Doctoring animals was never my passion. But I’ve come to embrace this inevitable task.
Story and photo by Kelli Neubert
June 5, 2016
There are three things that I am confident to be certain in my life: death, taxes, and doctoring.
For a long time, I was resistant to the last one. “Doctoring” was a verb that I tried to avoid. I’m no vet tech, and at a young age I never aspired to be one. Shots made my stomach turn, and I had no interest in mending injuries. I just wanted to ride, compete and enjoy my horses. Sure, I’d administer a little medicine here and there when necessary. But other than that, my medical involvement was minimal. Truth be told, I wasn’t even sure what end to read a thermometer from.
However, when other people’s horses became my business, things started to change. I became surrounded with horsemen and animal owners who are more educated than me when it comes to treating and preventing health issues, and I began to acquire skills I never intended to practice. Soon, I came to see that every illness and injury brought an opportunity for me to learn.
Anyone with a horse (or cow, goat, donkey, cat, dog, etc.) can understand the doctoring struggle to some extent. We all know in the back of our minds that animal ownership is a ticking time-bomb, medically speaking. When a fun trail-riding weekend has been put on hold because of an abscessed hoof, it’s disappointing. I’ve seen futurity hopefuls devastatingly scratch an entry after two years of training because of a high fever the night before. Thanksgiving dinner has been skipped due to a colicking horse, and we’ve had to alter travel plans many times because a sick animal needed us. Things just don’t always go as planned.
Nope, it’s not for the faint of heart. We horse owners are constantly battling allergies, viruses, funguses, parasites and more. We crush pills, hide pills, melt pills and drizzle liquefied pills atop sweet feed. We’ve got injectables, ingestibles, topicals and dissolvables. We can wrap, bandage, sweat and even find a vein when necessary. Strange words like Vetrap, SMZs, banamine, phenylbutazone and metronidazole start to become part of our everyday vocabulary. We get to where we measure time in a.m. and p.m. doses and schedule our social lives around administering drugs and checking to see if anyone is off feed.
Decades into this endeavor, I’ve grudgingly started to see the bright side of doctoring from a training perspective. My injured, sick and treated horses have actually responded positively to the doctoring interactions we’ve had. They’ve become better to handle overall and have grown in their maturity and patience as we follow our routine. I usually follow up our check-ups with a handful of grain, and they’ve even gotten to where they look forward to seeing me, syringe and all.
Anyone who has cared for livestock or pets understands that we are all emotionally, financially and mentally invested in our animals’ wellbeing. We are connected to the horses, cattle and others that we have taken under our umbrella of care and we have an obligation to do for them what they can’t do for themselves. It can be daunting work, but it’s truly an honor to be trusted with such a great responsibility.
I’ve shed many tears and had sleepless nights over the ones that I couldn’t save.
I’ve rejoiced and celebrated the ones that I’ve been able to help.
I’ve learned to be more flexible, open-minded and embrace the fact that that dreaded D-word is just a part of the ups and downs of animal husbandry.
And for those of you who might worry about this sort of thing, please know that I can confidently say that I know which end a thermometer goes in now.