As I sit here with my colicking horse, constantly interrupting my veterinarian while he’s on a date with his beautiful wife, having gotten a babysitter to watch their newborn for the first time, I remember when I wanted to be a vet. I remember when every single person in my family thought I would/should be a vet.
I remember the day when I realized I love my horses too much to be a vet.
Throughout my twenty years of horse-ownership, I have met a lot of veterinarians. I’m talking dozens. At least fifty. Perhaps more. About ten have worked on my horses, another ten showing up at barns where I’ve been gainfully employed, another ten at the multiple racetracks I’ve been to, half a dozen more at the rescues I’ve worked at. For three years of my childhood after my parents’ divorce, my mother and I actually lived above a veterinarian’s garage. All of these being equine vets. I’ve met a dozen more small animal vets, but for some reason, I’ve never been as close to them. There just seems to be more that can go wrong with a horse, and all my late night emergencies have been in a stall or a pasture. And when I have late night emergencies with any of my other myriad animals- the dog eating an entire bag of wrapped jolly ranchers, the dog’s paw swelling to three times its normal size because she cut herself and I wrapped it too tightly, the dog eating an entire bag of chocolate, the dog eating an entire bag of raisin bread, the dog’s spine suddenly went out of alignment because a goat attacked her, causing her to have a miniseizure, (all but the last happened to the same moronic border collie, too)- I end up texting my equine vet instead of calling an animal hospital.
I’ve been through a lot of vets. I mentioned that before. I’m picky as hell and demand specific treatment of my babies. I never liked my childhood vet because he wasn’t a big talker. He wasn’t big on affection (not that I regularly hug my vets… although I do… but when I have a horse who’s colicking or bleeding heavily or panicking for some other reason, I like a soft spoken someone who’ll pat her on her neck and tell both of us that it’ll be okay), and was old enough that some of the care he performed was outdated, or not as good as it could have been. I used one vet for a single appointment, hating how he treated me like I was stupid and insisting the only way to fix my horse was to use corrective shoeing on her. I swapped between quite a few other vets- women, men, young, old- for another ten years until I found The One. The One is the vet I call (or text, if it’s not a horse and it’s two in the morning) in all sorts of occasions. In emergencies, he’s my man. In minor situations, he gives the best advice. If I’m watching something on television or read something in a book and have a question about it, he gets a text. I keep up to date on all equine medical procedures and new sciences, operations, supplements, saddle fit, saddle pads, correctional advice, pros and cons of barefoot and Bitless, pros and cons of corrective shoeing, drugs, holistic care, whether or not magnetic therapy is a thing, massage, acupuncture, everything. E.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. At least ten percent of my life is spent researching things in the horsey medical world. And I like that he keeps up to date on it all as well. I like that he answers all my questions respectfully and honestly, and I like that if he doesn’t know something, he’ll admit it and then get back to me with the answer. I really like his bedside manner, and so do my horses. He’s calm and quiet, and can work quickly in an emergency without seeming to rush. He doesn’t ever get angry or frustrated at the horse, no matter how poorly they’re behaving. He’s the first vet I’ve ever had who will stand there and stroke my horse while he’s talking, rather than give her a pat or two when we’re finished.
That being said, in the past year, I met another vet who taught me so much more. While I was working at the breeding farm, I saw the farm vet a lot. Usually every day, and at the very least, he was here minimum of three days a week. With eighty horses, we always had someone getting themselves hurt or sick or something else, and as an operating breeding farm on top of that, he would sometimes even stop by twice a day- we would be his first stop in the morning and his last stop on his way home. He was awesome. He was funny and assertive and taught me more in a year than in all my other years. I learned how to take care of everything myself, so much so that I stopped worrying about it. If a horse was colicking, I had dealt with it a hundred times. I’d shoot him with banamine and wait a few hours before I even bothered calling the vet at all. I could hold together gaping wounds and mutilated muscles, I could lance things that no one should ever have to lance. I could use a skin staple to fix a horse’s massive head injury. I could foal out a mare on my own, I could fix a baby’s fever, I could feed a baby who wouldn’t drink by sliding a tube down its nose to its stomach. I helped him cut apart a baby that was still inside its mother in the worst screwed up foaling of my life, when the baby had turned all the way around and there was no way to get it out alive and the mother only had a fifteen percent chance of living herself. After that, there was no such thing as an emergency any more.
I both loved and hated Kurt. I loved him for everything he could do and for everything he had taught me and for everything that he thought I could do (whether right or wrong- he expected me to save lives, so I had to woman up and learn to handle a situation). And I hated him. I hated him for the way he treated the horses. I hated him for the way he treated me. I would never have let him touch one of my own horses, and I was the only person who would stop him from beating a horse. The first day I walked in and saw the aftermath of his anger, when I had to take care of a baby whose eye saw swollen shut because he had beaten her so badly, I cried. The first time I witnessed him beat a horse, I stopped him, and in the end, that was what got me fired.
Veterinarians are an odd breed. They have to be. They have to be distant, at least a little bit, and they have to not care so much about the horses. To protect themselves, they have to see the horses as a job. They cannot become emotionally invested. And that’s why I would never be able to make it as a veterinarian. I care too much. Wrong or right, I love horses more than people. Horses have always been there for me. Horses have never failed me. My horses are the reason I get up every morning. And to be put in the position where I would have to become callused to their suffering, just enough that I didn’t break down at their pain after seeing it day after day, I couldn’t do it. I would either never grow those calluses, or I would, and I don’t know which would be worse. To hurt constantly or not at all. To lose that empathy I have for my best friends would be like losing myself, since so often, I don’t have empathy for anything else. So often, I feel like horses give me emotions, the same way they give me peace and happiness and freedom. I don’t think I could ever live without that.
So, here’s to veterinarians- I appreciate everything that you do. I would not be able to do my job nearly as well without you. I need you. But I would never want to be you.