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Alessandro Centinaio: A man with a gentle heart that beats for the horses, rules and respect

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Photo (c) Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.
Alessandro Centinaio. Photo (c) Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

When an accident occurs at a horse show, it is in many cases the Italian vet Alessandro Centinaio who is in charge of the emergency vet services. Alessandro, affectionately known as ‘Sandro’, and his team are at every Longines Global Champions Tour event and at a few other major events such as the CSIO5* show at Piazza de Siena in Rome, where World of Showjumping sat down with the 61-year-old vet to find out what it is that keeps him doing what he does.

“I love my work,” Sandro answers quickly. “It is not easy, sometimes it is actually very difficult – but I like what I do and the welfare of the horse is the most important thing for me. I am very curious, and I like to be around and learn; I believe every new groom, every young vet can still teach me something,” he continues.

Sandro’s team consists of two fully equipped trucks with a team of two assistants, three vets and one person to handle the laboratory. “We have two trucks with all the equipment; we have a laboratory to do all the necessary blood tests, we can do scans and x-rays, everything you need. Both trucks are the same,” Sandro explains. “Our job here in Rome for example, is to help the team vets and the riders. We organize all the medication, fluids and everything that is necessary in case of an emergency. Normally my work is sometimes being the FEI treating vet and sometimes my clinic is working full time for emergency situations.”

The day before the show starts is always the busiest for Sandro. “When I arrive, I always want to check everything. Like arriving here in Rome, we had no ice. It is not exactly the job of a vet to control that, but I know that without ice we will have a problem. So last night we went to buy ice!” Sandro laughs. “We also have to organize the main ring; place the ambulances and people so that in case something happens, we can work in the best way possible. I always place one vet full-time in the arena, just in case,” Sandro explains about his work. “Normally, the day before the show starts, we spend all day checking and organizing. After that the days are more normal; following the competitions there might be horses that need attention, a blood test, a scan or just an overall check. Normally, when the show is going on and there are no big issues, the days are pretty calm – the busiest days are always the days before.”

Sandro also needs to manage everything. “My job is also to control that everyone is in position. I know my team, so when I come and work at an event, I always want my team there; my vets, my ambulance people. But it is not always possible, so I have to have meetings and control what everyone does,” Sandro says.

Even if there are calm moments, Sandro is not the one to sit down in the shadow. He likes to stay in the stables. “I prefer to stay in the stable, to be with the grooms, to eat with them and spend time with them. Because in this way, first of all I show everyone that I am there – and that I will work with you and you need to work with me.”

“I try to do my best to educate people. We speak about spur marks and so on, but accidents can happen. In my opinion there are other issues that are worse than that – first of all, everyone has to be aware of the rules. There are some common, simple things that not everyone knows,” Sandro explains. “It should be clear to everyone, that flying to places like Shanghai and Miami is not a holiday – when you arrive, you cannot just dump the horse in the box.”

“Me and my team try to stay in the stable 24/7, but we are not the police, we are there to help everyone. Sometimes it feels like we are helping the riders more than the horses and at times it comes to the point where I have to say enough is enough – there are so many shows and so much traveling, sometimes the only option is to calm down,” Sandro tells about the problems he sometimes faces in his work.  

“I think the current FEI rules are good, we can do everything we need to do to help the horses,” Sandro continues. “However, I wish that the FEI would organize courses for both riders and grooms – you don’t buy a 300,000 Euro truck and give it to a driver without a driving license, do you?” Sandro says.

There are three things the Italian who lives in Milan would want to pass on to everyone working with horses: “First of all, I want everything to be done right, according to the rules. I am a special Italian, and in my opinion there are three things you have to respect: The horse, the rules and the time. If I say eight o’clock, I mean eight o’clock – or two minutes before. But not one minute later. It is important to have respect!” Sandro says.

In addition to his curiosity, it is the love for the horses that keeps Sandro going. “I like to understand. I like to listen to people, and really I try to understand. But the horse always comes first, and sometimes it feels like what I can do, is not enough. I am very small, and what I can do is limited – but I keep trying, for the horses,” he concludes.


Text and picture © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen

(No reproduction without permission)

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