What It’s Like to Be an Olympic Games Vet
Published on July 10, 2012
As head veterinarian for the U.S. equestrian eventing team competing at the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, this isn’t Dr. Brendan Furlong’s first rodeo — or Olympics, for that matter.
Dr. Furlong, MVB, MRCVS, began working with the team in 1990 for the World Championships in Austria, and he has since traveled to several Olympic games with the eventing team, including Sydney and Hong Kong.
Vetstreet caught up with the esteemed veterinarian to find out what exactly an Olympic vet does — and how he handles the pressure.
Q. How did you land this plum gig?
A. Dr. Furlong: "My veterinary practice is located very close to the U.S. team's headquarters in New Jersey. So at the time that I was hired in 1990, a lot of my clients were already serious candidates for the team. But I'd actually been working with some of the team veterinarians as early as 1984, helping to treat the horses for colic and other issues."
Q. What are your responsibilities as head team veterinarian?
A. "I travel extensively with the team, particularly during championship years. The most important part of my job is evaluating the horses before and during events. I look for signs of injury and disease that would preclude a horse from being able to perform at its maximum level. In the middle of a competition, if horses aren't able to continue on, they’re eliminated, and the team is unable to finish. So our primary focus as vets is to advise the selection committee on which horses have a very good chance of finishing each competition."
Q. Does it come with a lot of pressure?
A. "It does, but I love my job. It’s such a privilege to be able to spend every day of my life around horses."
Q. You just got back from London, where you evaluated the Olympic horses. How are they adapting?
A. "They’re very happy. The weather in London is much cooler and wetter than the heat wave we’re experiencing at home. They seem to like it. London is much easier for them to adapt to weather-wise than past, hotter Olympic climates, like Atlanta."
Q. How have things changed for Olympic horses since you’ve been a team vet?
A. "I think we have better diagnostics now — ultrasounds and MRIs to help identify the severity of injury, and how it might impact a horse's future. There are also more sophisticated biological therapies, like stem cells, to help treat horses and get them back to their original form."
Q. What does it feel like to be part of such a huge event?
A. "Anybody who would tell you that they don’t get motivated and uplifted by the whole spirit of the Olympics — I don’t know where their head would be. It’s an amazing spectacle, and this year in London is going to be extra special. Usually, the equestrian events take place a long way from the main activity. In London, for the first time ever, we are going to be right there in the same venue as everything else taking place, which is going to up the excitement level."
Q. Do you have a favorite Olympics memory?
A. "I have special memories from all of them, but Atlanta is probably my most memorable because it was my first. We won a team silver and an individual bronze that year."
Q. What do you do when you’re not with the U.S. team or at your practice?
A. "My wife [also a vet in the practice] and I breed horses on our farm, and we breed horses for other people. For fun, we both fox hunt, and my wife competes in eventing and dressage, so our life is very closely intertwined with horses — even when we’re not working."
You can watch the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, which run from July 27 to August 12, on NBC.
Check out more Vetstreet-exclusive coverage of the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games.