Lima Lowdown | August 1, 2019
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Welcome to the Lima Lowdown! To introduce myself, I’m Jessie Christie, the Media Attaché for the Canadian Equestrian Team in Lima. I’m proud and honoured to be part of the ‘team behind the team’ – and each day of the Games, I’ll be bringing you exclusive stories and photos from our Canadian athletes, grooms, owners, and team personnel here in Lima.

As the Canadian Dressage Team Chef d’Équipe, Christine Peters said this week in an interview, “It takes a village” for a team to be successful at a major games.

One of the men behind Canada’s dressage medals at Lima 2019 is the Team Veterinarian, Dr. Geoff Vernon of Calgary, AB. I first met Dr. Vernon at the Ottawa Dressage Festival earlier this season, where it was announced that he had spearheaded the Dressage Youth Development Fund to support Canada’s athletes heading to the 2019 FEI North American Youth Championships.

CET on the Go | Team Vet Talk with Dr. Geoff Vernon

Canadian Dressage Team Chef d’Équipe, Christine Peters and Dressage Team Vet, Dr. Geoff Vernon are vital members of the village behind the horse and human athletes.
Photo Credit: ©EC/Erin Foster

Onsite at Lima it quickly became clear his generosity and depth of caring extends beyond people, and even horses, to all animals. While having lunch at the equestrian venue cafeteria the other day, I had noted with curiosity that he was setting aside seemingly random assortments of food in a separate bowl. The mystery was solved when we left the cafeteria and he headed straight off to feed the cats living at the venue.

The next day, lunch was once again enlightening, as I learned from a group who know him well that he’s been known to return home from major games with a rescued dog in tow on the plane. One, fully grown now, was a dehydrated puppy he found lying in a ditch with ticks the size of tumours under his ears and between his toes. Today, much photo evidence shows that same dog happy, healthy and living the high life.

This enormous empathy and willingness to go above and beyond to help living creatures of all species certainly puts the Canadian Dressage Team in good veterinary hands. Keep reading to learn more about Dr. Geoff Vernon and his vital team role. 

CET on the Go | Team Vet Talk with Dr. Geoff Vernon

Dr. Geoff Vernon fittingly wearing ‘red, white and gold’ at Lima 2019.
Photo Credit: Cealy Tetley

JC: How did you get into the veterinary field?

GV: As a kid growing up, I was lucky to be exposed to a lot of different sports – tennis, sailing, riding – and I didn’t really hit on riding as my favorite sport. I was more into track and field and running. When I was at the University of Toronto, we were running in Sunnybrook Park and I got interested in riding again because that equestrian facility (Sunnybrook Stables) existed and it has an interesting history. It’s funny, because I think Jill Irving rode there, certainly Ashley Holzer and Lindsay Kellock. If you look at the people involved with the Canadian Equestrian Team, you’ll find a large percentage of the ones in Ontario had some sort of touch by Sunnybrook, which unfortunately burned down. It’s an unfortunate loss, and hopefully it gets rebuilt because it was a definite pipeline for not only veterinarians, but also for riders to come into our programs.

While I was there training at Sunnybrook Park, I noticed they were riding, and I started taking some riding lessons and then was asked to oversee the ‘up-down’ program on the weekends in exchange for free riding. I got interested in the horses and the veterinary work that was being done on maintaining all those school horses, and then I made the decision to go to vet school. And, it was always to become an equine vet. I have dogs, but they all go see a small animal vet – I just do horses.

JC: How did you come to be the Canadian Dressage Team Vet?

GV: I’m originally from Toronto, and actually got involved with dressage when Robert Dover came on as our technical advisor of the program, through a mutual friend of ours, Walter Shanly. At that time, Walter was instrumental in putting Robert Dover in place as the technical advisor. And then Walter and Robert both thought I’d be a good addition to the team and asked me to come on as the veterinarian for dressage.

I was already involved with the US team as one of the US Show Jumping Team veterinarians, so it was a good fit, because there was no conflict with dressage vs. show jumping. That was just before the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. They haven’t found anybody to replace me yet, so here I am, still doing the job! And then, of course, part of that job is being on the high performance advisory group, which helps shape the programs and selections of the team for major games.

JC: What does the Team Vet role involve?

GV: The role is really to facilitate the performance of the horses and to optimize performance while they are at the actual competition. By facilitating prior to the competition, the team veterinarian will work with the regular treating veterinarians of the horses that are on the team.

When the horses arrive at a training camp prior to the Games, really it’s just a matter of fine tuning, if any fine tuning needs to be done, rather than major treatments. In terms of being at the competition, you optimize performance by making sure the horses are maintained on their normal regimen of treatments that would exist prior to any competition. And, of course, to make sure that everyone is compliant with the medication rules, to treat any emergencies that come up, and handle any necessary veterinary situations. But generally, a good Games for a vet is one that is hours of boredom – then you know you’ve done your job.

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