Colorful tents, sleek horses and impressive jumps are just the thin skin of a large horse show like HITS Tahoe. Underneath the surface are layers of support that are hardly noticeable to the average person.
Dr. Kris Purcell and her Carson Valley Large Animal Clinic are excellent examples of the behind-the-scenes support that is needed to put on a world-class horse show.
Purcell is the official horse show veterinarian for HITS Tahoe, and either she or Dr. Cheryl Rahal, an associate vet at Purcell's Carson Valley Large Animal Clinic, are present at the showgrounds from 8 a.m. until the last class is over in the late afternoon.
Purcell has been the official horse show veterinarian for many hunter/jumper and three-day events, but one of the highlights of her career was being named to the veterinary staff at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Purcell, while attending veterinary school at the University of Tennessee, assisted in research for the American Horse Show Association on the effect heat would have on the horses competing in the Olympics. As her reputation grew as an authority on the subject, her selection as an official vet on the cross-county course at the Olympics was almost a foregone conclusion.
"Here, we don't have the problems with heat because a horse sweats and dries off quickly, creating cooling. Our biggest problem is dehydration. But in the south, ASHA doesn't sanction competitions in July and August. The high humidity doesn't allow the horse to cool and leads to heat exhaustion. It's a very serious problem," said Purcell.
Purcell and Rahal split the responsibilities at the show grounds, while still treating the clinic's clients. Rahal takes the morning shift at the showgrounds, while Purcell tends to the clinic. They meet at noon at the showgrounds to review cases and switch responsibilities. The schedule is grueling.
"Finishing up at 9 at night is not unusual," said Rahal.
"We don't get any sleep, but it is worth it," said Purcell.
Purcell, who worked for the Carson Valley Veterinary Hospital since 1996, formed the Carson Valley Large Animal Clinic in January when the hospital elected to sell its large animal practice. Rahal, who worked for the hospital since 1998, joined Purcell, and the team treats primarily horses, with Purcell specializing in reproductive health and Rahal became board certified in internal medicine. In addition to the Carson Valley, they have clients at Lake Tahoe, the Dayton and Silver Springs area, Wellington, Yerington and Reno.
"And all points in between," said Purcell.
Purcell and Rahal have been impressed with the professionalism at HITS Tahoe.
"Not only that, but everyone is so courteous to each other," said Rahal. "It's a pleasure to be here."
Purcell said that being the official show vet has helped her business.
"Clients that are competing see us, and they are impressed that we are show vets for such a large show," said Purcell.
"However, my main impetus for wanting to work at this show is that I really like seeing this type of horse show come here, and I want to see it become successful so that it returns year after year."
HITS Tahoe closes out five weeks of hunter/jumper competition on Sunday with a full day of activities. More than 2,000 spectators are expected to attend.
Show jumping starts at 8 a.m. with the $25,000 Carson Valley Inn-sponsored Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic.
"We are pleased to be sponsors of the $25,000 event on Sunday, and we have been very happy with our relationship with HITS Tahoe during their first year," said Bill Henderson, general manager of the Carson Valley Inn.
The $100,000 HITS Grand Prix is scheduled for 1 p.m. Show management anticipates that 30 horses will be entered in the Grand Prix class including Ireland's Olympic veteran Damian Gardiner and America's show jumping super stars Richard Spooner, Hap Hansen, Leslie Steele and Mary Tyng.
Country singer Lacy J. Dalton will open the Grand Prix classic by singing the national anthem at 12:45 p.m. while the Douglas County Sheriff's Mounted Color Guard displays the U.S. and Nevada flags. In a special ceremony, HITS Tahoe Horse Show Circuit Awards, presented by Sellerie de France, will be presented to the top riders.
Admission to Sunday's events is $5, with children under 12 admitted free.