Rosie Olley, Taja Vajs and Graham Duncanson travelled to Kiev, Ukraine in October to speak at the annual 3 day Equine Veterinary Seminar covering topics of internal medicine, orthopedics, dentistry and general practice. 

Volunteers for 2019 were:

Rosie Olley BVSc MScVPS CertAVP(EM), who has recently completed a Residency in Equine Internal Medicine at the University of Liverpool and now works in private practice at Scott Mitchell & Associates (an XL practice).

Taja Vajs DVM, who has recently completed equine internships at both Dierenkliniek De Morette, Belgium and subsequently the University of Liverpool, UK and recently started a Residency in Equine Surgery at the University of Vienna, Austria.

Graham Duncanson BVSc, who has actually spoken at this conference twice in the past, brings a lifetime of experience of working with equids in challenging environments, such as Kenya, and running his own practice.

The lecture topics were selected by the conference organisers based on what the delegates requested and according to the personal strengths of the speakers. Graham spoke about dentistry in a very practical manner, encouraging delegates to increase the range of procedures they were comfortable performing. Taja spoke on orthopedic conditions such as OCD, suspensory ligament pathology and farriery and always had a lot of discussion and interaction after her sessions. Rosie encouraged a logical approach to diagnosis of medical complaints, going through blood work interpretation, colic investigation with an emphasis on the rectal exam, and ocular conditions. Graham ran through practical approaches to situations such as toxicology, sudden death and infectious medical diseases. We were a little nervous before speaking as to whether our lectures were of the right level and how they would be received, but this passed quickly. The delegates and course organisers were open, relaxed and communicative. We were amazed at how enthusiastic the delegates were over the three days – they would sit for 2-5 hours straight, declining coffee breaks and asking questions throughout – we hardly caught anyone napping apart from Graham!

Rosie and Taja then collaborated on practical sessions. We demonstrated differentiating orthopedic and neurological conditions on what we thought was a normal horse… we were trying not to find fault with the riding club horse we were provided with and so were quietly ignoring subtle abnormalities. We were then very relieved to eventually be told the horse had been recumbent with neurological herpes two months previously! Having run through abdominal and thoracic ultrasound in a lecture session in order to facilitate translation, we then performed ultrasound of a riding club horse. We were provided with beautiful Esaote machines, which we were very grateful for the use of. The alcohol we were provided with smelt stronger than vodka but despite the fumes and the cold, delegates remained focused throughout the session!

We were so grateful to our two translators… Olga, one of the conference organisers, is a Ukrainian vet who now works in industry in Ukraine. Lada qualified as a vet in Ukraine but has lived in Ireland for 15 years and travelled home especially for the conference. If we were tired giving 1/3 of three days presentations each, we were really grateful to our translators who spoke for 1/2 of three days each! They worked so hard and it wouldn’t be possible without them. It was quite funny when multi lingual Taja could understand Ukrainian from similarities to her native Slovenian and started to answer questions without waiting for translation… everyone realised how much she could eavesdrop! Delegates were mostly from Ukraine but also from Russia and Belarus.

Throughout our time in Kiev we felt so welcome. It was really interesting to talk to the attending vets about their day-to-day work. We gained a completely different perspective on veterinary life as we understood the difficult world in which they exist. We learned that there is little to no option for referral in Ukraine - there is one centre providing colic surgery and some orthopedic surgery. Therefore, practitioners work to a high level of competence or perhaps pushing the boundaries of their competence much more than in countries where referral is available. Furthermore, the horses are predominantly well bred sport horses competing internationally and therefore the funds are available to treat them. We were fascinated to discuss some ongoing cases and realise how committed the clients and vets were to treating conditions that we would not often not treat due to the balance between prognosis, cost and welfare at ‘home’. We had a lot of discussion around the differences in veterinary education between countries and tried to help delegates develop an understanding of the scientific foundations of the topics we were covering – even though clinically and practically they were already performing at a really advanced level. Already we have formed connections with Ukrainian vets and discussed cases by email, since coming home.

As Taja put it: It was an honor to get to know the veterinarians doing the same job, fighting the same struggles and aiming for the same goal – to help the horse – as people with much more diagnostic and therapeutic resources. We were truly humbled by the experience.

We also gained a lot from our trip, despite a few sleepless nights writing lectures around the day job! Ukraine’s political situation is pretty unique and difficult to do justice to from the knowledge gained on such a brief visit, but it is a real experience to walk around a city where only five years earlier government forces released live ammunition on anti-government protesters. It was a trip of contrasts… On our first night we were taken to a burger and beer place where Halloween decorations were everywhere. On our second night we went to a restored church where we heard haunting music based around the organ, but also some singing, before eating at the hotel. On our third night, we went straight from the horse club where we had held the practical sessions to a Soviet era building, where we had a private room and table…. As plates and plates of food were brought out, around 10 of the 30 or so people in the room stood up one by one, throughout the meal, to make heartfelt speeches of thanks to the congress organisers, sponsors and speakers. (We think! As they were almost entirely in Ukraine)… it was really touching. Leftovers from that dinner were had for lunch the next day, as we borrowed coats and drank brandy to stay warm in a gathering in Anatoly’s garden. On our last night, we went to a traditional Ukrainian restaurant, joined by Olga, Lada and a Ukrainian vet.

On our final day, it was organised for us to visit an anatomy museum at the local vet school. We then had a guided tour of Kiev, where we learnt much more about the influences of Russia on Ukrainian history and visited a memorial wall for all the lives lost in the ongoing Ukrainian war at the border with Russia. Graham and I got quite thoroughly lost afterwards riding the metro around Kiev and started to fear we would never make it to the airport, but eventually we figured it out!

We would like to thank the BEVA trust for allowing us the opportunity to contribute to this conference, allowing the development of the equine veterinary industry in Ukraine. We would like to thank all our hosts in Ukraine for facilitating this opportunity and being so welcoming. And many thanks are due from Rosie to the University of Liverpool, and Fernando Malalana in particular, who provided great photos and video for some of the lectures.