Thursday, March 31, 2011

Demystifying the Vet Box

The other day, the Chronicle Forums had a thread started about the lack of knowledge about the ten minute box on the part of the CIC* riders at Poplar. Now, I know Gold Chip's CIC* rider had a good couple of kids to help out in the box, and all of those with us were educated in how to handle the box. However, we also had a lone Training rider accompanying all the upper level riders at Poplar, and her mom walked with Dante and I back to the barn after the box. She said something very interesting to me on the way back.

What she said was, "We love being here with all the upper levels because you all know exactly what to do and when to do it."

That gave me pause a bit, and I realized that something that had become routine for me was something that two years ago I was desperately seeking information about, reading books, and watching Youtube videos on.

So without further adieu, here's what you need in the 10 minute box, and what to do with it.

Equipment needed:

2 Buckets: These will be used to hold ice water. It's generally best if you have buckets with your colors. For instance, I have black buckets with blue electric tape on them. This makes them more easily identifiable as my buckets.

2 Sponges/2 Sweatscrapers: Two is best, because then you can have one person on each side of the horse sponging water on and scraping it off. My scrapers and sponges are also blue.

Halter with Number: I prefer to have an old halter (I actually use my everyday halter) with his showname on the name plate to help officials identify the horse. Also, the number must be present, again to help the officials/vet. While you can use an old bridle tag that you've flipped over and written the number on the back, I prefer to put blue electric tape around the cheekpiece and write his number with a Sharpie on it. The halter will get wet in the vet box, and wet bridle tag numbers are never fun.

Lead Shank with Chain: No matter how well behaved your horse is on a normal basis, after cross country he/she is pumped full of adrenaline and probably not inclined to stand still. Having a chain is essential for most horses. Better to have it and not use it, than need it and not have it. Even if you think your horse is worse with a chain over his nose, you can always just use the chain as a regular shank. You likely won't be the one holding your own horse (more on that later), so have some consideration for your helpers and give them the option to use a chain if the horse is being a bit bull-headed.

Sturdy Laundry Bag: This one is purely optional, but very handy. You'll find that most of the time in the vet box, the tack comes off and goes EVERYWHERE. It will be surprising how many of pieces of tack your horse wears and then you realize that you will have to carry it all back to the stables. I stick all of my tack except my saddle into the laundry bag as it comes off the horse. Boots with tape, bridle covered in sweat, saddle pad, girth, safety vest, gloves, helmet, everything. My laundry bag is a sturdy black one that has backpack straps on it, so it's easy to carry. Plus you can put all your buckets, scrapers, sponges, and halter into the bag to carry it down to the vet box. There, done!

Now you pretty much have everything you need. Optionally you can bring scissors to cut tape off XC boots, but the one time I did that, my helper accidentally cut through two straps on one of my boots. Now I just rip off the tape or just leave the boots on until I get back to the barn.

Before the event, you should be aware of your horse's typical exertion temperature, heart and respiration rate because it's good practice to measure these after gallops in the month leading up to the event. Also, by using a thermometer, you get your horse used to it so that in the vet box, he/she isn't throwing a fit over having a thermometer in their you-know-where.

Now, when you first enter the vet box after crossing the finish line, the vets and their assistants will come up and take your horse's temperature, heart, and respiration rate. They are usually pretty high, especially when it's hot or humid. The vet will tell you them, write them down and hand the paper to one of their assistants. Try and make a note of these, so you can get a feeling for how normal they are compared to your horse's normal exertion rates.

Your primary helper should come up with the halter and get the bridle off and the halter on. You and another helper should get the tack off as quickly as you can, except for the cross country boots. Although the boots trap heat on the legs, there are a couple of reasons to leave them on for the moment. 1) Some horses may kick out, still pumped up on adrenaline. Not only is it dangerous for a person to be near kicking legs, the boots will also protect their legs from their own kicking. Dante does this, and he's not a kicker, but when he's pumped up, it's not safe down there at first. 2) It's more important to quickly get water on the horse and begin cooling off the main portion of his body than taking extra time to pull off the boots.

If you have three helpers, one should hold the horse's head while the other two sponge ice water on and immediately scrape it off. Do not leave the water on! Scraping is the most important part of this process. While the water is initially cool, the horse's high temperature immediately heats it up. If it is not scraped off, it actually traps the heat at the skin. Therefore, by scraping the water off, you are literally removing the heat.

Make sure to get the horse's head if you can, and under the tail. These areas have thinner skin than most, and help cool the horse down.

After an initial sponge off, the helper holding the horse should then walk the horse in a large circle. The other two helpers should go refresh the ice water in the buckets. You should make sure to be removing your outer layers (vest, helmet, gloves) while the horse is being taken care of. If you don't have three helpers and are helping cool the horse down, use the horse's walking time to remove those items. Drink some water as well, most shows provide water bottles to the riders in the box.

Sometimes you will not really be permitted to help your horse until you take care of yourself (unofficially anyways). For instance, when I did the CCI* at Colorado, I was very out of breath at the finish due to a combination of a throat infection and the altitude. The FEI doctor made me sit down on a golf cart and drink a bottle of water while removing my vest, helmet, etc. I kept wanting to get up and help with my horse, but he wouldn't let me. Similarly, at Poplar, I was trying to get my bucket of water filled with ice water and the FEI doctor followed me while entreating me to drink some water, shed some layers. I felt fine, but he actually started to unbuckle my helmet and unzip my vest while I was trying to fill my bucket! So I finally stopped and promised to look after myself while others took care of my horse.

The point is, make sure you, the rider, are taking care of yourself as well.

Anyways, once the horse walks in a big circle, again sponge and scrape both sides. At this point, if the horse calm enough, you can take off his boots, which will help to further cool him down. Repeat the sponge, scrape, and walk routine.

After ten minutes, the vet assistants will come back to take your horse's stats again. If your horse has cooled down enough, you will be released to go back to the barn. Don't forget all your stuff! If your horse is not yet cool enough, continue the routine, making sure the assistants come check your horse's stats periodically.

If you ride with a trainer who has a group of FEI students, check with them before cross country to see if they have a particular routine or setup. Often, trainers with multiple FEI students will have a bucket station for their stables, help from other students not riding in the FEI divisions, and might bring all of your stuff back.

For instance, at Poplar, Mike brought buckets and sponges down for the Gold Chip horses. Jacob Fletcher (Area V YR who was running Intermediate at Poplar) and Elizabeth Crowder (Area V YR/FEI Groom Extraordinaire) crewed vet box. The Area V horses all came in at least 30 minutes apart, starting with Ellen Doughty's Obie, then Dante, then Heather's Maisie, then Alexa's Mitch in the one star. I brought Dante down, but left all of my tack and Mike brought all of the tack back on his golf cart later. So stables often work as a team to get all of their horses through vet box.


  1. Great blog post! I got my start in eventing through Pony Club, and they place so much importance on the vet box, it's just invaluable knowledge :)

  2. Emily-

    PC is great for that stuff. Unfortunately, there was no PC where I grew up, so I had to figure out a lot for myself!

  3. Thank you so much for writing this up! Solo and I hope to make it to T3DE next year and the one thing I still have not been able to find a place to do is a vet box walk-through. I do volunteer at T3D, but ended up always having to be elsewhere when they do the box, dangit! This is REALLY helpful!

  4. eventer79-

    No problem! If you're going to be doing a T3DE, make sure you educate yourself about the 10 minute box between C and D as well. I've only done one 10 minute box, at the LF Midsouth CCI* in 2009, but one of the biggest differences is that you need a TON of extra equipment. Extra girth, extra breastplate, extra bridle, extra reins, extra set of horse shoes with duplicate studs in them already, a chair and water for the rider, a towel to cover the saddle while water goes on the horse, etc. There's some stuff on Youtube and other places about the 10 minute box versus the vet box. Good luck!