterinary delegate (this year, Karen Nyrop, DVM, is the veterinary delegate at the Kentucky Three-Day event). “When I am in the role of the veterinary delegate, I have in mind a standard,” Crump explained. “If a horse is lame to a degree which is over my standard, then the cause of the lameness is not the key point to me. The horse is beyond my standard, and I vote to not accept it. It is more difficult in cases where the horse just seems ‘not quite right.’ ”

In these cases, the horse is typically sent to the holding box.

The Holding Box

“If a horse is not quite right but not so lame to be beyond my standard, then I would send it to the holding area to get additional information prior to making a decision to accept or not accept,” Crump said. “Another reason to send a horse to the holding area would be if the panel members have differing opinions. In order to come to a consensus, it can help to get more information from the holding vet’s examination.”

When a horse is sent to the holding box, the associate veterinarian examines him. That veterinarian will relay the panel’s concerns to the rider and ask if he or she has any additional information about the potential problem. “The rider is permitted to have their team veterinarian or private competitor’s veterinarian with them in the holding box,” Crump said, adding that these veterinarians are often a good source of information because of their familiarity with the horse and rider.

The holding box veterinarian will then perform a brief work-up that typically includes walking and trotting the horse (in a straight line and possibly in both directions on a circle) and palpating his limbs; Crump noted that flexion tests are not performed in the holding box.

“If a problem becomes evident during the holding box examination, that information is passed on to the rider,” she said. “The rider makes a decision to present the horse to the panel again or to withdraw from competition. If the horse is reinspected, the holding box examining veterinarian first advises the panel on the exam findings, and the decision to accept or not accept the horse rests with the panel.”

“Everybody’s happy when the holding box doesn’t get any action,” Crump said.

Take-Home Message

While the best-case scenario is that the inspection panel accepts all horses presented, this is not always feasible. The panel does their best to ensure all the horses involved in the competition will finish in good health, and in some cases that means not allowing them to continue to the next phase. Ensuring the safety, health, and welfare of horses taking part in the competition remains the panel’s goal with each horse inspection.


Written by:

Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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