Questions & Answers with Dr. Marco Hermann – FEI Veterinary Delegate at the CHI of Geneva

What is your role at CHI Geneva?

I am the veterinary delegate for the FEI at CHI Geneva. I am in charge of looking at the veterinary rules set by the FEI and making sure that they are implemented correctly. This starts with the organisation of the veterinary team and examination of the horses on arrival, making sure that they are sound, that they do not have any signs of the EHV virus or any other contagious disease and ensuring that the horses are fit to compete. Another important job that we have is conducting doping tests and treating any horses onsite who have become unwell or lame.

Have you worked on any other international equestrian events?

I have been fortunate to be able to work on a variety of different international events with the FEI. I was the veterinary delegate for CSI Zürich for 30 years, as well as for CSIO St. Gallen for almost 40 years. I am  also in charge of the veterinary service at CHI Basel and was a member of the vet commission at the FEI World Championships in Herning last August.

This is the second year that I will be the veterinary delegate at CHI Geneva. Before, you could work at an event with no break, but nowadays the veterinary delegate (VD) has to change every three years, so next year will be my last year working as VD at CHI Geneva.

How important is nutrition for a horse’s well-being?

A horse’s wellbeing is very important – in my opinion it is as important as it is for athletes, although, it is not as well researched as it is in high level human athletes. The horse’s digestive tract needs a lot of fibre, but nowadays people tend to treat a horse’s nutrition as they would a human athlete’s. People now give their horses food with a lot of ingredients that are highly concentrated – horses cannot process this type of food because their digestive tracts are still the same as they were many years ago. In my opinion, the old way of feeding horses is the best way and the supplements that are sold now are not so suitable for a horse’s natural system. 

Why did you decide to become an equine vet? Did anyone inspire you?

It was easy for me – even when I was at school, I always wanted to be an equine vet. I do not think anyone inspired me, but for some reason it was always clear to me that this was what I wanted to do. I didn’t even grow up in a horse family – my family was more into cars.

What career achievement(s) are you most proud of?

When you get older you realise that you have done a lot of things. I think the thing that I most proud of is that I built a good reputation in Switzerland and that I am a well-respected member of the veterinary community who is known to have good professional knowledge. I did a lot of colic surgery when I was still fully practicing, and I was able to build up a private clinic which I sold five years ago. It still has a very good reputation and that is the thing that I am most proud of.

What do you enjoy most about being an equine vet?

The thing that I enjoy most about being an equine vet is being able to work with horses – they are the love of my life. Being able to spend so much time with them is a privilege – although sometimes I wish I didn’t have to deal with their owners, but that is not possible! I love being able to treat horses and find out how to help them so that they are no longer lame or ill.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become an equine vet?

I think that nowadays the younger generation shows more interest in the ‘life’ aspect of the ‘work-life balance’, but to be an equine vet requires a full engagement. You have to be completely devoted to this career, and it will be more ‘work’ than ‘life’. Another key quality that I think people have to have is patience – it is one of the most important things that you need in order to work with horses.

What is a typical day for you like?

It is difficult to say now because I am partially retired, so I can enjoy my life a bit more. I no longer have to drive all day to clients like I did for many years – it could sometimes be from 6am in the morning to 10pm at night. In the past I also used to help students in the clinic. Veterinary practices are open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, which meant sometimes I would be operating all night.

I still have some clients, such as Steve Guerdat and the Fuchs family , who are some of the best show jumpers in the world. I work from my car privately, so I do not need to have a clinic or employees anymore.

Tell us a little bit about your team at CHI Geneva…

At CHI Geneva there will be four vets at all times, two official FEI vets and two t treating vets. It depends on which event you are working at but generally the more horses there are, the more vets need to be on-site. For example, at CSIO St. Gallen, we have five or six vets on-site at all times.

Now you have retired, what legacy do you think you have left in equestrianism?

Now I have partially retired, I spend a lot of time giving speeches and seminars, especially to people who are amateurs and do not compete at a high level. Often, they have a full-time job alongside having a horse, and so I think that sometimes they do not understand the complexity of horses because they do not spend all their time looking after them. I try to educate them on what horses need in order to perform best, how to feed them correctly and how to be a better horseman.

The welfare of the horse underpins what the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping stands for; how do you ensure this is upheld and veterinary standards are constantly improving?

To me, communication is the key, and we need to include all stakeholders in the industry, including riders, grooms, owners and officials, in the conversations. We need to consider all aspects of the sport, but the key thing that we need to remember is that the horse should always be at the centre of these conversations.

Sometimes it can be difficult because there is a lot of money involved and people also have their own personal goals and ambitions within the sport. However, it is so important to recognise that horses are living animals and they are not machines – you cannot just turn them on and off like you would with a car.

In your opinion, what more can be, and should be, done to improve the welfare of the horse?

I think that maybe we should limit the amount of  high level competitions and large classes that horses compete in over the course of the year. In our sport we have so many great and well organised events – such as the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors – that there are so many opportunities to compete at the very highest level and often the prize money is so good that riders are tempted to jump in more classes. Therefore, often the horses do not have enough time to fully rest and recover between classes. I think that most top riders understand this, but I think that we should help them to make an informed decision about which tour they follow and what their annual plan is for each of their individual horses – in the end this will stop people over jumping their horses and will thus improve the welfare of the horse. 

Source: Press Release from Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping

Photo: © Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder