In the third blog in our series detailing how equine welfare is always a top priority throughout the life of a racehorse, we hear from Naomi Mellor, on how equine vets always put the horse first..
As an equine vet in the racing yards of the Lambourn and Hungerford region, my role entails assessing, diagnosing and treating racehorses on a day-to-day basis in order to ensure they are in optimum condition whilst in training. Racehorses are elite athletes, and in the same way that Jess Ennis or Mo Farah may expect to receive high-level medical care from their team, the trainers with whom we work depend upon their vet to provide the same level of both preventative and therapeutic treatment for the horses under their care.
I work alongside Jamie O’Gorman in a practice established several years ago to offer high-quality, dedicated veterinary care to racing yards in the region. We deal almost exclusively with racehorses, and as a small team we aim to offer a tailored, personal service to the yards, adopting a collaborative approach with the trainers, jockeys and yard staff with whom we work on a daily basis.
We usually start work around 8am, although our daily routine varies depending on the time of year. We mainly deal with flat horses for whom summer is the busiest time of year racing-wise, so during these months the phone tends to start ringing early. Any horses requiring endoscopic examination (a 'scope') or blood sampling are usually seen first thing in the morning. Like human athletes, many racehorses have their bloods monitored to aid in early detection of any problems, and a trainer may have sequential results on file so that a picture of that horse's 'normal' parameters may be established. A endoscopy is often performed if a horse has been coughing or performing below par; equine asthma syndrome is common in racehorses and respiratory medicine forms a significant part of our caseload, particularly in the spring and summer when the pollen count is high and dust levels increase with dry weather.
Each yard will then subsequently have a list of horses that need examining that day: these jobs may range from routine, pre-arranged work such as insurance examinations or vaccinations, to emergencies such as examining an acutely lame horse off the gallops, dealing with a colic or stitching up a wound.
The majority of our work is orthopaedics; like any sprinter or long jumper, racehorses are prone to niggles and injuries that are addressed promptly to ensure their welfare remains optimum and to prevent further injury in future. The yard staff and work riders are excellent at picking up issues both on the ground and during ridden exercise, and their input is invaluable in our daily routine.
Each horse has their legs carefully checked twice daily for any undue heat or swelling so that any issues are detected early, a diagnosis may be reached and an appropriate treatment plan formulated. We utilise the latest technology at the practice and are fortunate to carry a wireless digital radiography system and ultrasound scanner each, which facilitates immediate access to diagnostic imaging if required. Any horses requiring specialist hospital care, surgery or advanced imaging such as MRI or nuclear scintigraphy are referred to a local equine hospital with whom we liase closely to ensure continuity of care.
When horses go racing they are attended by the racecourse veterinary surgeons and the BHA's official vet on duty at the racetrack that day. Each racecourse has a team of vets provided by one or more local private practices, all of whom are registered with the Association of Racecourse Surgeons, and must periodically attend a two-day training course to ensure current knowledge on the best practice to guarantee the health and welfare of the horses under their care. There is no denying that injuries do occur at the track, but horses are flight animals, and they are equally as likely to sustain an injury in a field or at home in their stable as they are whilst racing. Racehorses are provided with the highest quality veterinary attention by some of the most experienced veterinary surgeons in the country on a daily basis at racecourses around the United Kingdom, whether racing at Royal Ascot or a small meeting on a rainy Tuesday afternoon.
For me, the highlight of my work is the satisfaction we get when the horses we care for are in peak condition and winning races. Each one has their own personality, and it cannot be emphasised sufficiently how much care those who look after these animals take of them, and how invested they are in the success of the horses under their care. We have a close working relationship with the staff at the yards we look after; they are our friends as well as our clients and there is often time for a good laugh and a cup of coffee in between the more important aspects of the job.