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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Volunteering at the Royal Melbourne Show

Some of my absolute favorite memories in life have been made while interning or volunteering. I absolutely love it and this weekend I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Royal Melbourne Show! The RMS is like a huge carnival with trade shows and games and food and lots of different pavilions. I signed up to work in the Heritage Sheep Exhibit for 2 days.

The sheep pens all cleaned up and closed down for the night

The sheep pens all cleaned up and closed down for the night

My time was spent making sure the sheep had enough feed and water all day and were not being stressed or abused by any onlookers. I was also able to answer the questions that members of the public had regarding the exhibit, breeds, and sheep farming in general. Most people were quite excited to hear my accent and asked about my background in agriculture in Canada.

My supervisor and I were required to keep the area neat and tidy and free of all escaped bits of straw—this included some frustrating sweeping between the legs of thousands of people!

All of the sheep came from different breeders and so they were not allowed to intermingle. The Cheviots were very sweet and appreciated a scratch behind the ears. The two Shropshire lambs required bottle feeding a couple times a day; their names were Pickles and Beeper.

Meet a Dorset Horn with a stubborn personality!

Meet a Dorset Horn with a stubborn personality!

At the end of my second shift we had to muck out all the stalls. For those who don’t know, this means that we had to take a pitch fork and pick up and remove all the heavy soiled straw from the pens and sweep it out into large piles to be removed. We then had to break up new bales of fresh straw and lay this down as clean bedding in each pen before the sheep are allowed their supper. This is hard work, especially when you have to watch the sheep don’t escape! By the time I got home that night my boots had been stuffed FULL of straw (which promptly exploded all over the hall of my apartment)!

Good thing my vacuum cleaner is broken!

Good thing my vacuum cleaner is broken!

I did hear a few rumors that the Heritage Sheep Exhibit might be on its last legs and be non-existent in a few years. This is heartbreaking news to hear as ag education is something very dear to my heart. I think it is SO important for society to be exposed to livestock, farming, food, agriculture, etc. People need to be educated on where their food comes from and how it is produced. Amazing shows like this provide a fantastic learning opportunity for curious people to learn more about something they are unfamiliar with. Since the wool industry is massive in Australia I think it is very important that exhibits such as this one remain in place!

I had a fabulous experience volunteering in the sheep exhibit; I was able to pick my supervisor’s brain, get some hands on experience with sheep, practice my agriculture/public engagement, and do some networking. I love making connections and I’ve met some very kind and helpful people this weekend. I hope to be back working at the show next year.

This is Bob Marley who is an English Leicester.

This is Bob Marley who is an English Leicester.

This is Mrs. Marley who is also an English Leicester

This is Mrs. Marley who is also an English Leicester