Injuries are an unavoidable part of show-jumping events

“I tell my patients that I like to treat them with the same degree of care as I give my horses. Show jumping is a demanding and expensive diversion from medicine but there’s a real overlap between the two. It’s all about thinking, feeling and communicating and, in the case of the horses, without using words.”

2-Ozanne-Neil-Dr-on-Sarnia-riding-in-Patrons-Cup_--May-12Dr Neil Ozanne riding Sarnia in the Patrons Cup

If, as Neil suggests, there is a strong overlap between medicine and show jumping the forensic Germans should make the best doctors in the world.

“At Olympic level, the Germans are completely dominant. If the entire German team were struck down with a mystery virus they’d still win the gold medal. Why? Because their reserve team would still be the best in the world. Show jumping is very mathematical, the distance between jumps, the time factor and taking the shortest line without unbalancing the horse. The German team is extremely particular about how they do things.”

“For a while they took this too far and became overly analytical. They dominated and controlled the horse but they’ve softened that now. It’s very different to the English who tend to shout ‘Tallyho!’ and fly by the seat of their pants a bit.”

Injuries are an unavoidable part of show-jumping events. As a doctor, Neil has experienced both ends of the spectrum.

“If you dwelt on the injury side of things you couldn’t keep competing at this level. I’ve had a broken collarbone, a broken arm and I’ve ridden with broken ribs but I never go out there thinking, ‘what if I fall off?’.”

“I used to do Eventing involving cross-country jumping, dressage and show jumping and I was often the assigned doctor on the course. I got to see other people’s injuries and a lot of them weren’t pretty. If my turn was coming up to go out on course that would dent my confidence before I’d even started. I don’t do Eventing anymore and it’s one of the reasons I switched to show-jumping.”

Some love it, some tolerate it and some hate it

First-class horseflesh is another reason for Neil’s decision to confine his competing to show-jumping events.
“I’m competing on two horses – they’re brothers and both really special. Their names are Sarnia Classic and Sarnia Caesarno. Sarnia is the original name for Guernsey in the Channel Islands where I was born.”

“Some horses really love show jumping, some tolerate it and some hate it. Even the really good ones can’t keep going at this level for too long. In fact, most horses only compete in one Olympic Games whereas the riders may do many more. There are world-class riders winning medals in their 50s and 60s.”

In the Ozanne household, both show jumping and training competitive horses is a family affair.

1-Ozanne-Rachel-medical-student-on-Pimadonna_May12“Sarah is a qualified show-jumping judge and Rachel, who’s keen on both neurology and rural GP work, is a very competitive rider on state and national squads.” “I met my wife at an equestrian New Year’s Eve party and it was the only one they ever had! She’s very involved with breeding our horses and then we develop and sell them to riders at a particular level. It’s what we call a ‘well-seasoned’ horse and it’s very important to match them with an appropriate rider. We’ve got 12 horses, including a couple of brood mares producing beautiful foals.”

And both their daughters, one in her final year of Law and the other doing third year Medicine at UWA, are riders.

“Sarah is a qualified show-jumping judge and Rachel, who’s keen on both neurology and rural GP work, is a very competitive rider on state and national squads. She rides at a similar level to me and with medicine she’s certainly got more up-to-date knowledge, but I do have some accumulated wisdom. We have strong debates sometimes.”

For Neil, the future will continue to be a balancing act between show jumping and medicine.

“I see myself show jumping at a high level beyond the age of 60, so I’ve got nine years left. In between all that I plan to sit my occupational health physician exams. I’ve got two horses that love jumping, I know they want to do the jump and I love that feeling when everything is just right.”