As a veterinarian, I really have to work so I don’t develop tunnel vision when it comes to the horses I get to work with. My examinations are not that different from any other vet. They revolve around whatever problem the horse is presented for – lameness, colic, a wound, eye injury, you name it. The owner or hauler brings them in, or I take a look at them wherever they may be. Haltered and on the end of a lead rope, we go through the formalities of an exam.
The older I’ve gotten the more time I spend with the horse before I start asking them to put up with things I am trying to do to them. It took me a while to realize that 95 percent of what a veterinarian does to a horse, they don’t like. Oddly enough, they don’t cover that in vet school. So, as time has gone by, I like to think I am a better diagnostician than when I first started, but I know for sure I am a better horseman.
The tunnel vision comes when I get caught up in the day-to-day of equine practice where appointments run together and horses all start to look alike. To improve at any given skill, you must perfect it with study and practice. More is better in the eyes of task-oriented professionals and that is true for veterinarians and horse trainers, just like it is for lawyers and architects. Tunnel vision, however, is not always a bad thing because it develops a focus that is needed to sort out the subtle differences in complex problems. As technology and opportunity continually increase the demands we place on horses, it’s that kind of focus that is required to operate at the level of performance clients expect.
Veterinarians all have as their main goal the betterment of the horse; we just get there in different ways. I prefer to visit with the rider while I’m going through my exam to put the physical exam together with the performance issues. Others do not, trying not to cloud the exam with “subjective” information. Knowing what a horse does for a living and how it got to the point where it needs me is, in my opinion, crucial to the exam and how I keep focused on the goals of the horse and rider. Whatever we find to be the problem, it has in its origins a cause from our expectations of the horse. Therefore, I like to know the expectations.
Looking at a horse on the end of a lead rope seems far from the performance arenas and wheat pastures where their living is made. This is why it is invaluable to me as a veterinarian to keep up with the horses I am allowed to work with. Knowing what they are doing, how well they performed, and what’s next on the radar is not just part of the job – it’s fun.
Watching a horse run down a yearling in a wheat field is just as much of a show for me as it is to see a 2-year-old futurity prospect sell on cattle in Fort Worth. Seeing the tendon deforming loads a 1,000-pound horse can generate on their legs while stopping cattle in deep ground makes me wonder how any of them stay sound. Whether it’s snaking around a barrel, holding cattle away from the herd, or laying some 20-foot “11s” at the end of a violent burst of speed, horses can do some pretty cool things.
The picture is of Lane Livingston from Olney, Texas, riding Cash. Cash is a 7-year-old Quarter Horse and Lane is now a freshman on the Weatherford College Rodeo Team. This picture was taken a little before I worked on Cash. He wasn’t holding his stops too well and was giving up a little rope as Lane was tying. After going through him, I treated his lumbar spine, SI joint, and hocks – then he got a few days off. Later I asked His father, Junior Livingston, if he had any pictures of him. I love to decorate the office with pictures of horses working. He sent me this picture of Lane and Cash, before I had worked on him. I don’t know about you, but if they can look that good with some back pain and sore hocks, I can’t wait to see the next picture. Cash is an example of a horse I love to work on. He tries as hard as he can whether he feels good or not. Being able to help that kind of horse is fun and gives me an appreciation for what they can do, and how we have a responsibility as vets and riders alike to make the most of what we are given.
Read more Health Matters With Justin High, DVM