In July, Lisa Borzynski, a 1993 DVM graduate of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, traveled to Tokyo, Japan as a Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) veterinarian for the Tokyo Olympics equestrian events. Originally scheduled for the summer of 2020, the Games were delayed after the coronavirus put a screeching halt to international events.
Borzynski currently works at the Wisconsin Equine Clinic in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, an equine primary care and referral center. Her focus is sport horse medicine. Her previous involvement with the Fédération Equestre Internationale, or International Federation for Equestrian Sports, led to an invitation to join the 2020 Olympic veterinary team. Fédération Equestre Internationale serves as the international governing body of equestrian sports and oversees veterinarians working at FEI events.
Borzynski, along with about 20 other FEI veterinarians, cared for and monitored the health and welfare of the Olympic competitors throughout their preparation and events. As soon as the horses arrived, the team went through a health and logistics checklist. Not only did they examine each horse for signs of contagious diseases, but also for their equine passports, an FEI requirement.
“We check temperatures, pulse, and respiration,” Borzynski said during a webinar in October, hosted by the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association, where she shared her Olympics experience. “We look for any cough, nasal discharge – anything that might be contagious. We have very strict biosecurity rules. They are required to have influenza vaccinations, so we have to check that. We make sure they don’t look any worse for wear from their travel. And that’s just the arrival exam before we even start the competition.”
Throughout the training and competitions, Borzynski and the other veterinarians monitored the horses, many of whom were in their teens and had already attended multiple Olympics. Borzynski emphasized the importance of watching for signs of overheating, fatigue or injury before, during and after an event to ensure the wellbeing of the animals. They even had access to thermography cameras to quickly measure a horse’s body temperature, a vital technology in the midst of the hottest months of the summer.
“Anytime horses were out, we were out there. So we were standing right next to all the best horses in the world,” Borzynski said.
“Before they start competition, we jog them to make sure they’re sound enough to compete. The head veterinary delegate would lead the process, on the lookout for swollen tendons or ligament injuries,” she added. “We’re also watching them throughout the competition. In the eventing, we see them throughout the dressage, in their warm-ups for cross country, and we had veterinarians at every jump on the cross country. Then they have to jog again before the show jumping.”
Horses and veterinarians alike were happy with the facilities and amenities provided by the Japanese Olympics officials. The equestrian park, Baji Koen, spans 45 acres in the heart of Tokyo, with eight new, air-conditioned barns. Grazing areas gave the competitors a well-needed resting spot.
“The horses were very, very happy,” Borzynski recalled. “They were happy outside; they were happy in the barns. Probably the most content horses I’ve seen at any kind of horse show.”
Participants expressed concerns about the odds of cancellation amidst global tensions over COVID-19. Still, the Games went on. Each sport had a “bubble,” as Borzynski called it, which meant that they couldn’t interact with the teams and individuals participating in other Olympic competitions. This somewhat limited the true Olympic experience, but it was exciting for her and the other veterinarians nonetheless.
“We were very lucky that we had Tokyo 2020, even though it was held in 2021,” Borzynski said. “There was a lot of discussion up until the week before of whether or not it was going to happen. So, all of us there were very, very grateful and thankful that we actually got to make it.”
No one was allowed to attend the official opening and closing ceremonies because of COVID, but the equestrian “bubble” celebrated their journey to Tokyo in their own way. They were able to watch the fireworks from the window of their hotel rooms — commemorating their time at the 2020 Olympics.
Throughout the duration of her stay there, Borzynski treasured the memories made with the horses and the people behind them. A sense of international cooperation and communal spirit stuck with her, long past her arrival back in the United States.