A few things have bothered me lately. Not major things, just little things. Coffee comes into the arena every day just a little bit ‘not right’. Tally seems to have just a little extra ‘wiggle’ in one hock. And then there’s the mystery of Nash’s hyper-reactiveness. The first two, possibly just my imagination; the last one a mystery we may never solve. Still, it seemed time to have a visit from the veterinarian.
My vet is a true gem. In practice for forty years, she has seen it all. Before attending veterinary school, she was a horsewoman in her own right – riding, showing, and training at a still well known stable in Southern California. She understood horses as beings long before she learned about their anatomy and health. That is a rare trait in veterinarians, these days. Back when she went to school you had to have work experience with the animals you proposed to treat, before you would be considered for admission. Today the focus is on science, and many students are admitted who have never actually handled a live animal.
The difference between veterinarians of yesterday and today is always evident in the first moments. With my vet, it starts with hands on the horse – first as a greeting, then as an exploration. She knows their anatomy not only by sight, but by feel. Watching her move around the horse with her hands is like watching a blind woman learning what a horse ‘looks like’ purely by touch. She feels every knob, puff, and aberration of any kind.
Increasingly veterinarians are graduating without knowing what a horse’s body feels like, normal or otherwise. They have become reliant upon machines – ultrasound, MRI, x-ray, etc. – all of which are useful tools, but no substitute for feel. I have had other vets ‘examine’ my horse without so much as a touch, until they have a machine in hand. Many times my vet has described exactly what is going on – based only upon her eyes, her hands, or even an interpretation of my description – with the machine just confirming what she’d described in accurate detail.
Aside from the great skill derived from ‘hands-on’ medicine, it provides a connection with the patient that reliance upon machines does not. Studies I’ve read about human medicine support this belief. It is easy to objectify a being that you only see as numbers, x-rays, and scans – particularly when that being does not have a voice.
The results of her examinations confirmed that I was not imagining things – though with Coffee and Tally she did say that no one else would have noticed what I was seeing.
- Coffee drops his right hip slightly lower than his left as he moves. She confirmed what I also thought I’d seen, which is that he warms out of it. No specific cause or pain was evident, so the conclusion was that it is a hold over from his previous hock injury, likely resulting in the shortening of some muscle and tendon fibers higher up. Long warm-ups, and don’t worry about it were her prescription.
- Tally does have a slight ‘chatter’ in her left hock, but also warms out of it. Again, no evidence of pain or obvious damage. Same prescription as for Coffee.
- Nash has cataracts starting in his ‘good’ eye, so he has very little sight in dim light, and probably not great sight the rest of the time. Nothing to do but just manage it.
The extra bonus of having a true horsewoman as my vet is that she notices the little things – how fluidly Tally’s back and hips now swing; how Tally calms to my voice if she gets worked up over something; how Coffee’s trot has developed into a cute, springy gait. She even took a few minutes to help with suggestions on Tally’s canter work. Before leaving, she made sure to visit with Noble – and of course couldn’t resist pointing out just how much bigger he’s going to get.
I feel blessed to have a medical professional who cares for my horses as individuals, and who carries with her a lifelong passion for the animal that has captured my own heart and soul. We once had a conversation in which we compared notes on all the things we love about horses – every sight, sound, feel … down to the smell of their muzzles. “I just love everything about them!” was her conclusion. It shows!
Be good to your horses!