Top nine qualities to look for in a horse vet

Over the years at Halcyon Acres®, we’ve struggled with finding the right vet for our needs. Part of the challenge is even though we’re a decent-sized equine facility in the Greater Rochester, NY area, our rural community is beyond the reach of most equine vets. Practices have a geographical boundary they will not cross due to emergency concerns. This initially made it difficult for us to get access to the better groups in the area unless we were willing to truck horses for care. The county facility is focused mostly on cows and their huge turn-over problem. Ultimately, we decided (long, jaw-dropping story) we were better off with no vet than this provider.

So, we set out to find independent practitioners willing to make the trip. The first was a qualified and competent reproductive specialist. Unfortunately, she was certifiable. The angst from mere phone calls, let alone the stress the entire horse population at Halcyon Acres® suffered when she entered the barn became too big a cost to justify.

Our next find was a blessing. In fact, we consult Dr. Janet Wilson on matters previously handled without a vet. The horses light up when they see this little gal because she’s so kind, calm, understanding and patient. I do too. She loves working with horses, enjoys getting to know the animals and goes out of her way to make the people clients feel heard, special and included. Continual learning is a huge focus as she’s often out-of-state attending conferences to absorb the latest discoveries (a drawback if an emergency occurs during her absence, but a risk we’re happy to bear for the benefits). Not surprisingly, she’s not taking on any more clients at this time. Through all this, I’ve learned there’s no reason to put up with a bad equine vet because if you do enough digging, you can find a great one. Here’s a short list of considerations:

  1. Is he eager to supply you with names of other providers who may be able to help your horse (chiropractors, farriers, other vets with specialty knowledge, product manufacturers, etc.) or does he seem focused on protecting his turf and critical of others who have a different perspective? Good vets tend to seek out the wisdom of others to help ensure the best possible solutions for your horse challenges.
  2. Is she a horse owner? Many vets will claim career demands preclude them from owning a horse, but the true horse lovers find a way to pursue their passion with one (or more) of their own.
  3. Does he have a good rapport with your horses? Horses shouldn’t quake when a vet walks into the barn. The right vet takes the time to be quiet about preparing a horse for whatever treatment may be necessary, isn’t afraid of horses and has a calm demeanor that helps his patient relax.
  4. Does she explain issues, treatments, concerns and examinations in a way you can easily understand? Vets too impatient with clients to ensure a clear grasp of what they’re doing and how to proceed to help the horse back to health aren’t worth keeping around. Those who are eager to help you learn, conversely, can provide an invaluable education you’ll retain for the rest of your life.
  5. Is it easy for you to call your vet? Is this something you tend to do as a matter of course when a concern arises in the barn? Or, do you spend time deliberating over the cost, angst and reception you’ll get prior to deciding to bite the bullet? If the latter is the case, no matter how much money you think you’re saving for less expensive visits, the price you’re paying for this service is too high. Quality horse vets have a way with people and horses that make them a trusted and caring resource for concerns. If you can’t rely on your vet to be in your corner when crisis comes knocking, why engage him?
  6. Is she continually learning and willing to spend non-billable time researching the answer to an issue that befuddles her? Or is she settled in a practice that gets defensive when you ask questions and justifies everything with the ‘veterinary medicine is not an exact science’ line. Good vets admit it when faced with a new challenge and welcome brainstorming with others who have the mileage to offer relevant ideas. Bad ones throw their cost of education in your face and never admit when they don’t know what they’re dealing with.
  7. Does he reduce your stress or add to it? If having your vet around is an uncomfortable experience for you, imagine what the combined energy from your nerves and his appearance do to your horse. Look for another with the ability to quell the situation vs. escalate it.
  8. Is she interested in getting to know your horse and working around his issues? We have a gelding at Halcyon Acres® that is phobic about needles (justifiably so, given his history). We told Dr. Wilson about this issue with the history of his fear basis. She spent so much time with him before an injection, his concern has virtually disappeared.

And the most important quality to look for in a vet (OK – the goal was to do this in descending order – any tips to make this so with WP formatting would be much appreciated):

Best Vet Quality: Do you and your horse like him? This might seem like a strange benchmark, but if there’s strife in the mix your money’s not well spent. There are a lot of affable vets that know their stuff.  Look around for a vet that’s a pleasure to have in your barn. More than you imagine have deep knowledge, a love of horses and an ability to make their human clients feel special too.

Potter, NY (the town where our facility is located) has a population of 1830 people with an entire county of 25,000 people. If Halcyon Acres® can find a star provider under these circumstances, you can too. Get creative about engaging your network for an exciting discovery. Your quality of life (and that of your horses’) will improve in an instant.