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Veterinarian Christina “Cricket” Russillo is making sure our U.S. Dressage horses are in peak condition for the upcoming Pan American Games.

When the U.S. Dressage Team for the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru was announced in late June, Christina “Cricket” Russillo sprang into action.

While Cricket, the official veterinarian of the U.S. Dressage Team, stays in contact with the riders and their individual support teams throughout the year, she shifted into high gear once the team began travel preparations for the Games, which begin later this month.

“We get particular,” Cricket says, “and ask the riders to tell us their day-to-day plan. Anything from a vaccine to the next shoeing, we need to account for all the potential things that need to be in place prior to arrival at Training camp.”

And Training camp is just what it sounds like — a four-day boot camp that will bring the Dressage Team together and put the finishing touches on their performances for the Pan Am Games. It’s one of the events that Cricket enjoys the most. “It’s amazing to watch,” she says. “These are horses that are at peak fitness and they’ve come together to polish their whole performance.”

As the pressure of competition mounts, it can be a challenging time for many horse and rider duos. “These horses are trying to find that perfect plane of fitness and training intensity,” Cricket explains. “We don’t want them to over train and we don’t want them to under train. Finding that balance is a little tricky.”

Luckily, Cricket and her colleagues know how to remedy any soreness that might arise from an athlete’s hard day’s work. From a veterinary perspective, she shares, the best way to manage the thirty or so days leading up to a big event like the Pan American Games is to anticipate their needs and take a proactive approach to each horse’s health.

One effective therapy well-known in the industry is hydrotherapy. That’s right — essentially, an underwater treadmill for horses. “A lot of horses incorporate fitness work using Aquatred exercise,” says Cricket. “It’s helpful to get that extra level of exercise for muscle development.” And it’s not just dressage horses — in fact, horses from all sports have achieved incredible results from the underwater therapy.

Over the next couple of weeks, the horses will be prepped for their flight from Miami to Lima. And it’s up to Cricket to determine the best game plan, from a veterinary perspective, for each horse. She will be working with the riders on their horses’ hydration and how to optimize their fluid intake naturally so they don’t become dehydrated during the flight.

Cricket says it’s important to keep an open dialogue with the riders so that she can understand each horse. “We look at their daily routines, what they eat, how much are they drinking. We want to know if there are any special needs because we want to provide for that and make necessary accommodations to support that horse.”

While the time and climate changes of international travel can be difficult for many horses (yes, horses get jet lag, too!), Cricket expects the travel to Lima to be smooth. “We’re going into a more temperate climate,” says Cricket. “It should be relatively easy for the horses to adjust.” And because they won’t be facing a major time change, their feeding times and daily routines will be basically the same.

As is the case for human travelers to other countries, maintaining a familiar diet for horses can be a challenge. Due to international rules and regulations, it’s not always an option to bring grains, hays, or alfalfas from home. So, Cricket explains, she has to do her research and know what will be available to the horses — and if they’ll need to make any dietary modifications.

It comes as no surprise that the financial requirement for these advanced therapies and travel accommodations is often daunting for many owners. “The sponsorship and the funding that goes towards these horse and rider combinations needs to take into account not just the transportation and the training, but also the health and soundness of the horse,” says Cricket.

“It’s a collaborative effort,” says Cricket. “It really is a team.” It takes so, so many individuals to get the horses and riders down the centerline. And as a supporter of the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation, you are a vital part of the team behind the Team!

Are you ready to cheer on your Team in Lima in just a few short weeks? The U.S. Dressage Team will compete July 28, 29 & 31 at Equestrian Center Militar La Molina in Lima. Don’t miss updates at uset.org!

NOTE: Although Cricket Russillo is the official veterinarian of the U.S. Dressage Team, Dr. Sarah Allendorf will be travelling to Lima with the Team.