Veterinary Official Tony Parsons now has FEL Level 4 status. PHOTO: Diana Dobson, The Black Balloon.

Tony Parsons has taken part in competitions at all the world’s continents apart from Antarctica in his role as an FEI official vet.  Now he has qualified at Level 4, there is no stopping the medical maestro who recently returned from Lausanne and is heading off to Turkey “and a few other  countries”.

As one of twenty-seven FEI vets in New Zealand, Tony is the first to achieve Level 4 certification in Endurance, while also certified at level 3 in Jumping, Dressage and Eventing.   Based in Taupō, he had to pass online examinations before passing a three-day course in Lausanne, Switzerland.   His certification was verified by the FEI a week ago.

Tony’s journey caps off a long-standing history of veterinary work which began in the late 1980s. Coming from a sheep and cattle farm in Wairarapa, Tony began his career in the Tokoroa District and he began attending to horses under the guidance of Wallie Niederer.  He moved to Taupō in 1997 and has been an official vet for ESNZ since 1994.  He retired from his practice in 2020, but his official ‘sideline’ has continued.

“When New Zealand started associating with the FEI, which I think was in the early 80s, there was no such thing as a qualification.   You were just appointed by virtue of being there.  I’d been doing the Taupō Three-Day [Event] with Wallie and going to a lot of Endurance rides around the country, and it just sort of became a ‘thing’.  

“So, what the FEI has been trying to do over the last 10 or 15 years, is gradually increase qualification component to get a uniform set of standards.  Now there are levels for the vets, judges, course designers and TDs etc. and they’re slowly ramping that up while increasing the requirements to attain the next level,” says Tony.

“It’s good for the sport.”

Tony’s time over the years has been equally split between Eventing and Endurance, and he also attends Dressage and Jumping events.  However, Endurance does seem to be his favourite discipline.

“If you go to a race day, then it’s all done and dusted in a flash and nine times out of ten you don’t see a lot of change in a horse.  However, if you go to an Endurance ride and watch those horses out all day, you really see some physiological change, it’s fascinating,” he says.

Tony enjoyed his time working in veterinary practice, retiring in 2020.

Highlights have included being in attendance when an Endurance team won the World Championship in 1998, and going to the Olympics in 2004.  However, the role doesn’t come without its challenges, he says.

“I don’t think I’ve had any disasters,” he laughs. 

“But the most challenging time that I’ve had was when the World Equestrian Games were held at two Asian countries that hadn’t really had an equestrian background, particularly in Indonesia.   So, working with the locals trying to get the whole thing up and running was interesting work.”

Tony says within New Zealand, the biggest challenge is getting vets to commit to the sport and keeping them interested in doing FEI weekends, and getting them involved in the education system.

“They’ve got to give up their weekends and it’s alright when they’re young and keen.  But then as they get a bit older and start to get busier with other things in their lives, it gets harder to retain their interest.”

He says the work of an official is worth the effort, and has enriched his life.

“From a personal point of view, it’s taken me places and I’ve met people that I would never have met.  And that’s not necessarily overseas, that’s even within New Zealand.  Endurance riding is usually in some out -of-the way place so you get to see parts of New Zealand you wouldn’t normally go to.  You meet a whole bunch of people that you get to know over time that – if you just had the weekend fishing or tramping or doing your gardening – you wouldn’t have got to meet.  Right now I could dial up a friend in a lot of places around the world,” says Tony.

Next week, Tony heads off to Turkey for the FEI National Head Vets Conference.  He will miss his 31st wedding anniversary.

“I’ll be in Conference all day but Lynne would have no one to tour with.  So as we were there last year, she is staying home.”

To keep his current status, he says he will have to go to a course every three years, and he is also a Course Director training other vets.  He loves every minute of it.