Emergency 911: Horse Show Edition

Critical conditions such as colic, injuries, and dehydration can strike when you’re at a competition with your horse. Here’s how to handle them.

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Emergency 911: Horse Show Edition
Commingling horses, diet and housing changes, overexertion, and more can lead to health scares at horse shows. | Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Critical conditions that can strike when you’re at a competition, and how to handle them

It’s what you’ve been building up to all year: show season. Your horse is in peak condition and ready to strut his stuff. Your truck and trailer are tuned up, loaded, and ready to haul halfway around the country. Usually, horses come and go to venues big and small and return home unscathed. Yet sometimes things go wrong, and you might be faced with an emergency on the road.

The possible horse show health scares are as varied as the injuries and ailments that can occur at home, but certain show-related hazards can amplify your horse’s chances of getting hurt. To summarize what you might want to look out for, two experienced sport horse veterinarians—Rob Boswell, DVM, of Equine Sports Medicine Group, in Wellington, Florida, and Peter Heidmann, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, of Montana Equine Medical and Surgical Center, in Three Forks—have weighed in on show horse emergencies veterinarians frequently see.

The Most Common Emergencies at Horse Shows

Orthopedic problems

As athletes, horses are subject to the normal litany of wear-and-tear injuries as well as acute orthopedic problems from missteps or accidents. Fortunately, breakdown injuries or acute severe lamenesses from fractures are not as common at horse shows as they are in disciplines where horses compete at top speeds. Heidmann says he mostly sees orthopedic problems such as soft tissue injuries to tendons and ligaments, as well as muscle issues such as tying-up, acute muscular trauma, or chronic muscle injury flare-ups—many of which can be attributed to conditioning level

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Written by:

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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