We may be able to manage much of our horse’s medical care on our own, but should we? The short answer: No. If we do, we may not be able to get a vet when we really need one.
A horse friend recently shared this on my timeline:
I read it and chuckled. Partially because it’s funny and partially because it feels so, so true.
In the horse world, many of us pride ourselves on what we’re able to do for ourselves. Okay, maybe “pride ourselves” is the wrong term. Many of us have been put through the ringer by our equine pals. As a result, we have developed a rather extensive set of skills. Most of us can treat abscesses and minor to mid-level wounds; we give IM injections; we evaluate nutrition and we rehab soft tissue injuries. And that’s just entry-level stuff (okay, maybe one step above entry level). The longer we’ve been working with horses, the more we’re able to do.
On one hand, developing this skillset is awesome. We’re capable and we’re able to save some money for when the really big things hit and we need to shell out thousands to ensure the recovery of our oh-so-accident-prone ponies.
On the other hand, this self-reliance gets into dangerous territory. Of course there’s the obvious danger: trying to treat something beyond our skillset or making a bad call on a small issue, thereby turning it into a large, thousands of dollars issue. But that’s not even the dangerous territory to which I am referring. No, the real danger is that as we become confident in our own abilities and able to do more and more, we put ourselves at risk of falling out with our vets and not having the option to have them when we really need them.
The fact is, younger veterinarians seem to be checking out early in favor of other career paths. And while more veteran veterinarians are keeping the equine vet numbers stable, that stability is finite. As a result, vets who thought they were reaching the golden years of their careers and that they were seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel are now being called back to the field and spread thin by their clients.
So what does this mean for us, as horse owners?
Many vets are not accepting new clients. Others are declaring inactive the clients who do not have the vet out for yearly shots at least. At face value, this may not seem like a huge issue. Sure, we can give our own shots. And we can bandage our own wounds. However, it absolutely becomes a huge issue when a true emergency presents itself. If you’re not a current, active client, your emergency may not be addressed.
Furthermore, many drugs are in short supply. Therefore, if you do manage to get a vet out to see your horse, your horse is less likely to be prioritized over those that the vet sees regularly. This issue extends beyond the drugs your vet might administer to a horse onsite to those that often are drop-shipped on a set schedule. Do you have a horse with metabolic issues that needs pergolide? Or one with arthritis that stays on Equioxx? Having the script renewed will become an issue if the vet hasn’t seen your horse in the past year.
Bottom line: your horse may not get the care it needs if you don’t maintain a good and regular relationship with your vet.
When I consider my own horses, I think of my relationships with my vet (and farrier!) like an insurance policy. Staying in good standing with my equine professionals means my horses likely will get the care they need when they need it. Lost shoe the Thursday before a show? My farrier will do his damndest to get to me before I need to leave. Severed artery during the coldest stretch of the winter? My vet makes a point to get to me ASAP to deal with my irate chestnut mare to keep her from bleeding out (and, yes, these are both scenarios in which I have found myself).
It’s not just my winning personality that keeps my vet making room in her schedule when I call (although I would like to think that’s a factor — hah!). It’s the fact that she sees my horses on a regular schedule for their vaccinations. It’s the fact that I work to follow her instructions to the best of my and my horses’ abilities. It’s the fact that pay her at the time of service without (much) complaint and sometimes even throw in a please and thank you.
I in no way wish to discount the financial pressures of owning horses and absolutely support saving money when we can. Veterinary care is expensive and there are certain things some of us can and should do for ourselves. That said, owning horses means putting the horse first. And putting the horse first means ensuring that you can get your horse the care it needs.
If you’re looking for an equine practitioner in your area, you can find one using the AAEP’s Get-A-DVM tool.