Volunteering at the Equine Hospital

In the 3rd year of the DVM degree there is a volunteer program run at the equine hospital on campus for some students.  I wanted to volunteer to improve my clinical skills with horses and help solidify the concepts we learn in class. My housemate and I are partners and we’ve already had 3 shifts. The shifts usually start at 6pm after our classes end and most of the daytime staff at the hospital have gone home. During our shifts we work with the overnight nurse until about midnight.

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After our first shift! 

Our shift usually starts with physical exams on the horses staying in hospital. On our first shift we reviewed how to do it and then me and my housemate have been on our own. Same principles of examination apply for any animal–start at the nose and end at the tail. We assess the face for symmetry or any swelling, look for any discharge or other facial abnormalities. Moving on to mucus membrane color (looking at the color of a horse’s gums) and then taking out our stethoscopes for a listen. I really enjoy listening to horse hearts because I feel like I can understand and better hear the differences in sounds at different valves in the heart—> horses are easier than cats and dogs because their hearts are larger. Horses have a different gastrointestinal tract (GIT) than cats and dogs (and humans!) and it is usually quite noisy! We always listen to different areas of the gut to make sure normal sounds are heard. My favorite sound (yes, i have a favorite animal GIT sound….) is the ileo-cecal flush. Here is some horse gut sounds for those who are super interested. We also check for the presence of a pulse before eventually taking a rectal temperature. Counting respiratory rate in a horse is fairly easy–we just watch their flank (sides) move in and out with each breath.

Sometimes, certain horses need medications or treatments done. I have been lucky enough to be able to practice giving intravenous (IV) (into the vein) and intramuscular (IM) (into the muscle) injections. I have also practiced re bandaging legs and assessing surgery sites.

Later on in the night we complete ‘walk-bys’ which include walking infront of each horse’s stall and recording notes on what they are doing, how they look, if bandages have fallen off, etc. We also provide food and water.

On one of our shifts there was an extremely sick horse in the hospital. She was on fluids, but still very dehydrated. We took a blood sample to run and analyse.  It was quite exciting to listen to the vet and the nurse talk about what could be going on with this horse and her future treatment plan. We learned a lot about fluids in class this year so seeing it in practice was interesting.

We were also lucky enough to experience a euthanasia during our first shift. There was a couple of 4th year DVM students there who mentioned that they hadn’t seen an equine euthanasias during any of their shifts at the hospital or placements. We discussed how to appropriately check for signs of death in a horse and logistics of equine euthanasia compared to small animal or other livestock.

Another time I entered an isolation stall with the nurse to help treat a horse with a suspected case of Strangles. This was a great learning experience for me as we have talked about Strangles a lot in the last 2 years. As well, it was a great opportunity for me to practice appropriate use/application of personal protective gear (PPE) (safe clothing like gloves, gown, boot covers, etc) and attempting to minimize contamination.

On another shift my friend in 4th year was working on training one of the troublesome teaching horses. I do not have any experience training horses so I had a lot of fun chatting to him and watching his techniques.

I’m really starting to love equine medicine more and more. I can’t wait to see new cases and get a lot more practice on further shifts!

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My Placement at a Riding Facility and Petting Zoo

This placement was super close to my parents house so it was very nice to be in town every day after working on the farm. This farm owned quite a few horses that were leased out or used for riding lessons. They also have tons of different animals that are part of a petting zoo….ferrets, chinchillas, guinea pigs, parrots, cows, pigs, chickens, peacocks, goats, emus, alpacas, llamas, hedgehogs, cats, dogs! I was also lucky enough to do this placement with my best friend/roommate (its about time we did a placement together!).

Each morning started with chores. Animals inside were taken care of first and stalls or pens mucked out. Then we grabbed the water truck and headed outside to all the outdoor animals. One of the problems with keeping animals outside in the winter is that you either have to have heated water containers (so no ice can form) or you have to go around and break all the ice out of the containers before filling them up! We brought a hammer to break up ice.

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At this point, I became pretty good friends with one of the parrots who rode around in my hood to stay warm.

All the animals outside received extra bedding or grain to help them keep warm when it snowed. Many of the horses wore thick blankets as well. Some animals require more specialized feed. For example, the guinea pigs received extra vitamin C and D in their water because they are prone to deficiencies.

There were 3 older horses who had a hard time eating hay and getting enough energy so we brought them inside every day and gave them a mixture of grain and beet pulp.

 

Horses were ‘worked’ or ‘broken’ later in the afternoon. Often they spent a long time running around in a circle on the end of a lunge line. During one session the vet came out from a nearby equine clinic to look at an older horse that had tripped hard earlier in the week. I took a couple of minutes to chat to the vet about Metacam and how it is metabolized differently in the horse than other animals.

My friend and I spent some time working with a pony. He will eventually be pulling carts and working with young kids so he needs to be quite comfortable with unknown sights and sounds. We ran him around in circles and over jumps. We also rolled barrels and a large exercise ball close to and over him. The pony was very uncomfortable with us touching his back and hind end. With some more work this pony will be well on his way to cart pulling!

Another day we assisted with breaking a horse to a wagon. Last time this horse was hooked up to the wagon she freaked out and sat on the bar (a very dangerous situation)! We made sure to move slowly and calmly. First we pulled the cart around the horse so she could get use to how it looked and moved. Then we walked the horse around the cart. Lastly, we slowly hooked the horse to the cart and then walked beside her in the arena. The session went very well.

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We spent a lot of time grooming horses, sweeping the barn, organizing the tack room, watering down the arena (to keep the dust down), blanketing and moving horses, and oiling tack. Tack is oiled to ensure the leather stays supple, smooth, and in good condition so that it can be used for many years.

 

On our last day of placement we worked on some worksheets about horse health, anatomy, and care. However, the highlight of this day was learning to ride English.  Previously, all my riding experience has been in Western saddles so this was quite fun for me. A couple of staff members were working with a young horse–getting him used to being ridden and the commands he needs to follow. My friend and I were riding older horses in the arena so the young horse would feel less nervous.

I had a lot of fun being around (and learning about) the huge assortment of animals at this farm. Thank you for the opportunity!

 

My Placement on a Clydesdale Farm

I’ve been spending the majority of my summer vacation at home in Canada. It was nice to have my long break over the Christmas period. While at home I have been working full time and am just starting to complete some placements again. This past week I was working on a Clydesdale horse farm. I was very excited for this placement because I have never worked on a horse farm before. Riding is one of my favorite things though! For those who don’t know, Clydesdales are large draft horses used for work such as pulling sleds/sleighs. This farm was training and breaking horses to be sold as work horses or be taken to shows and compete.

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These horses tower above me! Most of the horses on the farm were over 17 hands high.

Each morning started by hooking up a 2 horse team to the sled. We tried to pair a more experienced driving horse with an unbroken horse. The more experienced horse would lead the other. While on the sled we taught the horses to follow commands such as stop, start, step forward one step, back up, stop at the gate, hold head up, etc. I even got to take the reigns into my own hands once or twice!

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Some years the snow is so deep that the sled is harder to pull. Pretty easy pulling for these horses this winter!

 

One very interesting thing we also did was something called ‘donkey-breaking.’ I had heard of this happening with cattle previously but had never had the opportunity to experience it. If an unbroken horse needs to be halter trained (trained to be lead around and walk calmly with a head halter on) they can be harnessed to a donkey. The donkey is very strong and stubborn and will lead the horse around a field and get it used to the sensation.

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This stubborn donkey will begin to teach this filly to be led around by her halter and a lead rope.

On another day I was working with an unbroken filly getting her used to the sensation of touch. I spent some time standing a few feet away from her and literally sweeping her with a broom. This action will get the horse used to touch without putting myself in too much danger from being too close to the horse. After working with this filly she was ready for her vet check in the afternoon; which included a blood draw for Coggins testing. Coggins looks for Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) which is needed to be evaluated before horses are taken to shows or exported.

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The filly feeling unsure about the nearby broom.

I spent the rest of my time on the farm helping with other odd farm jobs, mucking out stalls, moving horses, etc. I even visited a nearby elk farm that belong to a family member. This elk farm was very interesting to see after my last placement at a different elk ranch in July.

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Mucking out large Clydesdale stalls is a lot more work than regular sized horses!

 

Thank you so much to my family and friends who have been working their connections and helping to set up these placements and opportunities to me.  Sending endless appreciation to the placements who treat me like family during my time with them.  🙂

Semester 2

I think its about time I sent out a quick little update! After finishing my first semester of DVM the winter break in July was much anticipated! Now I’m back into the thick of it, and have just finished my first midterm of semester 2. The classes I am in this term are:

Cardiovascular System

Foundations of Animal Health 2

Animal Health in Production Systems

Cardio takes up a lot of my time, but I find it quite interesting! This is the first class I’ve taken where I’m actually required to build on knowledge I’ve learned in previous classes (last semester) to understand whole concepts. Previously I’ve just gathered knowledge, but now I’m starting to integrate it. We have had some cool practical classes in cardio so far, listening to equine hearts and trying to hear murmurs, testing out our stethoscope skills on dogs, trialing drug reactions on organ tissue, and practicing blood pressure readings.

Foundations of Animal Health 2 is a continuation of FAH1 that I took last semester, currently we have been learning about controversial animal welfare issues. A lot of these issues I learned about, researched, or wrote on in my undergrad (beak trimming, tail-docking, de-horning, housing systems/confinement, sentience/ability to feel pain, etc), however, it is now very different to learn about the issue from an Australian perspective. I’ve also been able to discuss some more Australian-specific issues such as: jump racing, kangaroo culling, and mulesing. So far I;m liking this course a lot better than I did last semester!

Animal Health in Production Systems has so far covered the different types of animal industries that I might be working or involved in. We have focused on swine, (pet) exotic birds, dairy, beef, camelids, sheep, and horses. This course included the information and handling practice I completed during my very first week of vet school! The lectures we have had on birds have been really interesting to me! While working in vet clinics I have seen many sick birds come in; now I have the background knowledge and husbandry tips to better understand this cases. The dairy industry has probably been my favorite for a few years now; I love working with the sweet girls and learning about the reproductive management on dairy farms. The Australian dairy industry is vastly different from the North America one so that has been difficult to wrap my mind around!

That’s it for now, I’m out for some fun this weekend after a long couple of weeks of studying/cramming!

A group of us hanging out and learning how ECGs work and how to read the traces to tell us information on heart disease.

A group of us hanging out and learning how ECGs work and how to read the traces to tell us information on heart disease.