Helping equine vets become ‘emergency ready’ at the EVA Emergency Workshop

28 Apr 2023
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Image: SES Rescue Officers David King and Anthony Hatch demonstrating live large animal rescue using a life-size horse mannequin


In 2019-2020, bushfires raged across Australia, blanketing the entire East Coast in smoke. Media reports were rightly focused on the human impact of the disaster, but behind the scenes veterinarians across the country worked quietly and tirelessly to help the nation’s affected animals. The profession rallied to provide support to affected colleagues, clients, families and neighbours.

When the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) caught wind of the challenges Australian equine veterinarians faced during the Black Summer fires, their members banded together to run a fundraising campaign. Together, they raised the equivalent of AUD $35,000, which they generously donated to Equine Veterinarians Australia (EVA) to assist Australian horse vets in a time of crisis.

“They knew from personal experience it’s often the vets themselves that end up quite substantially out of pocket because of the charitable work they’ve done,” said Jeffrey Wilkinson, Executive Officer of the EVA. The AAEP’s aim was for the funds to go some way towards compensating the fire-affected veterinarians for all the pro-bono work they were doing rescuing burnt and injured horses. “We appreciate the generosity of our American colleagues so much,” Mr Wilkinson said.

Upon receipt of the donation, Equine Veterinarians of Australia (EVA) canvassed its membership, electing to utilise the funding to facilitate a subsidised workshop to, as Mr Wilkinson said, “to increase the capability for emergency situations like these, where we can learn from what’s best practice in the space.”

Planning for the workshop was slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as multiple flood disasters which affected Eastern Australia during 2022. However, in March 2023, the EVA was finally able to hold the EVA Emergency Workshop at the University of Melbourne’s Werribee campus. The focus of the workshop was broadened to include not just bushfire rescue and recovery, but also other natural crises such as floods and other disasters.

Image: SES Rescue Officer Anthony Hatch chats to workshop attendees

Presenters included Drs Edwina Wilkes, Christine Smith, Josh Slater, Oliver Liyou, Bruno Ros, Josh Slater, Kendall Crocker and Rescue Officers Anthony Hatch and David King. The presenters offered an informative, hands-on learning experience designed for equine veterinarians who either had, or were yet to experience, a catastrophic emergency event. The workshop focused on triage, immediate treatment, and short-term aftercare, with equine experts giving their recommendations on clinical best practice, such as Dr Edwina Wilke’s excellent presentation on burns management. The workshop was “simply excellent,” said attendee Dr Janet Buckerfield from Hobart Equine Practice PL. “Practical, informative in detail, and inspiring… I felt truly privileged to learn from [the speakers] and [their] extraordinary experience in this field.”

Images above: attendees of the EVA Emergency Workshop learning live large animal rescue in a practical, hands-on way

Practical tips on live large animal rescue, using life-size mannequins of horses and cattle, were delivered by Senior Fire Officer Dr Anthony Hatch, strengthening the AVA’s strategic partnership with NSW Fire and Rescue. Additionally, veterinarian Major Dr Kendall Crocker from the Australian Defence Force delivered practical tips on how best to leverage the Defence Force’s resources and capacity at times of state or national emergencies.

Presenters also relayed their personal experiences, providing an invaluable opportunity to debrief from all the challenges faced over the past several years. Drs Oliver Liyou and Bruno Ros spoke about their volunteer efforts during the Lismore – Northern Rivers NSW floods, which involved them performing animal rescue using a self-funded charter helicopter. “At a time when I have felt increasingly disillusioned by many around me,” said Dr Buckerfield, “the unqualified moral compass so clearly demonstrated by Oli and Bruno in particular, in essentially solo circumstances, and their unwavering personal sacrifice, were a major, major, re-boot in that direction.”

For Mr Wilkinson, it was a highlight to hear from “the AVA’s quiet achievers; the ones who don’t seek any recognition or reward. Who generously, in times of crisis, help the animals… who go in and fight for them.” Their stories were inspirational, tapping right into why most of us want to be veterinarians in the first place—to help bolster the health and welfare of animals.

The EVA Emergency workshop was subsidised by the AAEP’s incredibly kind donation, with attendees coming in from as far away as Perth, Queensland and Tasmania. In recognition of the spirit of the event, and the AAEP’s altruistic intentions, the AVA will be offering webinar recordings of the workshop free to all veterinarians, whether members or non-members. These will be available on the AVA Crisis Resources page, and we will upload them as they become available. Our aim is to spread and amplify this knowledge so that all Australian vets can access this crucial information—turning a monetary donation into something that will have far-reaching effects into the future and across the entire profession.

“We certainly covered a lot of material and we have all come away confident to address a previously terrifying emergency incident,” said EVA President Dr Hadley Willsallen. “We also thank all the participants for their collegiality, discussion, sharing their experiences and providing valuable insights.”

Image: the EVA Emergency Workshop was a resounding success


The EVA wishes to once again acknowledge the financial support provided via a generous donation that the members of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) gave EVA during the Black Summer fires. The AVA collaborated with the recently formed Animal Emergency Incident Management Network to produce the workshop.