AAEP Convention Attendees Assist at Therapeutic Riding Cente

:aura Smiley grasped the waistline of 13-year-old Branbt Franco's jeans as they paced along a fenceline at The Saddle Light Center for Therapeutic Horsemanship near San Antonio, Texas.

Smiley, a fourth-year veterinary student at Western University, was helping Branbt stayed centered on the back of a slow-moving chestnut mare named Nugget. Branbt was diagnosed at birth with chondrodysplasia, a rare genetic disorder that causes deformities in his limbs and affects his cognitive development. For Branbt, who struggles to walk and speak, support on each side of the horse is necessary during his weekly hippotherapy sessions.

Smiley and Kelley Jones, DVM, a fellow at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky., encouraged Branbt Nov. 18 during the American Association of Equine Practitioners' (AAEP) inaugural Good Works For Horses Outreach Project. They were part of a group of AAEP members who took time to give back to the local equine community during the 57th Annual Convention in San Antonio.

Kerstin Fosdick, director of The Saddle Light Center, says it takes a village to get a special needs child on a horse. Members of her village include veterinarians Kelsey Sapp, DVM, of San Antonio's Bracken Equine Clinic, and Michael Martin, DVM, and Keith Huffman, DVM, of Retama Equine Hospital in Selma. Both AAEP-member veterinary practices support the center by providing low-cost veterinary care and resources. Often the center's older therapeutic riding horses require special veterinary attention, which places a significant financial burden on the nonprofit center.

For the reliable and sturdy Nugget, her continuous battle with equine Cushing's disease (also known as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, or PPID) and complicated allergies call for frequent visits from the Center's veterinarians. Sapp, Martin, and Huffman spoke to the attendees of the Good Works Outreach Project about their motivation to give back to the local equine community. Attendees learned about making benevolence a priority at their practice and gained inspiration to make a difference with their own veterinary expertise. AAEP participants in the project raised a $250 donation to the Center, which Retama Equine Hospital matched.

Fosdick, who has operated the center for the past 17 years, hopes the veterinarians who participated in the Project will spread goodwill in their hometown equine communities. Fosdick said operating her center would be very difficult if she did not receive discounts and special considerations from her trusted veterinarians.

"I am grateful the veterinarians came out to look at this type of use of the horse and the hurdles we have to overcome," Fosdick said. "Many veterinarians don't understand exactly what it is that we do, they think all you need is an old horse. To keep these horses sound and healthy, we have to monitor everything very carefully and monitor their exercises."

Smiley, whose brother has Aspergers Syndrome, said she's always wanted to learn more about the benefits of therapeutic riding. After her experience during the Good Works Outreach Project, she said she intends to make volunteer work an important part of her career.

"My favorite moment had to be when we learned how we as veterinarians can help and volunteer our time to therapeutic riding centers," Smiley said. "I will definitely make an effort in my career to volunteer my time to these and other types of animal efforts."

Dawn Frank, DVM, of Horizon Veterinary Service in Delphi, Ind., said she was long overdue giving back to others. Her favorite moment during the visit was receiving a high-five from one of the riders. The experience encouraged her to make giving back a priority at her practice in the coming year.

"This experience solidified my determination to move forward with a plan to give back to a greater degree and still run a profitable practice," Frank said.

Throughout 2011, the AAEP recognized veterinarians for selfless service to the horse and the equine community through the Good Works For Horses Campaign. To learn more about Good Works For Horses, visit www.aaep.org/goodworks.htm.

Content by Elizabeth Troutman, AAEP staff

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