25 Years of Medicine

Reflecting upon the last 25 years in equine veterinary medicine, it is difficult to limit the list of changes to a single page. Since The Horse has done an excellent job of educating horse owners about diagnostic and therapeutic advances in the "science" of equine veterinary medicine, I have chosen to comment on changes or constants in the "art" of equine practice. After my 33 years in practice, I have observed the following trends:
  1. In many situations, the horse has assumed pet or companion status, even when performing as an equine athlete. The resulting emotional bond between owner and horse is strong. This relationship requires increased sensitivity and optimal communication skills on the part of the equine veterinarian.
  2. Much horse ownership has shifted away from lifelong horsemen and horsewomen to relatively inexperienced owners who possess less knowledge of horse husbandry fundamentals. This trend has resulted in increased equine health problems caused by improper nutrition, foot care, housing, and exercise.
  3. Horse owners are justifiably becoming more demanding equine health care consumers. They expect veterinarians to be medically and surgically competent, that support services and the latest technologies will be available, and that they will be kept appropriately informed about their horses' care. Thus, it is increasingly critical for equine veterinarians to communicate clearly and thoroughly throughout each case.
  4. The quality and costs of equine health care have increased significantly over the years. Skilled veterinarians help knowledgeable owners carefully consider the value of veterinary care to a patient case, in addition to considering the costs of that care.
  5. The Internet is a blessing and a curse. Web sites such as those of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP.org), universities, many equine practices, and credible industry press (e.g., TheHorse.com) serve as excellent, reliable health care resources. However, other sites hold information ranging from outdated to total fiction. Unfortunately, the Internet also enables improper availability of prescription drugs, compounded medications, and even counterfeit products. This trend increasingly complicates and compromises the veterinarian's ability to provide proper care for patients.
  6. The value of preventive medicine has become well-recognized over the past 25 years, creating a growing population of healthy equine "seniors." Horses have longer, more active lives, thanks largely to owner investment in lifelong wellness care.
  7. Opportunities for excellent continuing education for equine veterinarians, horse owners, and equine professionals continue to expand. The AAEP deserves special recognition for its international leadership in this area.

Looking to the Future

Our quest to unravel the mysteries of genetic diseases has moved forward exponentially. Recent mapping of the equine genome will impact equine health in unprecedented ways. Nanotechnology and genetic engineering will lead to minimally or noninvasive therapies for a variety of disorders. As these developments appear, veterinarians must keep informed to provide the best possible care for their patients and to share this knowledge with horse owners.

The unwanted horse crisis will be with us for awhile. It remains the responsibility of everyone within the equine industry to recognize this problem and work responsibly to resolve it.

Veterinarians will continue to wrestle with ethical issues regarding the care and treatment of horses. We must look critically at bioethical problems, including the indiscriminate use of antibiotics and the environmental impact of administered medications.

Finally, some important elements of equine veterinary medicine remain unchanged.

While few veterinarians or horse owners would relinquish the advances in patient diagnosis and care achieved by the latest technological advances, practitioners must not forget that our most valuable "diagnostic equipment" continues to be our senses of touch, sight, hearing, and smell. These sensory "tools" facilitate a veterinarian's physical examination of the patient, which remains the key factor in achieving a diagnosis.

We are fortunate to care for an animal that throughout history has remained our companion, co-athlete, co-worker, and friend. For practitioners, veterinary medicine is still about the horse.

Some years ago, Dr. Robert Miller wrote: "There is a special quality in the young people who aspire to become veterinarians." I am happy to say that this observation also remains unchanged.

About the Author

Harry Werner, VMD

Harry W. Werner, VMD, is a Connecticut equine practitioner with special interests in lameness, purchase examinations, wellness care, and owner education. Dedicated staff, continuing education and technological advances enable his practice to offer high-quality patient care and client service in a smaller, general equine practice environment. A committed AAEP member since 1979, Dr. Werner is has served as AAEP Vice President and, in 2009, as AAEP President, and he is a past president of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association.

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