More Brains, Less Ego in High Performance Sport Horse Management

As a founder of IGNITE, Philippe Benoit, DVM, DACVSMR, has a long view on the accomplishments of the organization formerly known as the Equine High-Performance Sports Group. In this Q&A, he also shares insights on trends in education for equine veterinarians and horse owners.

Q: As one of IGNITE’s founders, what outcomes are you most proud of?

A: Having a group of vets agree on a few topics to improve the health of equine athletes, including getting the info we have from the human athlete side.

We used to be in an ivory tower, with people thinking they know what they know and not looking around. Creating that looking around dynamic is a main thing of this program.

The idea is to have a team without ego. To have the rider, groom, farrier, veterinarian, osteopaths, physio, etc, put their brains together to find out what’s wrong. What I think is most effective is to work with people who think transparently and don’t have anything to prove.

What I love about practicing at the high-performance level, and about IGNITE, is that we are interviewing everybody from A to Z and considering components from every profession and discipline.

Q: How is IGNITE distinct in the crowded horse health information space?

A: We’re all running after knowledge. The trick is getting the right knowledge at the right time from the right people. There are a bunch of continuing education platforms, but you don’t always know the quality of the information or have access to the right person in all of the disciplines.

IGNITE is a dream team in that way.

Q: What worries you most right now in the equine veterinary profession?

A: The loss of clinical skills — of the mechanical skills. How to observe, touch and feel. We are losing these skills even in human medicine. People don’t want to touch you anymore.

The younger generation likes imaging. Let’s scan this, MRI that. I don’t at all suggest that we lose the imaging, of course, but that we also maintain mechanical skills of how to touch and feel.

I’ve put it on myself to train more clinical skills because the more skills you have, the more you can develop them over time. And there’s equipment that can help you do that.

I hope that IGNITE will try to train more people in this way. This could be our legacy. When I have interns, they spend more time with me looking at the horse, not the imaging, and palpating the horse.

Q: What gives you reassurance on this point?

A: There are a lot of good old books out there – from the 18th and 19th centuries, that describe how they used to watch and palpate. Of course, they had no technology.

It’s reassuring in a way to have this amazing amount of information from people who learned so much about horses from observing thousands of horses and touching them.

Q: It seems like Dr. Sue Dyson’s Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram is a good step in helping everybody identify pain through careful observation.

A: Yes. Sue is a friend, and she deserves huge congratulations for the Ethogram. It has triggered people’s brain to look better at the horse. To understand that a horse can be sound and sore, versus the horse that is obviously lame.

It’s a first step to respecting and being more ethical in the long-term care of the horse. There’s a trend among some vets to charge more for their treatments than their time. That can be more lucrative.

In my opinion and experience, the more time you take to observe, the less you inject.

Q: As a complement to clinical skills, what emerging technologies that align with IGNITE’s priorities have been most useful to you?

A: Using gait analysis technologies has been really helpful. The gold standard is Qualysis — a few equine clinics are equipped — and there is a portable app version called “Sleip” which is really helpful for follow-up.

You make a simple movie on your phone of the horse moving in a straight line and in both directions. The system analyzes it, and shows you patterns of the horse’s movement – up and down, sideways, push off and impact. If you have a good internet connection, you get the results back in a few minutes.

It’s mostly useful for maintenance. It’s rare in high-performance horses to have four great legs and symmetry is relative – most horses are not symmetrical. You might not catch that with your eyes, but you might want to know that from gait analysis. Repeating this a few times a year can detect early lameness patterns and help you know what to work on.

Q: What trends do you foresee in advancing veterinary knowledge around equine athlete care?

A: I think we’ll see – or I would like to see – more learning in small groups. For example, 5-6 vets interested in a specific topic and eager to look at a horse and learn together. I have done this a few times. It’s practical from a cost and time away from their practice standpoint, and it can be very productive.

Q: Which IGNITE programs do you most recommend to riders, trainers and owners?

 A: The Sport Horse Podcast will be a good way to learn and explore new skills and topics for the riders, trainers and owners. There shall be a short format so people can always find 15 to 30 minutes in the day to catch some particular information.

The horsemanship has been partially lost and we need to readjust progressively. IGNITE could be a pivotal education format for all of us.

IGNITE is a platform for advancing leading-edge knowledge, evidence-based approaches and collaborative, proactive practices focused on injury prevention, peak performance and longevity for equine athletes. The resulting information is available to a membership community comprised of veterinarians, physios, farriers and other equine health care providers, plus riders, coaches, trainers and other sport stakeholders.

Various levels of IGNITE membership offer options suited to the interests of its diverse, global membership.

PR: Kim F Miller
Photos available on request