By Fernando Cardenas, DVM

True Stories:
20 Lessons from 20 Years
as an Equine Vet
(and the list is incomplete !!)

Never underestimate what the horse can teach you.
His ancestors survived without assistance for 55 million years.
Veterinary medicine has only been around for 250.
Draw your own conclusion.

Never give up on a “dying horse” or a dummy foal.
The first, may surprise you by surpassing your most determined efforts to save him, or die trying, like the stallion, Quik du Rouet.
The dummy foal, V, went on to have a very normal career as a show horse.
Be optimistic.

Never think a young horse will give up a tooth without a major battle.
Mini certainly didn’t. She instinctively knew her tooth was important.
She knew nothing about dentists, however, so who could blame her?
Take the time to build a bridge of trust.

Never believe skinny horses can’t gain weight, or fat ones can’t lose it.
Both nutrition and conditioning matter. I’ve seen horses both gain and lose weight, but not muscle, because of conditioning.
Work-days for horses and vets alike can be longer than long, and harder than hard, so keeping weight and muscle at optimal levels for both is not easy.
The lesson? No junk food for the vet, and no poor quality food for the horse!

Never choose a saddle without “asking” the horse’s opinion.
After all, the horse is was the one who has to wear it!
Once fitted properly to “the right saddle”, Whiz was pain- free.
Ask, don’t assume.

Never believe the statistics for longevity.
Pegasus is my 43 y/o patient. He’s sound, sane and still ornery.
Go for it!

Never opt for fashion instead of warmth.
Hershey doesn’t. He proudly wears his full, very wooly coat, while others are body clipped.
When it’s cold enough for Banamine to freeze in the vet’s syringe, both the horses and the vets need warm coats.
Respect the elements.

Never skip a trip to the water hole.
Horses and humans share a statistic: Greater than 70 % of the body is water. If the horse’s water bucket freezes, or smells fermented, the horse may stop drinking. The vet will dehydrate if he’s “too busy” to pause for a drink.
Dehydration, in turn, causes a loss in stamina and mental acuity, leading to compromised performance in either or both.
Drink more water!

Never cheat the horse of your time and best efforts, even if the owner can’t pay.
You’ll never regret it, and neither will the horse, or owner. Just ask them.
Be generous.

Never forget the horse’s name.
The horse may forgive you, but the owner won’t. I learned the hard way.
Remember: little things mean a lot.

Never fail to involve a team when needed.
Diagnosis of complex cases can be tricky. Farriers, for example, are experts in their given areas. Do the math: a farrier who shoes 8 horses a day, examines 32 feet every 24 hours. No vet does that.
Be open to learning.

Never assume a one year old cannot impregnate a mare.
It is common to castrate or separate the colts from the fillies by age two, because horses are very instinctual and opportunistic. It’s not uncommon, however, to place weanlings them together in a pasture until that time. Valentine is the result of such early instinctual and opportunistic pasture behavior. In his case, it was a good thing, but nobody likes surprises.
Pay attention and act if one of “the boys” shows an early interest in “the girls”.

Never meet an uncooperative horse without enough curiosity to ask, why.
Most horses trust humans. The uncooperative one makes his point: he is the exception, or may be trying to tell us something. We should listen.
Be curious.

Never take a steel horseshoe for granted.
Wearing steel tips in your own boots will save many a toenail, and maybe even a toe!
Be prepared.

Never underestimate the power of the herd.
Chivas, as a stallion, spent his entire working life isolated in a stall.
Now retired, he’s thriving in a pasture of 30 broodmares, despite many misgivings, and contrary to most opinions.
Think outside “the box”.

Never skimp on balanced feed for the pregnant mare.
Poor prenatal nutrition can cause leg problems in the foal.
The surgical cost to repair Amiga’s stifle far outweighed the cost of expensive pre-natal nutrition of the mare.
Provide the best possible nutrition early.

Never forget the golden rule applies to horses, too. And horses have long memories.
Treating every horse, as we would like to be treated, is “golden”.
Horses respond to kindness because they are kind. The same is true for patience, gentleness and tolerance. It is their nature to be noble. However, horses will especially remember trauma and people don’t continuously watch horses.
Be both kind and cautious.

Never fail to remind a potential owner: talent in a horse only gets you so far.
Vets see champions defy the odds over horses with more talent. Why?
Often it’s because those less talented horses possess much bigger hearts.
Believe in them.

Never let down your guard with any horse…even the nicest ones.
What is totally natural behavior for a horse, can prove very detrimental to the vet. One horse might strike out at a twitch. Another might kick straight back to “the wrong place” while the hoof is being held between the vet’s knees as a needle is inserted for a nerve block. Still another might injure the vet’s shoulder when administering an intra-nasal vaccine. And then… there is the occasional return of the horse’s warm stomach juices, up the tube into the vet’s mouth.
Be careful.

Never expect medicine to fix everything.
Medicine can be inadequate, just as horsemanship can never be purchased in a bottle. Assessing the full picture together with the rider, owner, trainer, farrier, saddle fitter, is always optimum.
Be honest and open to opinions.

Never leave a swimming pool unfenced.
Horses have been called magical, mystical and even miraculous, but they cannot walk on water. Covered swimming pools in winter may appear to be normal terrain to the horse, or an invitation to the curious one, until…
Expect the unexpected.

Every horse has it in him to be the exception to the rule.
Never say never!