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COMMUNITY · August 30th, 2021

Caring for Champions: Inside the Journey of a Veterinarian at the Olympics

Last month, 325 Olympic horses (and their riders) arrived in Tokyo to compete in the equestrian games. Among them was our community’s own Dr. Alan Manning of Manning Equine Veterinary Services. As the veterinarian for the Canadian Olympic dressage team, Dr. Manning helped care for the horses from training through competition – a journey that included mandatory quarantines, long flights, health inspections, and countless on-call visits.

Here’s a peek into what it’s like to be a veterinarian supporting an Olympic team:

Preparing for the Olympics

One of three Olympic equestrian sports, dressage is a competition where the horse and rider perform a series of predetermined movements in front of a panel of judges. It requires great strength from both horse and rider, immense control, and sharp attention to detail. Before the competition began, Dr. Manning spent weeks with the horses to ensure they were in tip-top shape.

Dr. Manning applies stitches to a horse after a minor injury.

This year, Canada’s dressage team included three first-time Olympic riders and their horses: Lindsay Kellock with Sebastien, Chris von Martels with Eclips, Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu with All In, and with the first reserve, Naima Moreira Laliberté with Statesman. The Olympics were also a first for Dr. Manning, who previously served the team at the Pan Am Games and the World Equestrian Games.

The Canadian Olympic dressage team.

Covid Quarantine

With two horses in New York and two in Florida, the four reunited at the equestrian quarantine center in Aachen, Germany. For two weeks leading up to the competition, Dr. Manning isolated with the team and monitored the horses’ health while practice sessions continued. The group included coaches, riders, team leaders, groomers, and farriers who specialize in horseshoes and hoof care.

Sebastien (horse) smiles after a ride during quarantine in Aachen, Germany

Time to Board for Tokyo

From Germany, the team began a 36-hour trip to Tokyo. The horses were led into roomy flying stables and loaded into a massive Boeing 777-F with 32 other horses from competing countries. Throughout the flight, the stables remained a comfy 60 degrees. Horses enjoyed a range of in-flight meals, including apples, bananas, carrots, and water-fortified hay to keep them hydrated. Along with Dr. Manning, the care team flew alongside to monitor the horses’ health, temperatures, and pulse rates.

Two team members check in on the horses after the stables get loaded on the plane.

Dr. Manning snaps a shot from the air: “Over the Himalayas with 36 horses on board,” he said. “Pretty spectacular!”

Touch Down in Tokyo

After a pit stop in Dubai to refuel, the team landed at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. They led the horses off the plane and onto air-conditioned trucks headed to the Baji Koen Equestrian Park. On arrival, Dr. Manning checked the horse’s vitals, took blood work, and ensured they got plenty of rest. Horses get jeg lag too!

The horses catch up on some sleep after a long journey.

The dream team connects to talk about the days ahead.

Preparation and Inspection

Training continued as the team and horses adjusted to the time difference in the days leading up to the competition. While performance horses generally train and compete during the day, a severe heatwave required the events to occur in the evening. Preparations included touring the rings, keeping in shape, and official dressage horse inspections before Ground Judges. All the while, Dr. Manning monitored the animals’ appetites, supplied supplements, and observed them for signs of weight loss or distress.

Practice begins on the beautiful grounds of the main arena at Baji Koen Equestrian Park, decorated with cherry blossoms and bonsai trees.

Training happens at night when it’s cool.

The team prepares – practices at night and core workouts during the day.

Dressage Olympian Chris von Martels helps bathe Eclips.

Training gets underway in the main arena.

It’s Showtime: Go, Team Canada!

With all of Team Canada’s horses passing inspection, the Dressage events began. Qualifiers took place over the next two days, and the main competitions –  Dressage Team Grand Prix Special and Dressage Team Grand Prix Special – shortly after. Again, Team Canada’s horses remained healthy throughout the competition.

Last-minute preparations as Chris von Martels and Eclips prepare to compete.

Olympians Lindsay Kellock and Sebastien enter the ring.

Making History

While Germany took home the gold, Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu and All In made Canadian history in the Dressage Individual Grand Prix Freestyle. With a total score of 76.404%, they now hold the highest Canadian score in an Olympic Freestyle, beating a record previously set by her own coach. Dr. Manning, of course, could not have been more proud.

Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu and All In make an elegant entrance to Celine Dion’s “I’m Alive.”

Returning to Tokyo for the Paralympics

After a brief trip home to celebrate his mom’s 96th birthday, Dr. Manning returns to care for Canada’s para-dressage horses. Tokyo 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of para dressage’s debut at the Games.

Canada’s Paralympic dressage team prepares for training in Aachen, Germany.

A Paralympian safely dismounts her horse with the support of her team.

The sun sets over Tokyo’s Equestrian Park as another Olympic Games comes to an end.

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