4 Things Horse Vets Want You to Know

Equine veterinarians are adapting to changing times. Here’s what that means for you and your horse.

Let’s be honest: An equine veterinarian’s life will never be the idyllic existence portrayed in episodes of “All Creatures Great and Small.” To say the work is demanding is an understatement, and the declining number of equine practitioners has been a concern at a time when horse ownership is still strong.

Fortunately, efforts to restore balance bode well for the profession’s future. Now more than ever, it seems that equine veterinary work is well worth the investment of time, money and heart. And whether you’re a horse owner or a prospective vet, that’s good news.

Here’s what three respected professionals told us:

1. Your horse’s care is our priority but balancing the demands of equine practice can be a challenge.

Life/work balance is a common concern among equine vets—and for good reason. As Andy Cameron, DVM, of Cameron Veterinary Clinic in Santa Fe, New Mexico, points out, “There are many challenges: scheduling, communication and triaging the urgency of cases prior to even seeing them, so we can provide care when needed despite being very busy; traveling and being ready to do many things in the field under less-than-ideal conditions (darkness, cold, heat, rain, snow, etc.); being in a hurry but not rushing; having the ability to provide care around the clock and also being able to attend to our own personal responsibilities and needs.”

Rhonda A. Rathgeber, PhD, DVM

Rhonda A. Rathgeber, PhD, DVM, an associate and shareholder at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute and Pharmacy in Lexington, Kentucky, agrees. She adds that it comes down to time management. “You have to be mindful of your time!” she says. “At different phases of your career you are able to give more time to your patients and clients, and at other times you are not as available or able to give as much time.

“That is OK, but you have to manage that very diligently so that the horses get the best care always!” she continues. “I never have minded the nighttime emergencies. The horses don’t know what time it is! But you can’t ALWAYS be there for every single client. Therefore, you must create a community or team of peers and colleagues that you are comfortable with to take equal, excellent care of your patients and clients. This is a process, and it takes time to develop and work to maintain it.”

As Hagyard Equine Medical Director and shareholder Luke Fallon, DVM, notes, it’s a lifestyle to which equine vets and those around them learn to adapt. “Balancing the demands of professional life and personal life has always been a dilemma,” he admits. “I am fortunate to have a very supportive spouse and wonderful family who understand that any medical professional has challenging hours.”

2. My schedule is busier than ever in part because these days there are fewer equine practitioners taking care of more horses.

Dr. Andy Cameron, DVM

Providing not only routine care but urgent and emergency care can lead to burnout and exhaustion, Cameron admits. “While owners may feel we are not working with the sense of urgency that they feel is due, we are,” he promises. “We are attending to many, many things as best we can. As veterinarians, we are trained and have the experience to know what needs to happen now and what can be delayed due to time and manpower constraints. Patience and understanding go a long way.”

Here’s where the equine vet shortage has far-reaching consequences. “I have one of the greatest jobs … caring for horses,” Fallon begins. “The horse has such a rich history which is inextricably linked to the evolution of our society. However, we are in a crisis situation. The number of equine veterinarians is diminishing, and the loss of equine vets is outpacing the replacement by new graduates. Through retirement, attrition and the lack of young graduates choosing equine medicine, our horses will face diminished resources to ensure their health and well-being.”

The challenges of equine vet life undoubtedly contribute to recruitment and retention issues. “There are wonderful, freshly graduated veterinarians who are being counseled by faculty or fellow veterinarians to avoid equine practice due to long hours, demanding clients and poor salaries,” Fallon maintains, adding, “This is steering young graduates away from equine medicine.”

3. You can help address the equine vet shortage.

Fortunately, change is afoot. “As an industry we are addressing the issues of pay, hours, culture [and] emergency coverage to encourage newly graduating veterinarians to choose equine,” Rathgeber stresses.

And here’s the thing: “We need horse owners’ help,” she continues. “We need you to welcome young and inexperienced equine veterinarians to your farm, especially when your seasoned or regular veterinarian is unavailable. We need you to respect price increases in equine veterinary care. And we need you to work with us to have your horses ready when we arrive to your farm. 

“Finally, if you know a young person that would like to be an equine veterinarian, ENCOURAGE them and tell them to contact me! I will help them find resources and experiences!”

4. When all is said and done, most equine vets still consider their work both worthwhile and rewarding.

Which leads to our last question … What would you tell young people interested in becoming equine veterinarians? 

“I would encourage [prospective vet students] to pursue their interest!” Fallon emphasizes. “I have loved being an equine veterinarian for the last 27 years … I am a part of a large practice in Kentucky, and we are constantly evolving with new and exciting medical advancements while creating better ways to balance personal and professional life.

“Our practice is investing in its most important resources—its people,” he continues. “We want young graduates to pursue their dream of being an equine veterinarian or consider equine medicine even without a background in horses. We want to retain them in the equine profession by creating schedules that allow for life outside of veterinary medicine. Part of this process involves educating the clientele by adapting to respecting their veterinarian’s personal time.”

Rathgeber is equally enthusiastic, exclaiming, “JUST DO IT! Don’t let anyone dishearten you! It honestly has been the best decision of my life and the best career I could have hoped for! It has been very prosperous, extremely rewarding and so much fun. It has brought me on so many adventures, and I have made so many great friends.”

For more insights into equine veterinary careers, check out “The Spirit of Hagyard” podcast channel: https://rss.com/podcasts/thespiritofhagyard/.

Brought to you by Bimeda, the makers of Polyglycan and Equimax.




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