A Sai Kung resident with a most unusual position is Dr Christopher Riggs. He is the senior veterinary surgeon at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, responsible for 1,850 horses who reside in Hong Kong.
For 13 years he has been the Head of Veterinary Clinical Services, based at the Sha Tin racecourse where 1,200 thoroughbred horses live in two- and three-storey stables. When the animals need medical care they become the responsibility of Chris and his 12 vet colleagues, veterinary nurses and farriers. They also provide veterinary service to the 650 horses at 10 riding schools, including the local Clearwater Bay Equestrian Centre.
Chris is a casual, approachable, fit man with the self-assurance common to surgeons. Listing his interests he puts animal welfare first. “It’s important to look after animals. A society that doesn’t look after animals is not a healthy one.”
Asked about the injury rate for racing horses, Chris said Hong Kong measures up well by global standards. On average, one in eighteen hundred horses starting a race will sustain a fracture. Track quality is an important factor affecting injury rate, so the Jockey Club employs specialists to maintain the Sha Tin and Happy Valley tracks. “My colleague in charge of our dirt track is passionate about his work — I think that he must be a personal friend of every grain of sand on the track!” Chris said.
The racehorses housed at Sha Tin receive a high standard of veterinary care including diagnostic imaging and preventative health programmes such as vaccination against Japanese encephalitis – more than us humans get!
How did Chris get into veterinary science? “I have always been passionately interested in biology, fascinated by living creatures and how they work. I do like caring for things.”
As a veterinary student his interest was in large animal surgery, including cattle, pigs and sheep. After graduation from the University of Bristol, he became a house surgeon at the Royal Veterinary College where most of his work involved equine surgery. His research into the causes of racehorse fractures resulted in a PhD.
The equine hospital not only looks after 1,850 horses, but also engages in clinical research. Chris said his team collaborates on research projects with local and overseas academics. “We are constantly seeking to do things better, asking questions all the time, keeping the team fresh and interested.” He is modest about the Sha Tin hospital’s research accomplishments, saying only, “We do come out with stuff that is widely cited.”