Equine vets play a major role in the health care of horses. Small numbers
of private practice veterinarians work exclusively with large animals, like
horses. These vets usually drive to farms or ranches to provide veterinary
services for herds or individual animals.
Herman Geertsema, an equine vet, likes to joke that he's a part-time truck
driver with all the driving he does.
Equine vets treat and dress wounds, set fractures, perform surgery -- including
cesarean sections on birthing animals -- and do artificial insemination. Veterinarians
also euthanize animals when necessary.
James Hamilton has a general equine practice in North Carolina. "We're
densely populated for horses," he says. "I have appointments all day long,
going to farms within a 20-mile radius. Sometimes the horses come to us."
Veterinarians, like medical doctors, treat animals using surgical instruments
and medical equipment (such as stethoscopes) and diagnostic equipment (like
Equine vets work in government, hospitals, clinics, public health facilities,
universities, laboratories, zoos and animal clinics. Many also work in private
Hamilton and Geertsema's clinics are equipped for simple surgeries. "If
it's serious, there are the vet colleges," Hamilton says. "They're a lot less
expensive to run and they have lots of assistance from veterinary students."
Leah Guitard's practice is slightly specialized. She's the vet for a racetrack.
"My office is my car," she says. "I'm a mobile unit. At home, which is practically
across the street from the track, I do my paperwork and any Internet researching
or correspondence. Otherwise, I'm at the track."
Hamilton says a recent trend in equine medicine is the increase in women
joining the profession. "Only 40 percent were women 10 years ago," he says.
"Now it's about 65 percent.
"The era of the general practitioner is over. It's more important to specialize
now. If you want to be good at equine work, specialize."
Equine veterinarians often work long hours. Hamilton puts in at least 10
hours a day, but he has two partners so they can share the after-hours calls.
Hamilton says you don't have to be physically strong to be an equine vet,
even though the horses can be over 1,000 pounds. "You take precautions," he
says, "and do things a little differently if you're small. And you can always
Guitard says it's tough sometimes. "When I have to 'block' a horse, meaning
it's a lameness diagnosis and I have to block one of the nerves, I have to
take a horse-shoer position. It takes all the strength in my legs to hold
on to the horse," she says.
Geertsema thinks the most important aspect of being an equine vet is to
get the horsemanship down. "You should be able to handle a horse," he says.
"You shouldn't be afraid of it. Get involved in riding and listen to those
who know what they're doing. Learn from them -- that's really important. There
are a lot of subtle things that can make you successful. I used to break horses
and it's now a tremendous help to me to understand these critters."