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For Equine Vets Everywhere

My volunteer experience at WEVA Congress 2018

Words by Gil Riley

I was delighted to be chosen by the BEVA Trust to give a presentation at WEVA Congress in Beijing but more than a little unsure when the topic of ‘Equine Parasites and Colic’ was the one allocated to me. For an ambulatory vet with a tendency towards lameness and laminitis, this was going to be a challenging subject. I settled somewhat however when I realised it was one that would afford me a great opportunity to employ lots of striking and distinctive illustrations when composing my PowerPoint!

I prepared well in advance, partly because I knew as the trip drew close I would be working nineteen to the dozen to get my day to day work covered, but also because I have the good fortune to count Professor Derek Knottenbelt amongst my closest professional friends – after one phone call I very soon had an in-box full of material and photos of parasites, necrotic bowels and verminous arteritis!

Congress lasted for 4 days with wet-labs on the first day and presentations over the next 3 days. The venue was the China World hotel, a truly luxurious set-up with lecture rooms (and a shopping complex!) in the basement but these paled in comparison to the hospitality of the organising committee and the Chinese students. There was a tremendous thirst for learning with students busily scribbling notes as the translators relayed the speakers’ comments into their earpieces.

My turn at the lectern came on day 2. The allocated time of 20 minutes meant 20 minutes and no messing. The organisers deserve a great deal of credit for the way they kept time and how seamlessly the presentations ran together. I received a polite round of applause but managed to milk a little more when I said “thank you” to the audience in Chinese! (it isn’t difficult – phonetically it’s ‘shay- shay’ if you’re interested!)

So that was me done I thought… except it wasn’t. At an event before the dinner that evening I was approached by a representative of Xinjiang province to see if I would be interested in spending a couple of days visiting the government studs to advise them on disease control/bio-security. I gave the nod and my internal flights were booked.

Xinjiang province is in the extreme west of China, just to the north of Tibet and bordering Kazakhstan. The flight there from Beijing took 5 hours with a further 3 hours in a taxi. ‘Remote’ doesn’t really do it justice!

A meeting had been called for my arrival and workers from the government studs in the area attended. I was to give my presentation on parasites (again!) followed by a question and answer session which lasted two hours. It was quickly apparent that the general level of knowledge regarding disease prevention and treatment was very low. Worm control or farriery were unheard of and vaccination or antibiotics were simply unavailable. The remainder of the first day and the entirety of the second were spent visiting studs, each of which were experiencing high levels of neonate mortality. The importance of colostrum was clearly not fully appreciated and the necessity of isolating ill-foals as soon as they developed a bloody diarrhoea was unknown (or if it was, then unpractised). I hope, with the help of my excellent interpreter, that by the time I left Xinjiang at least some vital management rules had been taken on board.

The entire trip to China was a wonderful experience. I feel I gained a real insight into how WEVA is actively improving the level of equine veterinary knowledge, and in turn horse welfare. All this in parts of the world where previously these things may not have been a priority. I am extremely grateful to the BEVA Trust for sponsoring my travel and I would say to any of you, if you are lucky enough to be invited to speak at the next WEVA Congress (October 2019 in Verona) then don’t hesitate to accept – I assure you, you won’t regret it!