By Melissa Ribley, DVM

The head control judge for an endurance ride should play an essential role as part of ride management. Being involved in the planning stages of the ride in terms of mileage between vet check points and hold times will result in a more smoothly-run ride for both riders and management, and a safer event for the horses.

Veterinarians who work as the head control judge at rides are often experienced at working a number of rides that vary in terrain and climate so have a good base knowledge for what are safe and appropriate hold times and mileage between vet checks.

Additionally, the experienced control judge develops a good sense for how quickly horses will be arriving at vet checks and so can assist in calculating appropriate start times for the various rides so as to avoid a bottleneck situation at a vet check where riders from the LD ride, for example, are arriving at the same time as the 50-mile riders.

Start times. Start times for each ride should be carefully thought out as this can avoid overcrowding at the vet check. The wise ride manager who is busy with a multitude of other ride planning responsibilities will use this resource to their advantage and engage the head vet in the planning of vet check locations, hold times, and start times.

Vet check planning. While the ride manager likely knows the trail and layout of the vet checks better than anyone, the head vet can and should provide valuable input in planning the location, flow and hold times of the various vet checks. It is therefore important for the head vet and the ride manager to communicate well before the ride to discuss these vet check issues.

Adjusting to conditions. Of course, as ride time arrives the mileage points and hold times may be adjusted based on ambient and trail conditions. This is where the head control judge and the ride manager must work closely together and communicate clearly. Flexibility is the key here as adjustments to vet check parameters based on the current conditions will make the difference in providing a safer event for the horses.

Number of control judges. Another issue that should be discussed between the head control judge and ride manager well before the ride is both the number of control judges that will be needed based on the anticipated number of riders and number of out checks as well as the availability of treatment, both at the ride site and at referral centers.

Treatment. The head control judge and ride manager should confirm with one another that arrangements have been made for treatment at the ride site, meaning adequate supplies will be available along with a veterinarian able to provide medical care to horses in need. The closest referral center(s) should be contacted to confirm the availability of both a surgeon and ongoing medical care and monitoring.

Other factors. Beyond the planning stages of the ride, where the head control judge works in concert with the ride manager, there are additional responsibilities once at the ride. Heart rate criteria and the logistics of best condition judging should be announced to the riders at the rider meeting. Additionally, any anticipated circumstances that may present a special challenge to the horses and riders such as extreme heat and/or humidity, or extreme terrain, should be discussed with the riders along with recommendations on how to mitigate these circumstances.

Equine welfare reminder. A key point to highlight with riders is the reminder that even though the ride vets are there to help the riders have a safe ride with their horse, the horse’s welfare ultimately lies with the rider. The rider who is spending many hours with their horse will likely be the first one to notice a problem and honest dialogue with the control judges will go a long way in preventing serious problems for the horse.

Paperwork. Finally, the least fun responsibility of the head control judge is the required paperwork. Confirm that the BC forms have been submitted to the ride manager with the horse scoring section completed. Fill out and submit to the AERC office the post-ride statistical reporting form which details horse eliminations and treatment. In the unfortunate, but fortunately uncommon, incident of a ride-related equine fatality, complete and submit to the AERC office the fatality reporting form.

Debrief and start planning. It is worthwhile having a debriefing with the ride manager prior to leaving the ride site to discuss what worked well and not so well during the ride with respect to veterinary control. That way management can make note of what should be done the following year to help continually improve the ride.

The head control judge is a valuable asset to the ride management team and should strive to avail themselves to the ride manager not only during the ride, but in the weeks and months leading up to the ride, in order to provide the safest event possible for our horses.

Originally published in the June 2023 issue of Endurance News

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