Sept. 13, 2018

Calgary International Equine Symposium 'not your typical' veterinary conference

Innovative theme and a whopping big prize draw scholars from across North America and beyond

World-class equine research, ringside seating at the Spruce Meadows Masters, and a $10,000 grand prize. The inaugural Calgary International Equine Symposium hosted by the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) last week was all that, and more.

Billed as a global celebration of innovation and discovery in all areas of horse health research, the symposium attracted both renowned researchers and up-and-coming graduate students.

“It was not your typical veterinary conference where the focus is usually on a particular theme like reproduction, cardiology or neurology,” said Dr. Renaud Léguillette, DVM, PhD, professor at UCVM and Calgary Chair in Equine Sports Medicine and one of the organizers of the event. “Instead, our theme was innovation and discovery in different fields, so we’d have a great variety of scientific discovery.”

Exciting findings in areas including equine metabolic syndrome, the causes and effects of asthma in racehorses, and genital cancer in horses were presented.

Noah Cohen, centre, was awarded the symposium's grand prize during the Spruce Meadows Masters event, by head judge Hugh Townsend, left, and Baljit Singh.

Noah Cohen, centre, was awarded the symposium's grand prize during the Spruce Meadows Masters event,

Adrian Shellard, for the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

‘We’ve been waiting 20 years for this to happen’

But the grand prize went to Dr. Noah Cohen, DVM, PhD, from Texas A&M University for his research into a vaccine against Rhodoccus equi. Pneumonia caused by the bacteria is the leading cause of disease and death among foals worldwide. Noah Cohen, above, centre, was awarded the symposium's grand prize during the Spruce Meadows Masters event, by head judge Hugh Townsend, left, and Baljit Singh.

“I was very happy this year with the level of science and with the winning presentation,” said Léguillette. “Dr. Cohen presented a significant advancement in the field of equine medicine, a new vaccine for Rhodococcus equi. We’ve been waiting 20 years for this to happen.”

Along with outstanding research by established investigators, the symposium put great importance on the work of graduate students, with representation from all five veterinary schools in Canada, as well as students from the United States, Mexico and Germany. Each student had the opportunity to present their work to the entire symposium in a "rapid-fire" format. 

“It’s very important for students to have the opportunity to come and present. That’s how you create future collaborations and exchange,” said Léguillette. “The goal of the symposium was to elevate UCVM as a leader in equine research and innovation and celebrate the contributions of UCVM scientists and students.”

Baljit Singh and Renaud Leguillette take in some world-class show jumping at Spruce Meadows.

Baljit Singh and Renaud Leguillette take in some world-class show jumping at Spruce Meadows.

Prize ceremony in Spruce Meadows international ring

After a full day of sharing science, a social evening and prize award ceremony was held at Spruce Meadows, during the internationally acclaimed Masters Tournament.

“It was unbelievable. Attending a high-calibre event like the Masters and being part of it, too, with our grand prize ceremony in the ring in front of the general public and the cameras,” said Léguillette. “The stands were packed with people who learned that someone had just developed a new vaccine that can save the lives of foals. It raises awareness of the university and our faculty."

The second annual Calgary International Equine Symposium is already set for Sept. 6, 2019. And thanks to the generosity of presenting sponsor Spruce Meadows, the prize will once again be presented in the international ring at the Masters event.

“We are grateful for the incredible partnership we have with our presenting sponsor Spruce Meadows,” said Dr. Baljit Singh, dean of UCVM. “The combination of a world-class equestrian competition and world-class research to benefit horse health is perfect synergy.”

The symposium was also supported by sponsors the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking and Nortev.

Top graduate student poster winners Carina Cooper, below, left, from Ontario Veterinary College, and Sian Durward-Akhurst from the University of Minnesota are congratulated by sponsor Joelle Foster, executive director of the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking. 

Top graduate student poster winners Carina Cooper, left, from Ontario Veterinary College, and Sian Durward-Akhurst from the University of Minnesota are congratulated by sponsor Joelle Foster, executive director of the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking.

Graduate student poster winners Carina Cooper and Sian Durward-Akhurst with sponsor Joelle Foster.