Tokyo Olympics Offers Rare Opportunity for Wisconsin Veterinarian

Feb 2 | News, WVMA News

By Alisyn Amant, University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine

WVMA member Dr. Lisa Borzynski was given the opportunity of a lifetime in July 2021 when she traveled to Tokyo, Japan, as a Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) veterinarian for the Tokyo Olympics equestrian events. Originally scheduled for the summer of 2020, the Games were delayed after COVID-19 put a screeching halt to international events.

Dr. Borzynski, along with about 20 other FEI veterinarians, cared for and monitored the health and welfare of the Olympic competitors throughout their preparation and events. As soon as the horses arrived, the team went through a health and logistics checklist.

Not only did they examine each horse for signs of contagious diseases, but also for their equine passports, an FEI requirement.

“We checked temperatures, pulse, and respiration,” Dr. Borzynski said during a webinar in October 2021, hosted by the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association, where she shared her Olympics experience. “We looked for any cough, nasal discharge – anything that might be contagious. We have very strict biosecurity rules. They are required to have influenza vaccinations, so we had to check that. We made sure they didn’t look any worse for wear from their travel. And that was just the arrival exam before we even started the competition.”

Throughout the training and competitions, Dr. Borzynski and the other veterinarians monitored the horses, many of whom were in their teens and had already attended multiple Olympics. Dr. Borzynski emphasized the importance of watching for signs of overheating, fatigue or injury before, during and after an event to ensure the wellbeing of the animals. They even had access to thermography cameras to quickly measure a horse’s body temperature, a vital technology in the midst of the hottest months of the summer.

“Before they started competition, we jogged them to make sure they were sound enough to compete. The head veterinary delegate led the process, on the lookout for swollen tendons or ligament injuries,” she added. “We also watched them throughout the competition. In the eventing, we saw them throughout the dressage, in their warm-ups for cross country, and we had veterinarians at every jump on the cross country. Then they had to jog again before the show jumping.”

Horses and veterinarians alike were happy with the facilities and amenities provided by the Japanese Olympics officials. The equestrian park, Baji Koen, spans 45 acres in the heart of Tokyo, with eight new air-conditioned barns. Grazing areas gave the equine competitors much-needed resting spots.

“We were very lucky that we had Tokyo 2020, even though it was held in 2021,” Dr. Borzynski said. “There was a lot of discussion up until the week before of whether or not it was going to happen. So, all of us there were very, very grateful and thankful that we actually got to make it.”

Throughout the duration of her stay in Tokyo, Dr. Borzynski treasured the memories made with the horses and the people behind them. A sense of international cooperation and communal spirit has stuck with her, long past her arrival back in the United States.