Along the way to Vet School I shopped several practices, looking for that perfect fit. As a child I had kept cats, dogs, hamsters, fish and a pony and saved my babysitting money towards an opossum. My mother was in charge of the bank book and somehow I never quite reached the amount necessary to buy that ‘possum! I worked at a variety of veterinary practices before and during my years at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Each practice offered something interesting, each unique. I considered equine practice for awhile.
There was the Racetrack practice. I hailed from Arizona, where we had a Grade B track – no threat to the Kentucky Derby but an endless parade of beautiful and athletic Thoroughbred horses. Later I fell in with the Endurance Group with their Arabian and Morgan horses that could cover endless miles in a day. These were not the Arabians found in the Show Ring. Lean and wiry, they were the equine equivalent to today’s human marathoner. We students volunteered to man the check points, looking for lameness, taking each horses’ pulse, respiration and temperature to judge that they were fit to continue.
And then there was Dr. M. A mountain of a man, standing over 6’4” and weighing in well over 250 pounds, he was a fine Equine practitioner with whom I rode over 3 summer months. I was skinny and insubstantial next to him. I looked very young. I WAS very young. My job as his assistant was to handle the horse. We raised a lot of eyebrows that summer.
We had a routine. Every morning I’d wait in his Large Animal truck, which was outfitted with running water and a refrigerator, ropes, medicines, tubes and twitches, all the trappings of equine practice. Every day his wife sent him off with a protein shake she’d prepared for him. It was a healthy potion, meant to both fortify him and make him lose weight. We would drive around the corner and he’d pull over long enough to open his door and dump the drink out onto a certain mesquite bush. We’d then drive straight to a diner that served substantial portions of ham steak with eggs. He’d chase that with a milkshake to go. Mesquite bushes are tough, but that one didn’t survive those protein shakes.
He took good care of some very fine Arabian horses and I learned a lot. Equine restraint was something I was good at, hampered only occasionally by my lack of weight. Once I’d grabbed onto an ear I didn’t let go. Occasionally I think Dr. M got a charge out of watching client’s faces as he sent me to “bring ‘em up”. These horses were all well trained, but even a well-trained horse protested against needles and examinations on occasion.
The end of summer was coming and soon I would be returning to Vet School. We stopped off at a small stable that had a young colt who had lost weight. The client wanted it dewormed. Back then we didn’t have the oral deworming pastes used today, which clients can administer themselves. We performed “tube worming”. You literally take a length of plastic hose and run it up the horse’s nose, watching it travel down the left side of the esophagus by tracing its route along their neck. Misplaced into the trachea, you could kill a horse by pumping the medication into their lungs instead of their stomach. On this day I had a good grip on the halter and was using my hand as a “twitch” on the ear. The colt started to act up and his owner stepped in, unasked, to assist. She succeeded in pushing me into his rearing head, breaking my nose and spreading a wild spray of blood across all of us. Back in the truck, Dr. M was full of admiration. “You got him! You never let go!” he enthused. I finished my summer with two spectacular black eyes before heading back to Davis for corrective surgery.
Many years have since passed. I traded horses for companion animals and exotics. My nose is still a little crooked. I‘ve never forgotten the lessons learned with Dr. M : Hang on! And avoid protein shakes. Some lessons you just accept at face value.
Christine B. McFadden, DVM