VET Net and the Mongol Derby
The following interview was held between Dr. Thomas Juergens DVM and officials of the Long Ridersí Guild on July 11, 2009. Dr. Juergens is an American equine practitioner and advisor to VET Net, the Mongolian NGO which has been linked to the Mongol Derby. According to documents released on July 1, 2009 by Tom Morgan, and his English tour company, the Adventurists, stated that the renowned Mongolian veterinarian training program, VET Net, was associated with providing equine medical assistance during the race.
"We are working with an American Veterinary NGO based in Mongolia called VET Net."
In an effort to placate irate donors, PR representatives of the Portland based charity, Mercy Corps, also circulated VET Netís name so as to offset public anger. According to Dr. Juergens, officers of the highly respected medical organization were not even aware that their organization was being linked to the race, nor do they support it in any way. In fact, VET Netís spokesman has denounced the event .
How long has VET Net been working in Mongolia and what are some of the many achievements your organization has achieved there?
VET Net is the leading source of veterinary continuing education in Mongolia. The NGO was formed by Dr. Gerald Mitchum, who has spent the last seventeen years overseeing the training of hundreds of Mongolian veterinarians in modern veterinary medicine.
What are your personal connections with Mongolia?
Iíve spent the last ten summers there, educating remote veterinarians on how to become better veterinarians, practicing modern equine veterinary medicine..
What effect will this race have on your personal efforts, as well as Vet Netís, to further veterinarian education among the Mongols?
This race negates everything weíve been teaching the Mongolian people and veterinarians for the last ten years because here we have the concern of foreigners racing horses to death. Have you ever seen a horse raced to death? Itís horrific.
According to a document Morgan released last week, he claims, "Horse welfare has been at the top of the agenda since ... early 2008." When did VET Net officials first learn about Morganís Mongol Derby and did your organization offer to lend your medical expertise to this event?
I think VET Net was contacted in either January or February of 2009. It is my understanding that they wanted us to supply all the veterinarians and oversee the medical needs throughout the entire race. But it is my understanding that VET Net is not involved with providing veterinary care to the horses in this race.
Were you aware that Morgan and Mercy Corps had specifically named VET Net as being in charge of the equine medical care of the 800 Mongolian horses to be used in the non-sanctioned race?
I was surprised to be told that our organization had been named as being part of this race.
Upon learning that Morgan had misinformed the public about VET Netís role in the race, did your organization contact the Adventurists and order them to cease using your organizationís name?
One of the other advisors immediately fired off emails asking that VET Net not be linked to this event.
Do the officials in charge of VET Net have concerns regarding the potential damage Morganís race may inflict upon the horses, the herders and the equestrian heritage of Mongolia?
Absolutely ! This event is being done in total disregard to the welfare of the horses and it shows no respect for the nationís equestrian traditions either. Itís as if they think these horses are rental cars. Because the contestants donít own the horses, theyíll think they can ride them hard, then just walk away. Thereís no sense of personal accountability. What I see instead is disrespect for the horses and Mongolian traditions.
The race organizers in England have attempted to sooth public concerns by saying that they will be providing vehicles to drive local vets along the route of the race, so as to ensure proper equine safety standards are maintained. What are your feelings about that?
Just because the remote Mongolian veterinarians have studied modern veterinary medicine for six weeks with VET Net doesnít mean they are qualified to act as attending veterinarians for the critical health needs of the horses competing in this race. Normally the horseís pulse, respiration, soundness and hydration are all checked at required stops by qualified veterinarians during a normal endurance race. This race is absolutely different. And saying that the individual horses are ďonlyĒ going to be raced for forty kilometres is just showing disrespect. You have to worry about the horses Ė and the riders. I canít see any good coming from this race.
Do you, as an advisor to VETNET, believe it is in the best interest of Mongolia for Mongolian officials to order this event to be halted?
Yes, because there are ethical, moral and humanitarian concerns which do not seem to have been met at this time. If the race organizers wanted to put on such an event, they should have spent more than six months organizing the logistics of quality veterinary care for the horses. But they havenít even proved that they can provide adequate veterinarian care for the horses.
Horse-lovers from 26 nations have added their voices to the international petition to stop the unethical Mongol Derby, but your vote is still needed.
America's Horse magazine has published an article by Sharon Biggs entitled "Proposed Mongolian Horse Race Raises Welfare Concerns", in which a VET Net official is quoted as saying, "We want to make it clear that VET. Net has nothing to do with this race," said Johnny Haffner, DVM, a VET Net member who has worked extensively in the area.