Equine Vet  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotEquine 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.

dotEquine 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."

dotVeterinarians, like medical doctors, treat animals using surgical instruments and medical equipment (such as stethoscopes) and diagnostic equipment (like radiology machines).

Equine vets work in government, hospitals, clinics, public health facilities, universities, laboratories, zoos and animal clinics. Many also work in private practice.

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."

dotHamilton 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."

dotEquine 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.

dotHamilton 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 use tranquilizers."

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."

At a Glance

Provide medical care to horses

  • Get involved in riding
  • You might treat and dress wounds, set fractures and perform surgery
  • You'll need a doctorate of veterinary medicine and a license to practice