What is your role at CHIO Aachen?
I am the president of the veterinary commission so I am responsible for all veterinary affairs. This requires us to carry out examinations on the horses on arrival to see if they’ve travelled well, that they’ve arrived without any infectious diseases, and that they have no fever. With every horse, we then have to perform a veterinary inspection, which consists of a trot-up to check if the horses are lame or not, to check that the tendons look good, and confirm that the horse’s general attitude is fine. For some disciplines, such as eventing, we sometimes have to do that twice, both before and after cross-country, for example. We also have to view horses’ medication.
It is my responsibility to ensure that there is a good veterinary service provided – a vet in each ring and a vet in the stable area. Here in Aachen, there is a whole team of vets, including specialists in diagnosis and specialists in internal medicine. We are very well equipped – we have ultrasound, endoscopy, we have a complete laboratory here on the showground so that we can deliver a first class service to the horses, especially in cases when a horse is injured or not well. It allows us to manage things on-site and find an early diagnosis. Only in the most severe case, where a surgical intervention is necessary, is a horse then referred to a hospital.
Have you worked on any other international equestrian events?
I have been the foreign veterinary delegate for European and World Championships, and also at the Olympic Games. My stand-out experience came when I was part of the veterinary commission at the London 2012 Olympic Games, which was a fantastic event. It was incredible public relations for all equine sports. I’ve had great times in La Baule, which is a good event. However, the one that I like most is CHIO Aachen. I was born in Aachen and I grew up in Aachen. I’ve work on the show for 40 years – I started as a student supporting the vets, then worked as a vet, then became a member of the veterinary commission, and since 1998 I have been the chef of the veterinary commission.
Over the last 20 years, CHIO Aachen has improved greatly. I believe it was the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in 2006 that really gave us a boost. For me, the event was a huge success, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s never been an equestrian event that has had more positive public attention. Since the WEG, this show has grown – we now have additional disciplines here. Before we just had jumping, dressage and driving – additionally we now have eventing and vaulting.
How important is nutrition for a horse’s wellbeing?
The horse requires nutrition that is adequate for the horse. It needs a large amount of roughage and fibre, which is very important for its gut. If horses are put on a diet with too much grain and not enough fibre then the risk of colic is much higher. You need to give a horse basic good food – there is no superfood. A horse also needs basic good training. From time to time you need to take blood samples to see what a horse might be lacking. In my opinion, supplements are both overrated and overused.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to become an equine vet?
You must have a connection to the horse, have empathy for it, and be eager to learn. If you are only concerned about money, there are other far better opportunities than being an equine vet that you should choose. Our profession has a problem motivating young vets. A lot of aspiring vets have found their way into this profession through their love of the horse, but during their studies they also realise that it’s hard work with long hours, including night and weekend duties. Some then decide that they would like a more comfortable life with more normal hours, with no night duties or weekend working, which is a problem for our industry all across Europe. Maybe it’s just a generation problem.
What is a typical day for you like?
I get up at 7am and I will be at the show at 8.30am, where I will spend the whole day. I’m usually not home before 9pm and sometimes not before 11pm or midnight. And that’s not just for me, that’s for most of the veterinary team. I alone cannot do this job. For example, today there are about 20 vets working here. We start with four vets and as the CHIO progresses the number of vets increase, as the final three days of the Festival are the most intense.
Tell us a little bit about your team…
The WEG in 2006 highlighted that we needed a larger veterinary team, and then we additionally had endurance and reining. In 2002 when we won the bid for the WEG, Frank Kemperman came back from Jerez and said that we had to sit down and make plans. The first plan was to enlarge our facilities in the stables and the veterinary centre, while the second plan was to expand the veterinary team. We then had three years to build the team, so I asked some vets that I knew if they were interested and some others joined spontaneously. The eventual team in 2006 was very well welded together, and the nucleus of that team still exists here today, which I’m very happy about. The team is very supportive of each other, closing their own practices, coming from far and wide across Europe, not just from the local area, but from Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria and all over Germany. Every day I look forward to the show and being here, but it’s always hard work.
When you retire, what legacy would you like to leave in equestrianism?
What I’ve tried to achieve, which has been partially successful, was when the relationship between the official vets and the treating vets improved. The official vets don’t just see themselves as policemen any longer, but also as advisors, and the treating vets are taking this advice. The cooperation of both groups has brought not just a better relationship but also better understanding of the sport, and ultimately a better situation for the horse.
In your opinion, what more can be, and should be, done to improve the welfare of the horse?
There are multiple things that can be done. But for me, the main thing is for the main decisionmakers to ensure that their horses have proper phases of rest, of reduced training and, for certain events, must be specially trained. A horse cannot go through the year on the same level of performance – no horse can sustain that. Most of the good riders that you see here at CHIO Aachen understand that. There must be better controls, whether that’s by improved vet inspections and doping controls, more consistent judging. I still believe that it is still possible to bring the sport on to an even higher level, which is achieved by good horsemanship and ensuring that everything is done for the good of the horse.