Owning an animal, be it a household pet, horses, or livestock can be wonderfully rewarding. There are times, however, when the responsibility of animal ownership requires the consultation of a veterinarian to ensure the health and well being of your animals or livestock. Most of these appointments will be for routine care, whereas other visits may require specialized services, like lameness diagnosis, surgery or reproductive management. Many horse owners use different veterinarians or vet clinics depending upon the services they require. However, those in more isolated or rural areas may be limited to a general practice veterinarian who routinely works with all species, being neither an equine or reproduction specialist. A breeder can still be equally successful in both situations, so long as they are prepared and have done their research to find the best veterinarian available to suit their needs.
Where to Find a Veterinarian
When it comes to choosing the right veterinarian, there is no one good strategy. It is certainly not as easy as going to the yellow pages or picking the top hit on a Google search. Rarely does a “fit” between a client and veterinarian form overnight, and it may take several visits with different veterinarians in one practice before a comfort level is reached.
Here are some resources that are available for horse owners to search and find reputable veterinary practitioners online. In addition, each state has a veterinary medical board that will list all licensed practitioners by location or address. These lists may not offer the most current information since they may contain retired, relief, or non-practicing veterinarians as well.
AAEP - www.aaep.org/dvmsearch
SFT - www.therio.org/search
These are searchable databases of veterinarians provided by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and the Society for Theriogenology (SFT). The AAEP website provides a list of equine veterinarians, however you can search under the advanced options for reproduction as a primary emphasis or practice modality. The SFT database lists veterinarians with an emphasis on reproduction, you can select Equine as a species preference under the advanced search function. Veterinarians who have completed a residency in equine reproduction have the option of taking exams to be board certified in Theriogenology (animal reproduction) through the American College of Theriogenologists. This is an advanced search option on the SFT website, select YES for ACT Diplomate.
Perhaps the best way to find an equine vet is through a referral or by word of mouth. Ask your general practice vet if he can refer you to a reproductive specialist. Talk to people at your barn, to other breeders in the area, stallion owners, trainers, farriers and grooms, ask them if they know of any equine reproduction clinics or veterinarians and what they think of certain practices or veterinarians. Remember that a personal opinion can often be a biased opinion and there are always two sides to every story, so bear this in mind when hearing negative feedback.
When given opportunity to meet a new veterinarian in a practice, be it a younger vet who is taking emergency call, a new hospital intern, or new specialist added to the practice, it is an opportunity to forge a new relationship. Dinners hosted by a vet practice, a boarding center, and educational meetings by a breeders association or horse group are great places to begin your search locally and meet veterinarians in your area.
Refine the Search
Once you have found a list of veterinarians, how do you separate the mediocre vets from those with the knowledge and experience to make them stand out as a truly good choice. Here are some strategies to help you choose the right veterinarian.
Qualifications and Experience
Before questioning a vet about their qualifications and experience be sure you know yourself what you are looking for. Hopefully, you have already done your research and ideally you have some information on the breeding history of your mare, your choice of stallion and whether you will breed by fresh, cooled or frozen semen. If you are a first time breeder, it is probably advisable to work with a veterinarian that has proven experience in equine reproduction. However, if you are breeding your fertile myrtle mare with fresh semen readily available from a local stallion, the experience you may require from your veterinarian may be significantly different from a seasoned breeder who has an older mare with known reproductive issues that is being bred with one dose of imported frozen semen.
In order to discuss qualifications and experience with the prospective veterinarian, you must first know what questions to ask and more importantly, what the appropriate response should be. For example, in the first situation you may wish to know if they routinely breed mares with fresh and cooled semen, what is involved in their typical mare management protocol and whether they can provide you with an estimate of their success, e.g. in their overall first cycle pregnancy rate or end of season pregnancy rates. In the latter situation you may be looking for an equine reproductive specialist who is experienced in managing the difficult or sub-fertile mare. You will still want to question them about their standard approach and mare management protocols, but will perhaps also be more interested in the diagnostic tools and therapies they have available. In this case you would also be interested in knowing their experience breeding with frozen semen, if they are comfortable with a one dose insemination protocol, whether they are available for 6 hr ultrasound checks at your farm or if your mare would be required to be boarded at the vet clinic.
Ask the veterinarian if they are a member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) or another professional association. Ask what meetings and conferences the vet has recently attended for continuing education or as a speaker. Even though we are all very busy, we as veterinarians are a very tight nit group of professionals, and often attend the same meetings year-in and year-out. These meetings serve not only as a place to learn or re-learn certain skills, but it also allows us to discuss ideas about cases or a new procedure with other vets facing similar clinical situations. Moreover, by attending these meetings, practitioners create a network where phone calls, emails, and text messages can be exchanged quickly when advice is sought or a fresh pair of ideas regarding a case may be warranted. Large veterinary practices and hospitals have these networks in place, yet even the most rural practitioner can have the same diagnostic capability and access to outside perspective given a little technology, and good cellular service of course.
Pricing and Availability
Discuss the pricing for routine procedures and ask if they can provide you with an estimate for the cost to manage your mare through a breeding cycle, and any subsequent expenses you should anticipate once your mare is confirmed in foal, e.g pregnancy checks and vaccinations. Find out if they accept credit cards and payment plans.
What are their business hours, will they make farm calls or do you have to trailer your horse to the clinic, are they available after hours or on weekends, and what if there is an emergency? What if they are not available, who will cover for them? No one can be available 24 hours a day, every day, but a good reproduction veterinarian will make themselves available as much as possible.
The major determinant of a good veterinarian-client relationship is based upon a solid foundation of communication. A candid question-and-answer dialog based upon things you, as a client, feel strongly about, is a great place to start. Talk to the veterinarian about their treatment philosophy. Does it line up with yours? Some equine vets believe in aggressive treatment, while others favor a conservative approach. If you have an interest in things like alternative therapies, nutrition, or preventative care…ask the vet his or her opinion. If you are interested in new techniques in lameness evaluations or reproductive technology…ask the vet about it. These questions will, with no doubt, give you a good idea of how the vet communicates, explains new ideas, and allow he or she to present you with information that maybe useful to you in the future.
Make an Appointment
Once you have selected a veterinarian the final test is to see how they operate in a real situation and how they interact with you and your horse. Do they return phone calls promptly and do they arrive on time? Do they listen to you carefully as you describe the problem and do they value your input? Are they thorough in their exam, recommendations and treatment? Are you comfortable with the way they handle your horse? Do they answer your questions clearly and willingly? Do they clearly define the available options and the associated risks and benefits? Is there appropriate follow-up? Generally its good practice to go with your gut feeling, if you're not comfortable, try the next vet on your list. But be fair to your current veterinarian and give them an opportunity to address your concerns before seeking out an alternative option.
No matter how impressive the vet's credentials are it is more important that they really care for you and your horse. A really good vet will admit when they don't have the right experience or information to answer a question, and they will refer you to someone who does or take the time to investigate and find an answer. They will admit when they made a mistake or should have taken an alternative approach. A good vet is always looking for opportunities to further their education, to learn from their experiences and to improve their service.
There are so many wonderful veterinarians working in the horse industry today, that it can be difficult to narrow one’s search to one particular individual. Obviously, if you live in rural areas, geographic distance may limit your search, but generally speaking, referrals from fellow horse owners and breeders should point you in the right direction. At SBS, we are fortunate to have in our network some of the world’s leaders in stallion and mare reproduction. If all else fails in your search for the right veterinarian, please call us…we would be glad to service you ourselves or put you in contact with reputable equine veterinarians in your area.