Veterinarians keeping horses hydrated at Pan Am Games

Excerpt from the article in the Caledon Enterprise written by Matthew Strader talking to  veterinary Service Manager for the Games, Dr. Mike Pownall.

Talk baseball, and it’s Tommy John.

Hockey? Groins.

On the track, it’s always the hammy.

Every sport has a nagging concern. The notorious injury that plagues athletes, haunts managers and owners, and frustrates the health workers tasked with keeping the athlete on the field.

Funny, that in the horse world, the concern is the content of the one saying everyone knows. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

Read Full Article Here



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Photo Album of the 2015 Pan Am Games: Equestrian Portion

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Three Day Eventing Prep

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 3 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. The 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games face a similar challenge that many countries that have hosted the Pan Am Games, or World Equestrian Games, 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 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 the 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? Its one thing to be near a calm horse in a stall, but it is another to work around an excited 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 have 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 that 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 3 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 the amazing horse and rider pairs conquer a challenging course.



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Pan Am Games- Two Weeks To Go

In less than two weeks the first dressage horses will be arriving at the Caledon Equestrian Park to participate in the pan am Games and the list of things to do to prepare for them continues to grow. As the veterinarian services manager I am responsible for coordinating all of the veterinary care for the competing horses so this has required working with those responsible for bringing the horses to Canada, preparing bio security protocols, arranging for the many veterinary team volunteers and ordering the right medication, supplies and equipment to support the teams and their horses.

I have been very pleased by the generosity of 20 equine veterinarians and 18 veterinary technicians who are willing to volunteer their time to help. The Games have highlighted the close relationships veterinarians in Ontario have with each other. I hate to admit that the competitive nature of veterinary practice can lower the professionalism of some vets in other areas of North America but Ontario has a very tight group of vets that support each other. We also have 15 students from all across Canada who are using the games as part of their 3rd year externships. We had numerous clients and vet colleagues volunteering to billet the students but one student who lives in Ontario volunteered the nearby family cottage to host all of the students. Fortunately, they won’t all be there at once, but what a great experience for students to meet other students from the other vet colleges. One of this things I wanted to do when I was selected VSG was to offer as many voluntary opportunities as possible for students. When the games were in Winnipeg in 1999 Dr. McKee and I were fortunate to be student volunteers and the exposure to high level competition and the contacts we made with other vets were very useful as we developed our practice. We both wanted to make sure we gave back to students and we are fortunate that we are able to do so.

In the coming two weeks I will be arranging to have veterinary equipment set up in our portable vet treatment area before the final security sweep on July 5. There are numerous equipment suppliers that have generously loaned us equipment so we can offer full medical support to the equine athletes. We will have a full diagnostic laboratory supplied by Idexx for onsite blood and urine analysis along with expedited analysis of samples that need to be seen at their main laboratory in Markham. They are also loaning us their latest digital X-ray units so we can offer on site digital imaging along with a digital ultrasound supplied by Sonosite. This is all equipment and services we use in our vet practice so we are comfortable offering them to the competitors.

I’m also putting together a large order of medications and supplies to treat whatever situation arises. If we have a major problem or disease outbreak we will be using the Ontario Veterinary College as our referral hospital, but we hope we will be able to handle most situations on site.

Next week I’ll discuss the preparations that are going on for the cross country phase of three day eventing. This is when we will need the most support from our veterinary team so that we can cover all areas of the course. We will also have a temporary veterinary treating area at the Will o Wind site of the cross country event so we are having to juggle many responsibilities during eventing week. Stay tuned for more on this next week.

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The Process and Challenges of Importing Horses for the Pan- Am Games

quarantineI read with great interest last week the uproar over Johnny Depp bringing his two dogs into Australia without putting them into quarantine. It reminded of the efforts the veterinary team is doing to prevent the importation of foreign horse diseases into Canada. It seems that a large part of the preparation for the equine events  at the Pan Am Games is co-ordinating the import of foreign horses to Canada for the Pan Am Games. For those who travel to the USA with their horses it isn’t a big deal, but when we are bringing horses in from the Caribbean, Central and South America and Europe there are many more restrictions in place. The veterinary organizing team has been working closely with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on the import and quarantine regulations for visiting horses. You might wonder what a food inspection agency as to do with horse importation, but the name is misleading since the CFIA is responsible for regulating the import and export of all agricultural products into Canada.

The challenge we face is that the USA and Canada share similar regulations for the importation of horses. Both countries are free of two disease in particular that some horses that will be competing might have. The first is Contagious Equine Metritis, a reproductive disease that causes fertility issues, and the second is Piroplasmosis, a tick borne disease that is prevalent in some part of Central and South America. Piroplasmosis can be life threatening to an acutely infected horse, but if they can survive the initial signs of infection they carry the disease but don’t show any signs of it. Like the border officials in Australia we don’t want to introduce foreign diseases into our country. Fortunately, both diseases only affect specific parts of horses, so there ability to exert themselves in competition is not putting the horse at risk health wise.

As a result of all of this the transport team that co-ordinates all of the arriving teams has been working with visiting teams to make sure arriving horses will be quarantined in the USA before arriving in Canada, or have a quarantine arranged in Canada to accommodate their arrival. On top of this the veterinary team has been working on a biosecurity manual that will instruct us on how to house the Piroplasmosis horses, how to inspect for ticks, and how to stable CEM horses so there is no risk of infecting other horses. Thankfully, these diseases are not easily transmissible to other horses,  nonetheless there are processes in place to keep these diseases out of Canada.

This whole process has been a great reminder of how integral veterinarians are involved in agricultural safety in Canada. It also shows how collaboration between different stakeholders is helping making these Games run as smooth as possible. Finally, it demonstrates that the global movement of horses brings manageable risks and that it is imperative that we remain vigilant to prevent the spread of foreign diseases into Canada. Johnny Depp bringing his dogs into Australia  might have seemed a trivial matter, but there is much more going on than meets the eye.


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Preparing For the Games at Rolex Three Day Event in Kentucky

Dr. Mike Pownall spent last week visiting the Rolex Three Day Event in Kentucky. Here he is sharing his experience in words, photos and videos as we prepare for the Pan Am Games.

In preparation for the Pan Am Games I spent last week in Lexington at the Rolex Three Day Event. I was particularly interested in seeing how Cross Country was run from the perspectives of general organization, and the care of the horses before, during and after the event.

I was overwhelmed by the generosities of the organizing and treating vets in allowing me to shadow them as they went about their duties. The scope of the veterinary care was incredible with 3 supervising FEI vets, 2 official treating vets, various competitor vets, and 17 vets with numerous students helping out on the Cross Country course. It takes a team for this type of event to work well and seamless communication was key to their success.

It has been awhile since I was up close to a 3 Day Cross Country course and my respect and admiration for the horses and riders grew as I walked the course Friday morning. I was exhausted after walking the 6 km course. Imagine galloping this while navigating the challenging jumps? Incredible.

Cross Country day featured torrential rain, which added another layer of complexity for horse and rider safety. Again, I was impressed by how well riders navigated the slick course. The event was overshadowed by the euthanasia of one of the horses because of an injury suffered at the end of Cross Country, but every other horse I saw in D Box following the course was sound and recovered well. As the day progresses you could see the care the riders took on course to minimize the risk to their horses. It was a display of phenomenal horsemanship.

One of our goals during the Games is to offer the best veterinary care to our equine competitors. After seeing the veterinary excellence offered at Rolex I am confident our team of vets, technicians and students will meet the challenge. Currently, we have 23 vets, 17 techs and 9 students who are volunteering their time to help!!

It is almost 2 months until the first horses arrive at the Caledon Equestrian Park. I’m looking forward to sharing more of our experiences as we prepare for the Pan Am Games. Let us know if there is anything in particular you are interested in learning about so we can share with everyone.

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Veterinary Care Well in Hand for Equine Pan-Am Games

The upcoming Pan Am Games are going to see some of the top equine athletes in the world in these parts, and they’re going to have to be cared for.

Dr. Mike Pownall, of McKee-Pownall Equine Services, has been named veterinary services manager for the equestrian events at the Games.

Excerpt from the Caledon Citizen, See full article here: Veterinary care well in hand for equine Pan Am Games

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Equine SOS

The phone rings. We have just finished laughing about the squirrel outside our window that we have named “Nutty,” guarding his tree from fellow wildlife. We answer. On the other end of the receiver is a teary voice, indicating that there is an emergency that is going to have to take priority over anything else at the moment.

Suddenly, Nutty’s antics aren’t so funny. We stay calm, collect the information and contact a veterinarian to get them out to see the horse ASAP.  You may not be able to hear it, but we are having an emotional reaction too. Our mouths feel pasty, our hearts race, our hands get sweaty and we get a pit in our stomach. We page the vet. Why are they taking so long to answer?  It has really only been 30 seconds, but feels much longer.

If 30 seconds seems so long for us, the call from the client perspective must feel like an eternity – especially when the office is asking questions.  Emergencies are scary, and we recognize how traumatizing it is. Like 911 operators, we have to collect all of the right information so we can relay it to the appropriate people (in our case, it is our veterinarians) and provide you with the most efficient care we can.  We want to prevent unnecessary call backs. In these types of situations, you have enough to worry about, without us calling you back to verify something. The following, is need to know information:

  •  The issue the horse is having, and how long it has been happening.  This is important so that we can determine which vet we send, and how urgently we need to get them there.   The occasional colic has been referred to surgery without any intervention from us, due to the symptoms described over the phone and the length of time the horse had been sick.
  • The physical address of the horse – we would feel awful, if you had a sick horse and we sent the vet to the wrong location!
  • If any first aid has been administered, if so – what? Banamine can mask signs of colic, making a horse appear fine when they are really not.  Coating a laceration with product prior to an exam may affect the ability to stitch it.  Pulling a nail from a foot can cause more damage than has already been done.  We like the vet to be fully prepared, with an idea of what is going on, before stepping foot on the property.  We also, do not want to administer drugs again, if a dose has already been received.
  • A phone number that the vet can reach you at, where you will actually answer. We need to be able to get a hold of you with an ETA, or the vet needs to be able to talk to you should they get lost, or require further information.
  • Is the horse insured? This could change the options available to you.

We all have our own pets.  Most of us have horses.  We have developed relationships with clients over the years, and despite the fact that we (as office staff) may not have ever physically met your horse, we can appreciate your stories about how cute he is when he nickers for his treats, or plays with his jolly ball, or lets his friends free from their paddocks/stalls. Through interactions for routine appointments, we feel like we’ve gotten to know your horse.  When something is not quite right, we feel the anxiety it is causing you and can relate to it, because we know how much your horse means to you.

When the phone rings, we never know how the call is going to play out.  While emergency calls can cause some dread, we are glad that we are available to help treat your horse in these circumstances. It gives us a great deal of satisfaction to be able to play a role in getting a veterinarian to see your horse as fast as possible.

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Can You Hear What the Client is Saying?

Every year the Customer Service Representatives (CSR) from all of our practices get together for a CSR training day.  We discuss topics like emergency situations, how to handle different types of calls, how to respond to certain questions and how to provide the best service we can.  It is nice to get a 3rd party perspective.  This year we brought in Dr. Colleen Best as a guest speaker, to help us learn the ins and outs of communication.  Dr. Best is doing research at the Ontario Veterinary College on the impact communication has on the relationship between a client and a veterinarian – specifically in an equine setting.

Something she said, that resonated with me was, “clinical communication isn’t inherent, and needs to be taught.” To make this point hit home, she introduced some scenarios and we took turns role playing.

We are CSRs. Communication is our bread and butter.  This will be easy!

Or not…

If we talk to people all day every day, how is it possible, that we were stumbling through these scenarios?

We were thinking about our answers, and not listening to what our “client” was saying.  Instead of making a personal connection, using helpful filler/catch phrases and engaging the “client”, we were caught prefabricating responses, in an effort to show the presenter our skills.

After a pause, and some discussion about what went wrong, round 2 went much better.

The CSRs, as the initial point of contact, can’t be the advocate for the client if they don’t understand what the client needs.  We can’t really understand what the client needs without listening to what they are saying. One of our goals at McKee-Pownall Equine Services, is to be the voice of the client, and provide the best customer experience we can. To ensure this is our reality, we have to set the bar high and continue to hone our communication skills. Since our interaction is primarily over the phone, we have to understand what the voice on the other end is saying without the benefit of body language, facial expressions and other sight triggers.  Due to the technology we use, we have to solely rely on the words used and tone of voice.

What I learned about myself that day, is that I don’t do as well in the hot seat as I thought.  The veterinarians and technicians complete continuing education courses for practical skills that benefit the client and patient in the field.  We, as CSRs can do the same to benefit the client experience over the phone. By exposing our weaknesses in a group setting, we now all know what we need to work on.

Realizing that the ability to communicate is not something you should just know, made my inadequacies in the scenarios an easier pill to swallow.  I have said it before, and I’ll say it again – there is always room for improvement, and this training day has motivated me to continue to do so.


Laura Holmes, Office Manager

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Routine Services – Bundled in a Convenient Package

Everyone has a busy life, and smart businesses are using different methods, to offer convenience to their clients, so it is easier to deal with the business.  One of these methods is to provide packaged services. It is present in the telecommunications industry with bundles for internet/phone and television.  It is present in the auto industry with service/maintenance and warranty packages.  It even pops up in the financial industry with banks offering mortgage, credit and insurance packages.  I could provide a whole page of examples, but I want you to keep reading!

You are probably wondering what this has to do with an equine veterinary practice.

Veterinary medicine has been surviving off of an archaic business model.  Up until recently our governing body in Ontario wouldn’t allow us to offer packages or bundled services.  Things that are considered normal in other sectors of business – are practically unheard of, or cutting edge in our industry.

My horse, Rocky is treated like one of my children. My experience has been that it is much easier to book appointments, access emergency services and obtain patient history for him, than for my human children.  Going through a pregnancy, while working for a vet clinic, gave me plenty of chances to compare the client experience between human and veterinary medicine.  Having a baby meant that I spent countless hours in doctors offices, waiting for labs and  spending time on the phone coordinating appointments.  Once the baby arrived, it was numerous weight checks, nutritional consults and vaccines.  Vaccines were the worst!  Often, the brand name of a vaccine has nothing to do with the disease it is fighting.  Most of the time, I couldn’t pronounce either the drug name or the disease, let alone know how often it needs to be boosted.  I would have appreciated the opportunity to sign up for a program that monitored all of those appointments for me.  It’s a lot to keep track of, and can be quite overwhelming. 

With the recognition, that our clients are busy people we decided to create a Preventative Health Care Plan (PHCP) for your convenience.  We thought about the things that we would want for our horses.  Most people consider routine vaccines, dentistry and worming protocols as standard care.  We wanted to do more, by providing an even higher standard of care.  It is easy to overlook physical exams or baseline blood work, when there are no health issues at the forefront, but by including these services in a PHCP, you will appreciate having something to compare to, should the need arise!  What is exciting about offering this program (from an employee perspective) is that we get to provide a comprehensive health care program for your horse, you get to save some money, you receive reminders for appointments, and your medical records are easily accessible.

We have established that our clients are busy.  We also realize that different styles of owners require different services.  With this in mind, we developed 3 different plans to suit your individual needs.

Don’t become overwhelmed by everyday life. Take advantage of one of the health plan options available to you.  It will make your life easier, and we get to care about your horse as much as you do. Maybe we can learn to pronounce those vaccine and disease names together. 

Laura Holmes – Campbellville Office Manager

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