A big tick by vetting at the Kentucky 3 Day Event | An Eventful Life

A big tick by vetting at the Kentucky 3 Day Event


My Journey to Kentucky 3DE

As an Australian veterinary student, I perceived America as the leading light in equine veterinary medicine and surgery. All of my equine textbooks were written by American veterinarians. A lot of my lecturers and most of the senior clinicians I saw practice as a student were Board Certified Specialists and Diplomates of one of the American Veterinary Colleges. Many an equine vet regaled me with stories of their residency in the US.

It seemed liked anyone who’s anyone in equine veterinary had worked in the US. So I made a plan to see it all for myself; see first-hand if everything is really “bigger and better” in the US.

In July 2007 as a final year vet student I boarded the cheapest flight to the US I could possibly find; a China Southern Airlines flight from Sydney to LA via Taipei – and so my first American adventure began.

My first two weeks were spent at the world renowned University of California Davis Veterinary School. UC Davis has been home to, and trained, many Australian equine veterinarians over the years. As such, my accent was welcomed with open arms and I spent every waking moment of those 14 days absorbing knowledge and reveling in the grandeur of their equine hospital.

And then on to Kentucky … Lexington, Kentucky - Horse Capital USA.

Home of the American Thoroughbred industry, Keeneland, white picket fences as far as the eye can see, the Kentucky Horse Park, and of course – the Kentucky 3 Day Event.

My veterinary placement in Kentucky was at Rood & Riddle equine hospital – a sprawling campus of an equine hospital whose “Doctors” (as they call them in the US) included some of the biggest names in equine veterinary medicine, surgery and reproduction. Literally the people who wrote the textbooks I was studying. I was in awe. My little Aussie vet student brain was blown away by the place.

And then came the Horse Park




Kentucky Horse Park is like Sydney Olympic Park but just for horses. It’s equestrian Disneyland.

Showjumping, eventing, dressage, hunters, ponies, reining, saddlebreds, carriage driving – you name it, they’ve got it.

Multiple horse museums, famous retired racehorses, living display of horse breed, head office of the US equestrian federation, the association of equine veterinary practitioners and many, many more.

I don’t think I had ever said “wow” to myself so many times as I did exploring the park.

The biggest “wow” moment came when I walked the Rolex (as it was then known) Head of the Lake jump. The lake was dry so I could stand at the bottom of the famous drop-in to the water. It was and still is huge!

A few days after my first visit to the horse park I was fortunate enough to assist one of the veterinarians working at the finish of a lower level USEA one day event. It was fantastic fun and everyone was super lovely and welcoming (as you would expect from a bunch of eventers).


    USA, July 2007


It was there that I set myself a goal to one day come back to the Horse Park, make it to “The Show” (as they say in major league baseball) and vet the finish of Kentucky 3 Day event.

14 years later, that goal was achieved! (and I still have the same red stethoscope)



Kentucky 3DE 2021

Driving into the Horse Park for the first time in 14 years was a special feeling. Due to COVID restrictions and cancellations, I hadn’t set foot on site at an eventing competition for over 18 months – it was great to be back!

My connection of the Kentucky 3 Day Event was via the Veterinary Delegate Dr Karen Nyrop and the Assistant Vet Delegate Dr Anne Baskett. I worked with both Karen and Anne at the 2018 WEG in Tryon and they were both kind enough to allow me to joint their veterinary team at Kentucky.

The first two days on site were scheduled for Horse Arrival Exams. A heightened level of biosecurity was implemented for the Horse Trials in light of the recent devastating EHV-1 Neurological outbreak in Europe. International horses this year required addition EHV-1 testing on top of their usual pre-arrival quarantine and testing procedures. The internationals are housed in a sperate stable block away from the American horses and are managed by US Department of Agriculture vets in conjunction with a private vet who has expertise in equine import and export protocols.

Both Arrival Exam days were hectic due to the increased number of horses in the 5* and the additional 4*short class, but thankfully all horses arrived safely and no veterinary issues were seen.

Eventing in my opinion has FIVE phases, not just three

  • First Trot-Up
  • Dressage
  • Cross Country
  • Second Trot-Up
  • Jumping

You should all know by now that I love myself a good Trot-Up (aka “Jog” in American).

And boy, what an eventful day first trot-up was

It snowed!!!

   What a difference a day makes!


The weather had changed from sunshine and mid 20°C to a solid 3 inches of snow overnight and below freezing. I definitely wasn’t expecting snow when I signed up to vet at Kentucky 3DE – but truth be told, I wasn’t complaining. The horse park was a winter wonderland. The pristine white snow created quite a magical atmosphere.

I have vetted in the blistering heat of Adelaide, the knee-deep mud and persistent rain of Badminton and Burghley, and now the snow of Kentucky. I mean, who couldn’t raise a smile at the sight of a snow man built next to the trot-up track



Cross Country Planning

Planning for cross country is one of the most important jobs Veterinary Delegates and Veterinary service Managers have. Veterinary availability, veterinary skill and experience, course design and layout, vehicle access, and crowd location are just some of the many factors to consider when planning for cross country day. Kentucky 3 day is fortunate to have a large number of very experienced cross country vets who have worked the course year after year.

It was a privilege to be involved in the vet planning for cross country and more than that, it was very reassuring that regardless of country and location, the same core veterinary principles are still applicable to ensure the safety of all equine and human athletes. 



I was stationed at the finish of cross country day which was a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I love being in the finish seeing all the horses recover in the cool down area and also because the finish area of Kentucky has a full catered food and drink tent with all my favourite snacks and caffeinated beverages. A curse because it rained all day and I ended up frozen solid and soaked to the absolute core. But really I can’t complain – it’s always a privilege to vet the finish of any 5*, regardless of weather.

All the 5* horses that made it home recovered really well with no injuries of note. And thankfully all the eliminated horses also recovered well with no reported significant injuries. All horses except for two came with their own private veterinarian to assist their recovery and cool down. As such, the official vets in the finish of Kentucky don’t really have too much work to do, except for the occasional heart rate and temperature check.



The 4*short proved to be vastly more dramatic than the 5*. A challenging track combined with atrocious weather caused many a withdrawal and elimination on track. We vets in the finished frequently went periods of 15 - 20 minutes without seeing a horse. But like the 5* before it, thankfully there were no significant injuries to report


Catching up with veterinary friends is one of the highlights for me at big 3 Day Events. This is Dr Jillian Mills DVM DipACVSMR from California. We started our Sports Medicine residencies at the same time and the academic trauma of surviving a residency and passing specialist exams has forged a strong vet bond between us.


All in all my time at Kentucky 3 Day Event was fantastically fun and literally a 14 year-old dream come true. Hopefully it won’t take another 14 years until I am back again.

I have now been fortunate enough to have vetted at Adelaide, Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky. My quest for a veterinary 5* grand slam continues – Luhmulen, Pau and the new Maryland 5* here I come.

As always, stay safe out there.

Wear a mask, and bring you and your horse home safely


PS – stay tuned for Tokyo Olympic adventures. I fly over on the 8th May .......

And a little epilogue on the Lexington belt .....


I saw my first “Lexington Belt” as a third year vet student working at Coolmore. The “clean” version of the story is that pretty much everyone in Lexington has one, and all the vets also have their qualifications on the belt (make sure you ask me the “dirty” version of this story if you ever see me in-person, it’s quite entertaining).

Anyways, I boldly purchased myself a belt from the Horse Park with “BVSc” prior to graduation, and it sat on my desk un-worn all through final exams encouraging me not to fail.

Following graduation I proudly wore it on my first day of veterinary practice and have worn it every single day since.