VMC Equine Feeding Blog 3 – What Type of Feed?

So, you’ve researched the grain company, looked at the labels and you are more confused! Which is better for my horse- the low starch and sugar feed, the high fat feed, the ration balancer, the 12%, the 10%, the organic feed?  Argh – how do I choose??

Take a deep breath.

Let’s start with the most important thing, which is: What type of forage is your horse eating?

Forage is the most important part of the horse’s diet and your concentrate should complement the type of forage that you are feeding.  For instance, you might have great pasture in the summer, but in the winter you are feeding so/so hay. You might need to change what concentrate you feed between the winter and summer from a higher calorie, more fortified feed to a ration balancer.  A change from an alfalfa mix hay to a low-quality hay might mean a change in concentrate as well.

Does this feed meet my horse’s age and use requirements?

The feed requirements for a 10 year old pasture puff and a growing 6 month old weanling are completely different. Geriatric horses are another special population. There is no one feed that will meet the needs of all age and use, despite what you see in the ads!

Does this feed meet my horse’s metabolic needs?

Just like people, horses can vary in their individual needs for calories.  We all know people who can eat all day and never gain weight and the opposite.  Horses are no different. Every horse is an individual and you may need to increase the calorie content of the diet for some, and reduce it for others.  Higher fat feeds supply more calories without supplying more starch and sugar, which is healthier for the horse in general.

Is the feed lower in starch and sugar?

The higher the starch and sugar (NSC), the more the risk associated with metabolic problems, such as laminitis.  The NSC is especially important in feeding horses with equine metabolic syndrome, laminitis, Cushings, or history of colic. Unfortunately, some manufacturers are very reluctant to share this vital piece of information.  Also, just like with human foods, the definition of “low” varies from one company to another. Low doesn’t always mean low. Another thing to consider is the volume of feed that you are feeding.  If the label directions are for 6# of a 12% NSC, it might actually be higher in total starch and sugar than 1.5# of a 16%NSC. Another reason to read the label and the feeding directions!

Can I feed it according to the label?

As we discussed in blog 1 and 2, if you are not feeding in the amounts on the feeding direction label, you are not supplying the horse with the minimum requirements of nutrients needed in the diet. So, feeding 1# of feed, when the minimum is 5, or feeding 20# when the maximum is 10, is not optimal for your horse.  I see this all the time when people are feeding a pound of low starch feed to their 1000# horse, because he is already too fat.  If you can’t feed according to the label amounts, you need to change feeds!

 

The take home message is that you need to take your horse’s needs into consideration when choosing a feed and you can change feeds as those needs change.  It’s ok to change feeds seasonally or if the horse’s energy or growth requirements change.   Just do so gradually over a period of 1-2 weeks. If you are not sure, ask your vet or contact a nutritionist. Most feed companies have nutritionists available to answer questions at no charge.

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

VMC Equine Feeding Blog Part 2 – The Feed Tag

Welcome to the next segment in our VMC Equine Feeding Blogs!

So now we’ve picked the right feed company.  You are satisfied that you are getting quality ingredients from a horse feed specific mill.  What next?

Pretty much when I ask a horse owner what they are feeding, I get the answer: “It’s a 12 % feed”. Or “I feed low starch feed.  2 scoops a day because my horse is fat”.   When I show them the feed tag, people are usually really surprised to find out that they aren’t feeding the correct feed, or the correct amount.

Let’s start with basics. 

 The Feed Tag

Why read the feed tag?

Well, it’s pretty important.  Have you read the tag on your horse’s feed and do you really know what it says?

First what IS the feed tag?

It’s that little bit of paper attached to the bag.

It tells you:

  • Product name and weight
  • Purpose statement identifying the type of horse intended to be fed. Checking that your feed has been specifically formulated for your class of horse is critical. For example, you would not want to feed a product designed for a “mature horse at maintenance” to a “young growing horse.”
  • Guaranteed analysis of certain nutrients (required by law) – Crude Protein, Crude Fat, Crude Fiber, Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF), Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF), Calcium, Phosphorus, Copper, Selenium, Zinc, and Vitamin A, and for feeds that include carbohydrate claims (i.e. low starch, etc.), the sugar and starch levels (when added together, the NSC or non-structural carbohydrates)
  • Ingredient list – this listing may include individual ingredients such as oats or corn, or terms like “grain products”. There is NO information regarding quality of ingredients in a feed. Ingredients are required to be listed in descending order of amount present.
  • Feeding directions – Horse feed manufacturers formulate feeds to be fed at a specific range of feeding rates; when a product is not fed according to the directions, the nutritional benefits of that feed won’t be met (as in the example above, if you are feeding 1 lb of a feed designed to be fed at 5 lb daily, you will not be meeting the nutritional values on the bag)

What a horse feed tag does not tell you:

  • Additional nutrients needed by the horse but that aren’t required to be guaranteed
  • Nutrient and ingredient quality. The percentage of protein on the bag (i.e.12%) tells you nothing about the quality of that protein. There are countless ways to blend various ingredients to make a feed with 12 % crude protein. A feed containing 12% crude protein made with high quality ingredients will supply more total protein, and more essential amino acids, to the horse than a feed made with lower quality ingredients. The same principle holds true for fat, fiber, vitamin and mineral sources. Not all ingredients are the same quality, stability or availability for the horse.
  • Just because something is included, doesn’t mean the level is high enough to be meaningful or useful. Even though an ingredient is listed, it could be that just a trace amount was included (yeast cultures for example).
  • Whether or not the guaranteed levels of nutrients are appropriate – when reading horse feed tag guarantees, many horse owners look for the tag with the “most” of everything listed. Sometimes more is not better. Sometimes more is just more and sometimes more is worse, possibly even toxic, as in Vitamin A.
  • Quality control – Feed manufacturers have widely differing quality control standards. It’s up to the horse owner to investigate each individual manufacturer’s approach to quality control (see horse feed blog post #1)

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

The VMC Equine Feeding Blogs – Part 1

I see a lot of horses, and I see a lot of owners who want to make sure their horses are being fed well. However, I also see a lot of confusion as to what my horse SHOULD be eating, and a lot of incorrect assumptions.  For this reason, I will be presenting a series of blogs on equine feeding. If you have questions please email me at drcallahan@vmceaston.com.

How do I pick the right feed company?

Selecting the right feeds for your horses can be a time consuming and often confusing task. There are multiple options – low starch, high performance, mare and foal, ration balancer, high fat… It makes your head spin!  And the manufacturers, the list seems endless…

To help to narrow down your choices, here is a checklist you can use to help find companies that make high quality, safe, and consistent horse feeds.

Horse dedicated manufacturer

Only a handful of feed manufacturers run a horse dedicated mill. Being horse dedicated means that the risk of anything that could be harmful or even deadly to horses like ionophores (monensin), or antibiotics is eliminated. IF a feed isn’t coming out of a horse dedicated manufacturing facility it is immediately put onto my ‘no’ list. There have been catastrophic mix ups in mixed species mills that have resulted in the deaths of many horses over the years so it just isn’t worth the risk. Choose ones that have dedicated mills.

Set recipes for feeds

There are two main ways a feed can be formulated and made. These are:

  • Least cost mixing, where the energy, protein, vitamin and mineral levels of the feed are set but the manufacturer can choose from any number of ingredients at hand to make up the feed at least cost to them; or
  • The use of set recipes where the energy, protein, vitamin and mineral levels AND the exact ingredients used are never changed.

To work out which method your feeds are currently being made by look at the ingredients list. Feeds made by least cost will have a statement something like ‘Ingredients selected from’ or ‘contains grains including…’ or they will list obscure ingredients like ‘vegetable protein meals’ which can be anything. Because of the way they are made, least cost feeds can have widely varying protein quality and starch contents from batch to batch which is not ideal for horses.

Choosing products from companies that make feeds using set recipes guarantees you a more consistent, higher quality product.

Protein quality and quantity

The quality of protein used in a feed is a major determinant of how well a horse does on that feed. Look for feeds that list high quality protein sources in the ingredients with soybean meal and full fat soybean being the most desirable followed by cottonseed meal, linseed meal (not linseed oil), brewers grains, distillers grains, alfalfa, and corn gluten. When choosing feeds, ask your manufacturer if they run any sort of testing for protein and what their protocol is for ingredients and feeds that don’t make the grade.

Independent laboratory testing

A company can write anything they like on their feed label with regards to the analysis of the feed. While most companies do a good job of this, some don’t, so it is a good idea to ask if the company regularly has its feeds tested by an independent laboratory to verify the contents of its horse feed. These results should also be made readily available to you on request if you wish to see them.

Further, horse feeds contain a high percentage of mineral ingredients including limestone, calcium phosphates and trace mineral premixes. These raw materials can be contaminated with heavy metals like lead, cadmium and mercury so it is also worth asking whether your feed manufacturer tests raw materials and their finished feeds for heavy metals. Their answer should be yes and they should have strict guidelines controlling their maximum allowed heavy metal levels.

 

While there are many other considerations when selecting horse feeds including cost, level of customer service and how well a feed fits your purpose, using the four criteria discussed above will help to narrow down your choices from 60+ companies to just a handful. Once you have your shortlist you can then move on to the finer points for the final selection of feeds for your horses.

That will be in our next blog… Stay tuned!

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

“Winterizing” for Horses

Winter is one of my favorite seasons when it comes to horses. I know that may be an unpopular opinion, everybody reading this is thinking “but it’s so cold and soggy, you have to break ice on water buckets, the ground is hard, and yuck it is actually snowing!” But what winter brings to mind for me is the best feeling of swinging into a cold saddle on a fresh horse, the blessing of the hounds on the opening day of foxhunting season, and let’s not forget dressing horses up for Christmas parades! Whatever your feeling on horses in winter, we always get a few questions that I thought I would address. How to minimize risk of colic, what is the “right” blanketing strategy, and do we need to be concerned about our horse’s feet when it snows?

1. Colic: A horse can colic at any time of the year but we definitely tend to see a few more in the winter, this is often attributed to horses not drinking enough water which sets them up for impactions (obstructions of the GI tract). Horses also often aren’t moving around as much or are stalled for longer periods of time.

To encourage horses to drink more water, water trough heaters are always a great idea. Make sure to get the correct kind for your trough, but these are great for keeping water at a comfortable temperature. If it gets cold enough for ice to form be sure to break and remove the ice chunks from the top. Some horses are willing to make their own holes in the water but others aren’t and we don’t want to give them any more excuses than they already have in the winter for not drinking. For my own horses I also include a dose of equine specific electrolytes once daily in their feed, again to encourage water consumption. This will help keep everything moving smoothly.

And lastly, even though it’s cold, keeping your horse moving will keep their GI tract moving as well. So remember to give them as much turnout as possible, or if they are being stalled for long periods take them out for a couple 15 minutes hand walks per day.

 

2. Blanketing: A topic which I’m sure has started a few wars in the past. I think the right answer, as with so many things in the horse world, there is no one right answer. Individual horses have different responses to the cold. My family has a draft horse that was raised in Iowa who could care less when it is 20 degrees outside, but we also have a half Arabian and I swear if it drops below 40 she better have a blanket on or you will walk out in the morning and the pasture will be full of freshly dug holes as punishment, her go to response for being chilled.

There are many helpful charts online to use as a guideline. A general rule of thumb is if your horse has  full winter coat and is in good body condition I wouldn’t even start considering a blanket until it is 25 degrees or below on a clear day.  If they are calling for precipitation then start considering blankets at 35 degrees. Old, thin, or clipped horses require blankets at warmer temperatures since they don’t have their natural defense system. Always remember to apply blankets to clean, dry horses.

 

3. The dreaded “S” word – Snow: Whether you love it or hate it snow always adds a little extra work to our daily routine for our hooved friends. Trudging through snow to feed has always been fun for me….for about 5 minutes, then it loses the appeal and I realize my feet are cold, the pastures will be a mess, and now we have to worry about somebody turning their ankle on a snow ball attached to the bottom of their foot. This last part tends to be just a concern for horses in shoes, so if you don’t ride during the winter, your horse has good feet, and no lameness issues that require a shoe to be on constantly then consider letting your horse go barefoot during the time of year that we expect there to be the most snow. Otherwise here are some tips to keep the snowballs to a minimum.

Ask your farrier about anti-snowball pads to be applied in conjunction with your horse’s shoes. These are pads which help push snow out of the hoof area with each step. The only caveat to these is you must be diligent about keeping your horse’s feet and environment clean as pads, which can encourage a wet warmer environment, can predispose your horse to developing thrush.

The only other remedy I have had any luck with is applying Vaseline to the bottom of the hoof, ideally done at least twice daily and not as effective as the pads, but it still should help limit the build-up of snow/ice balls. You can also plan to stall your horse during a snow storm or run out and pick out their feet several times a day. Sorry there is no easy answer to this one! Pick which solution works best for your farm and stick with it!

 

I hope these tips will help you enjoy winter with your horse as much as I do with mine! Happy Holidays!

Dr. Rebecca Bacon

A Verklempt Moment

It’s funny the things that impress you when you’re young, or at least uninitiated.  I was a barn rat in middle school and high school and I especially loved to be at the stable when the veterinarian was there. Over the years, I watched veterinarians draw blood, administer vaccines, float teeth, and perform pregnancy checks. I watched them treat colicky foals and suture up lacerations. I marveled at the veterinarian’s calm and confident manner as she came and went from her well-supplied vet truck, discussed cases with my trainer, and wrote prescriptions in her neat handwriting. But, somehow, the skill that really awed me was my vet’s ability to firmly and easily stick her forefinger and thumb into the creases of my pony’s eyelids and hold that eye wide open for evaluation and treatment. I couldn’t for the life of me imagine being able to do that myself.

Cut to the present day, sometime around this past Thanksgiving. I am alone in the practice’s vet truck, driving back from a barn. It is dusk and the scene is beautiful, with muted greens and blues and purples spread across the fields and the sky. Christmas music plays on the radio. I am returning from a call to see a horse that had come in from the field with one of his eyes swollen shut. During the appointment, I had done a complete physical exam, then diagnosed a painful scratch on the horse’s eyeball and prescribed treatment.

Driving along, humming to the music, and savoring the view, I suddenly become teary-eyed as a strong current of emotion runs through me.  I think about my middle school self, watching the vet work on my pony, and I think about what I just did for my own equine patient: I firmly and easily stuck my forefinger and thumb into the creases of the horse’s eyelids and held that eye wide open for evaluation and treatment. Not only that – I then discussed my treatment plan with the owner, calmly and confidently climbed into my well-supplied vet truck, and drove away into the sunset.  As I drive, the emotions that are tugging at me are a mixture of nostalgia, contentment, and gratitude. I think about how lucky I am to have become the person that I once dreamed of being.

If only middle school me could see me now.

Dr. Katie Spillane

Six degrees of separation: what okra and worms have in common

It was meant to be an idyllic vacation in sunny southwest Florida. We – husband and I, left pets and the Pennsylvania winter behind for a week of fishing the mangrove flats.  Days and nights were all blissfully the same.  Days consisted of breakfast (coffee, grits) and fishing all day (the fish gods were with us, plentiful redfish, snook and perch).  Evenings started with cocktail hour (pickled okra and tonic drinks), and finished off with a delectable filet of that day’s catch.  The weather was sunny, humid and breezy, the smells of Florida such a welcome change to concrete rooms and exhaust fumes.  The stresses of vet school and living in the busy city quickly faded to a dim memory.

Until……

One morning the husband seemed pretty blue.  Didn’t even finish his grits.  It was unnerving.  Before I could ask- whatsa matta with ya? He leaned across the table and softly whispered words no one could imagine:

“Lizzie, I think I have worms”

WORMS??

A miserable semester of parasitology came barging back from my altered reality.  What kind of worms?  Nematodes? Flukes?  We had been eating fish, maybe we didn’t cook it enough.  I asked all the questions an enthusiastic over-achieving doctor should ask: does it itch?  Burn? What do they look like? Are they wiggling or egg like? Flat or round?  I continued to describe every type of internal parasite I could remember. I even got to say “maybe you have macrocantharincus hirudinacious,” which I knew was impossible because it is a pig worm, but I just love to say the word and I wanted to sound smart and scary.

The husband was not impressed and wondered if he should go to the doctor.

“You mean not go fishing today??” I squealed and wailed.

That was not ok with me. Leave it to the husband to ruin a perfectly good vacation by getting worms. Now it was time to think rationally and save the day.

“It’s a weekend and there is no way we are going to get this fixed today. You have no symptoms, so let’s go fishing and worry about this next week”.  Reluctantly he acquiesced.

In a few hours our worries were forgotten in the summer sun and sparkling blue water.  The okra and tonic drinks were delicious. Maybe it was a bad dream.

Until the next morning.

As a scientist, I have insatiable curiosity….

I wonder if I have worms too?  Won’t hurt to check…….

The litany of cuss words from the bathroom could be heard next door.

#**¥*#. “I have the worms too!”  ##%**€#

The husband tried to calm me, but this was serious. And all his fault. He got them first. So we did what any parasite infested person on vacation would do: went fishing.

 

Cocktail hour arrived too soon. I was afraid to go to the bathroom. So far no serious symptoms. Maybe the tonic drinks would kill the interlopers…

The husband took a bite of his umpteenth pickled okra. The broad smile on his face and chortle shocked me. “What do you have to be so happy about?”

He showed me the guts of his okra: it had worms too!!!

 

Vets are People Too!

Hello everyone! I am so happy to have joined such a great practice and I am enjoying living on the Bay with my husband and our dog Chief, a lab mix who is the perfect dog; as long as you don’t leave bread on the counter, a full trash can, let him socialize (read fight) with other dogs…OK he’s not perfect but we love him anyway! We’ve wandered the Eastern Shore, eaten crab cakes and even have some Old Bay in our pantry. Chief had his own plans of welcoming us to the area however. Just a few short weeks after moving we woke up at 4 o clock in the morning to him suddenly being so congested that he could not breathe through his nose and was opening his mouth with every breath. All I had on hand was some allergy medication and a pain medication which helped him some but he was still quite miserable a few hours later, necessitating a trip to VMC, on one of my first days off since starting work of course!

As anybody who lives with a veterinarian can attest to, we love our work and can do so many different types of procedures on many species, but ask us to do a physical exam on our own dogs and we absolutely quiver with fear! Our own Dr. Bruce was kind enough to fit us into her busy schedule and worked with us over the next few weeks as we tried to get Chief sorted out. We tried stronger allergy medicine, stronger pain medicine, two different antibiotics but nothing helped. We finally came down to the decision of having to pursue further diagnostics under general anesthesia, a fact which I had been trying to avoid.

All of the same questions run through our heads as it would yours. Do I want to accept the risks of general anesthesia? Do I want to know if there is cancer present? What if we go through all this and it doesn’t work, if he doesn’t feel better? Then what? But, as happens most of the time, my worries were laid to rest. We were as prepared as we could be. Clean pre-operative bloodwork, clean pre-operative chest x-rays and an excellent team in place. Dr. Bruce and our wonderful technical staff babied Chief as if they were his own, and kicked me out of the surgery suite so I couldn’t stand there and worry. His x-rays came back clean, he had his nasal passages flushed,  had a mass removed and, as a  bonus, got his teeth cleaned. He has been feeling and breathing great ever since! He must have just wanted me to get familiar with the hospital and the excellent team that works here.

I wanted to share this story so that everyone would know, just because we have this knowledge, these skills, and the white coat does not mean we don’t share your fears and know exactly how you feel when we ask you to trust us with your beloved pets. Don’t be afraid to tell us you are worried. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information. We will do everything we can to make you comfortable and make sure your pet is as prepared as they can be for their road ahead in hopes of the best outcome possible! I look forward to meeting everyone and their pets and becoming a part of this wonderful community!

Rebecca Bacon, DVM

Equine Coronavirus

What is Equine Coronavirus?

Equine coronavirus (ECoV) is well known as a cause of gastrointestinal disease in foals.  However, recently this virus has been linked with intestinal diseases in adults.

What are the clinical signs of ECoV?

Infected horses tend to develop high fevers (>103oF), inappetance, dullness, and lethargy that may last two to four days with minimal treatment.  Some horses may experience soft manure to diarrhea with mild colic signs such as flank watching and/or lying down.  In rare cases, ECoV may lead to translocation of bacteria from the intestinal tract and lead to serious complication like septicemia, endotoxemia, and encephalopathy.

How is ECoV transmitted?

ECoV is spread horse to horse by manure-to-mouth. Both symptomatic and non-symptomatic horses can transmit the virus in their manure for three to four weeks that may lead to clinical disease.  Research is ongoing to assess sources of outbreaks.  The disease is highly infectious and appropriate biosecurity measures are essential during an outbreak.  Although many horses may become infected (high morbidity) overall mortality is low.  The virus is suspected to live in the environment for up to 72 hours.

How is ECoV diagnosed?

Gold standard for diagnosis of ECoV is submission of manure sample for PCR testing for presence of the virus genetic code.  Such testing may take several days to perform thus treatment is started prior to confirmed diagnosis in many cases.

How is ECoV treated?

Main goal of treatment of ECoV is supportive care for the clinical signs displayed such as IV fluids to avoid dehydration, medication to reduce fever such as Banamine®, and gastrointestinal/anti-ulcer protectant medications such as BioSponge® and Gastroguard®.  Close monitoring for laminitis and preventative measure of deep bedding and/or hoof padding is recommended.

How to limit spread during an outbreak?

Strict biosecurity measures must be established.  Affected horses must be kept separate from unaffected horses. Separate barn equipment must be used when handling/treating sick horses.  It is recommended to handle sick horses last and limit the overall traffic occurring in/out of barn during an outbreak.  Veterinarian grade disinfectants are required to inactivate the virus.

Denise Newsome, BVSc, MRCVS, DABVP(equine)

Food is Love, but so is Quality Time

by Dr Maddie Scofield

As the air becomes crisper and the holidays creep around the corner I become increasingly excited about many things associated with season changes.  Most important for me is food.  I’d be lying if I told you Halloween candy has not constituted over 80% of several meals earlier this November!  As I think back on delicious memories of previous holidays, my throat tightens as my belt loosens at the thought of those extra 5-10 lbs. I will gain during these times of love and food.   Which bring me to my main topic of discussion, the concept of food as love.   Food is given and shared as a gift of friendship, fellowship and sympathy during all types of celebrations, family events, and holidays.  Food is love for us as humans to humans but also as humans to our beloved four legged companions.

I would be lying to you if I told you I never give food (i.e. people food) to my animals.  I fondly remember sharing a soft serve ice cream cone between me and my dogs in the Mc Donald’s parking lot one afternoon.  It was a happy moment in a sad time, as it was just after our Labrador “Abbie” had her chemo treatment for cancer.  In the middle of our gastronomic bliss I hear following words emanating from the car parked next to us: “I bet your veterinarian wouldn’t approve of you feeding your dogs that ice cream!”  These were words coming from a concerned busybody in the neighboring car.   I couldn’t help but bellow a response: “Well…..I am my dogs’ veterinarian.  Besides, they ran 3 miles today and this one is dying of cancer…. but thank you for caring!”  The interloper immediately rolled up their window and resumed eating the not so healthy junk food.

I understand the concern that you may have feeding your dog “people food”.  There is the likelihood your veterinarians at VMC are going to chastise you for feeding your dog anything but pet food and pet treats.  But what joy and happiness we feel giving them something they love!  Feeding homemade snacks from the farmers market…….watching that reward center of the brain light up as they smack peanut butter from the roof of their mouth, or eat meat drippings on their dry kibble.  There is no doubt that food helps bond us to our pets and patients.

Unfortunately, all these extra treats can bring problems.  There is the ever increasing concern for weight gain, and with this obesity can come other health problems which can severely impact the quality of our pet’s lives and their longevity.  That’s why this year I’m promising myself to try to light up the reward center in a more healthy way!  I’m sure we will indulge in snacking, but this year I plan to pursue moderation in the indulgence!  The same will go for my beloved 4-legged friends, and I encourage you to do the same.  Your dog can have a tiny taste, but remember they don’t need a huge portion.  A taste will often satisfy your need to give in and share as well as avoid the food coma or overload lethargy from a true gorge of indulgent calories (i.e. “Thanksgiving”).  It will also help prevent the inevitable gastrointestinal ailments we see in dogs after the holidays.

I’m going to put effort towards another, perhaps more rewarding way to bond with my pets this holiday season: we are exercising together!  This exercise will induce natural endorphins and give us the quality time we need together.  Our companions get the most reward from just being with us, especially when we are active with them.  A 10-15 min sojourn around the block will not only help slim our waist lines and invigorate our mental health, it will also strengthen our human-animal bond.  My challenge for all of us is this: for every extra snack or treat we eat, we must be more active, and take our pets out for a “sniff” walk or game of catch, while we enjoy this beautiful time of year.  I’m hopeful that this holiday season is magical, and that you and your pets will enjoy this time together even more with more activity and exercise!  If you have any questions about breaking the rules…you know where to find me, just don’t tell your veterinarian!

p.s. – I’ve made it to the gym 3 times in the past week!!

“H-O-R-S-E”

To most of us, spelling that word is not a huge accomplishment however, to a four-year old boy learning the alphabet saying that word aloud was very significant; certainly, worthy of a treat after school.

I used to practice that word every day as my father drove me to school in his old black 4×4 GMC. We would drive past the different horse farms in Elkton, MD pointing out the many color variations.

I was so proud when I actually spelled “HORSE”. And since that time, horses were an important part of my life. I remember my first pony, Buttercup. He was a little miniature Shetland pony that I eventually outgrew. Then I took riding lessons in Fair Hill. I never did any shows or competitions outside of trail riding, however I simply loved everything horse!

My parents and family encouraged this love buying numerous books, games and figurines. In fact, I remember (and my mother recalls this tale well) my first toy horse.

We were on a family vacation at Disney Land in Orlando Florida. I don’t remember much of it; however, I do remember having to wear a leash on my wrist so my parents could find me (I was a very active child) and sitting in my blue stroller when I got tired.

One afternoon, we visited the Budweiser horses. I remember the powerful animals sitting calmly there in their stalls letting numerous people walk by and stroke their flaxen manes.

Of course, I asked my mother, father and aunt if I could have a horse. And they said “Why, YES! Of course I could have a horse!!!” So, they all took me to the gift shop and bought me my first horse; a plastic horse that is. And boy, did I love my horse! I carried him with every day that vacation until the second to last day, when I couldn’t find him.

I was beside myself! As my parents recall vividly, I cried and cried until my face was beat red then I cried some more until I couldn’t cry. My parents tried to get me numerous replacements that day! They offered me cotton candy, ice cream, a trip to Mickey Mouse and even another stuffed horse; however, nothing worked.

As they tell the story, after they saw my sobs sinking into depression, they had to go all the way back to the gift shop across the park to buy me an exact replica of my Clydesdale horse that I had carried around with me for the whole week. This time, my parents decided to buy two horses,  just in case something ever happened to one on the ride home.

Finally, I could sleep at night having my horse.

After that time period, I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, and for all kinds of animals too.  My experience with my own pets has helped me be a better vet.   When I was in high school, I got a Chesapeake Bay Retriever who had a variety of different aliments; everything from hypothyroidism to a torn ACL.   I also had a cat with kidney failure that was a handful to manage.  While in veterinary school, I leased a horse, Spud, so I could expose myself to problems horse owners dealt with on a regular basis.

A career in veterinary medicine was always in my future, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Robert Campbell, DVM