As I may have remarked earlier, caring for horses and riding horses were my father’s only hobby, and practically the only activities that we shared with my father as a family. The first picture in my website biography is of my wife and I on horseback. It was taken at the Eminence Cross-Country Trail Ride where we spent our honeymoon, camped out with the horses and my family and about a thousand other people.
When I applied to veterinary school, I envisioned myself as "The Boy-Wonder Equine Surgeon", the whiz-kid ministering to high-dollar pet horses in exclusive neighborhoods. [No doubt there was some subliminal influence from my boyhood reading of comic-books. I loved Batman and Robin, "the boy wonder".] Fortunately, our curriculum prepared us for a wide variety of careers in veterinary medicine. I well recall my classmate, Rodney Moxley, who was single-minded in his ambition to work with large dairies… until he tried it. From there he went to an exclusively small animal practice, to meat-inspector training, to a return to school and advanced training as a pathologist… and no dairy cows.
My first job was in a very general practice with lots of livestock. After returning home to Kennett, most of my time has gone into dog and cat repair. Horses are less than five percent of my practice these days.
What brought this to mind was something I said to a client today. She wants me to do blood-work on twenty-two horses. I did last year, but — "You know, last year those miniature ponies and un-broke yearlings beat me up quite a bit. I’m not doing the cowboy thing this year. If you can’t handle them, I’m not fighting them." That’s a bit of a change for me. I used to take some perverse macho pride in being able to get the job done even when the horses were unruly.
When I was a kid, I read a book called The Horse Tamer by Walter Farley, writer of The Black Stallion. Many is the time that I have used the circling technique he described (in his handling of a wild zebra) to wear out a horse that wouldn’t stand still for treatment. The downside is that you can get pretty dizzy, and if you lose your footing during the process you could get stomped into mush. The last time I had to do that (a few months ago), I found myself saying, "I’m too old for this stuff!" [That’s pretty close to what I said, anyway.] I exercise pretty regularly, but I was ready to rest after that one.
I sometimes joke that equine practitioners wind up with nicknames like "Blinky", "Stumpy" or "Gimpy". Chemical restraint (a tranquilizer) is a great thing, but you have to be able to handle the horse some to get the stuff into them. When an animal weighs a thousand pounds, they just don’t have to be trying very hard to hurt you pretty badly.
Hanging up my "horse-tamer" hat is like seeing your picture and finding out that you’ve got a bald spot in back that you didn’t know about: a little bit of youth trickling away. On the other hand, I’ve got too many dogs, cats, and creditors depending on me. I can’t afford to get stomped into mush.