A group of second-year WCVM students visited FITT Equine, a conditioning and training facility north of Calgary. Photo courtesy of Hayley Kosolofski.

Vet students visit Alberta equine centres

Horses are what led me to veterinary medicine. One of the first times I put the two together was during a visit to Northlands Park in Edmonton, Alta. I was in awe of the racetrack's equine athletes — and that's when I began wanting to pursue a career in performance horse medicine.

Of course, I have a lot of questions about how to achieve that goal. What's the life of an equine veterinarian like? What other educational opportunities should I pursue? What qualities are employers looking for in new graduates? And is it possible to find an acceptable work-life balance?

I had the chance to ask some of those questions during a weekend road trip in early March when I travelled with 12 of my Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) classmates from to visit some of Alberta's top equine veterinary practices and farms.

Organized by the Student Chapter of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), the three-day trip gave horse-focused, second-year veterinary students a chance to meet some equine veterinarians in the Calgary area and to learn more about what their practices offer to Alberta's horse industry.

Our first stop was FITT Equine, a conditioning, training and rehabilitation facility located north of Calgary. Owner Janice Tokar worked with a couple of horses to demonstrate how the facility's treadmill pool contributes to their conditioning and rehabilitation.

Treadmill pools use the buoyancy of water to take the weight off of a horse's limbs—reducing the stress on their joints. The water resistance helps to tone the horse's muscles and to improve heart and lung health.

While horses that are recovering from an injury may only walk and trot on the treadmill, horses in training may eventually canter on the machine. Tokar often works with local veterinarians to develop rehabilitation plans for their equine patients that include the use of the treadmill pool.

WCVM students visited Bar None Ranches with Drs. Louise Corbeil and Greg Evans of Moore Equine Veterinary Centre.

Next, we went to Moore Equine North, home base for the large, equine-focused veterinary practice. The clinic is equipped with a surgery suite, advanced imaging technology and in-patient care with on-site veterinarians.

Drs. Greg Evans (WCVM '93) and Mike Scott (WCVM '01), two of Moore Equine Veterinary Centre's owners, gave us a tour of the facilities and sat down with us over coffee to discuss life as an equine veterinarian.

They answered our questions that covered everything from current opportunities in equine medicine to advice on obtaining our career goals and how to establish a good work-life balance.

We're surrounded by top veterinarians at the WCVM, but Evans and Scott offered a different perspective as private practitioners. While they made it clear that equine medicine is hard work, both veterinarians also emphasized how rewarding it can be.

We also visited Moore Equine South where Dr. Louise Corbeil (WCVM '12) toured us through the facility that's geared toward outpatient care and reproductive services.

Corbeil then took us next door to Bar None Ranches — a world-class thoroughbred breeding, training and racing operation. The facility can house more than 200 horses and is equipped with a hyperbaric chamber (for hyperbaric oxygen therapy), an AquaPacer™ (an underwater treadmill) and an Equi-Ciser™ horse exerciser. We toured their reproduction and performance barns, and it was a unique chance to see a state-of-the-art equine facility.

Spruce Meadows' famous tribute to Olympic gold medallist Hickstead was a must-see for WCVM students.

Our last stop was Spruce Meadows where we met Dr. Dan French (WCVM '83) of TD Equine Veterinary Group. French and his colleagues work with horses that are part of Spruce Meadows' breeding and training programs, and they're also on hand for all of the tournaments that take place at the equine centre. We had the chance to watch part of the Winter Farewell Tournament and to tour the extensive grounds at Spruce Meadows.

French works closely with the University of Calgary's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and is piloting one of the UCVM's first fellowship programs — a cross between an internship and master's degree program that provides students with clinical and research experience. This unique combination is a very interesting way to learn more about equine performance medicine. We also spent a lot of time with French discussing the challenges and rewards of working with performance horses.

What did we bring home from our Alberta adventure? It was an extremely valuable and enjoyable trip that gave all us a chance to network with future employers and mentors and to learn more about life in a fast-paced, successful equine practice.

For me, it answered some questions that I had about reaching my own career goals and what I can expect from a career in equine medicine. The WCVM provides us with a lot of opportunities, but this was a unique chance to see the profession from the eyes of people involved in private practice.

Hayley Kosolofski is a second-year veterinary student from Sherwood Park, Alta., who is the 2013-14 student representative for the WCVM's Equine Health Research Fund.
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