Dreaming of a Career With Horses? Live Your Passion as an Equine Veterinarian


Careers – Mar 31st, 11

Do you own or ride horses, or simply admire the beauty of the horse? Do you enjoy the biological sciences? If so, a career as an equine veterinarian may be the perfect profession for you.

A World of Opportunity

From world-class equine athletes to a child’s pony, equine veterinarians ensure the health of a variety of horse breeds across a broad range of disciplines. With over nine million horses in the United States, equine veterinarians play an important role in the life of the horse and those who own them. For those who dedicate their professional career to the care of the horse, the paths are exciting.

With over nine million horses in the United States, equine veterinarians play an important role in the life of the horse and those who own them.

Life in Private Practice 

Most equine veterinarians are employed in private practice, where they may own a solo practice or be on staff at a multi-doctor surgical or referral hospital. General practice is a popular and rewarding choice for many veterinarians. Others choose to focus on a specific breed or discipline for which they have a personal passion, such as racehorses or western pleasure horses.

Many private practitioners are ambulatory veterinarians, spending much of their day traveling to clients. Ambulatory practice is the norm in both urban areas and rural communities. Depending on the needs of their clients, some practitioners find it beneficial to expand beyond equine medicine to offer mixed animal or large animal veterinary care. A practitioner’s veterinary vehicle is truly an office on wheels, often fully stocked with the equipment and medication necessary to diagnose and treat a variety of health concerns on site. For those who love independence, a daily change in schedule and working outside, ambulatory practice can be the perfect career fit.

Becoming a Specialist

Equine medicine today is as sophisticated as human medicine. Although ambulatory practice is the backbone of the profession, many veterinarians decide to specialize in one area of equine practice, such as surgery, internal medicine, reproduction or radiology. Pursuing a career in a specialized field requires additional education and training beyond veterinary school. As the sophistication of equine medicine continues to increase, so will the need for equine veterinarians with specialty training.

Solving the Mysteries in Equine Medicine

A career in equine research is another rewarding possibility. Researchers solve the riddles of equine disease and may be employed by universities, government agencies or pharmaceutical companies. There are not enough veterinarians working in this field, however, and our future health breakthroughs depend on new graduates choosing this career path.

Equine veterinarians also serve as epidemiologists in city, county, state and federal agencies, investigating animal and human disease outbreaks such as influenza, rabies, and West Nile virus. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its veterinarians within the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) monitor the testing and development of new vaccines and are also responsible for enforcing humane laws for the treatment of animals. Other career paths include teaching, military service, and technical sales and services.

It is not necessary to grow up with horses to enter equine practice. Horsemanship skills can be easily developed.

No Horse Experience Necessary

What if you don’t have horse experience? It is not necessary to grow up with horses to enter equine practice. While many practitioners acquired their passion for horses at an early age, others only gained interest in equine medicine after entering veterinary school. Horsemanship skills can be easily developed. Opportunities may exist to gain hands-on horse experience with local youth horse groups, riding stables or rescue and retirement facilities.

Getting Started

Students interested in a career within the equine veterinary field should perform well in general science and biology in junior high school and pursue a strong science, math and biology program in high school. Upon entering college, students must successfully complete pre-veterinary undergraduate course work. Be sure to speak with your college advisor about the classes that are required for a pre-veterinary major, since each college /school of veterinary medicine establishes its own pre-veterinary courses. Typically, these include demonstrating basic language and communication skills as well as courses in the social sciences, humanities, mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics.

Admission to veterinary school is highly competitive. Applicants may be required to take a standardized test known as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Veterinary College Admissions Test (VCAT). The number of qualified applicants that are admitted to veterinary schools nationwide will vary from year to year, but typically only one-fourth of all applicants are accepted.

Admission requirements for U.S. veterinary schools are available on the Association of

American Veterinary Medical College website (www.aavmc.org).

A Rewarding Education

After admission to veterinary school, it typically takes four years to complete the required veterinary medical curriculum to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, or DVM. Graduates then may choose to pursue employment opportunities or gain additional education in order to pursue specialization. For those graduates who want to receive additional clinical training, internships present an excellent post-graduation option. Veterinary students who have not yet graduated may apply for an externship to gain practical knowledge during the summer months or other school breaks.

Live Your Passion

It is anticipated that the need for equine veterinarians will remain strong in the coming years in order to provide the high level of care that owners desire for their horses as well as to continue the tremendous advances in equine research. For those considering a career

involving horses, becoming an equine veterinarian may be the most rewarding decision you ever make. Explore the options. Discover the rewards. Live your passion.

Additional Online Resources

To learn more about this rewarding profession, check out the following online resources:

American Association of Equine Practitioners


American Veterinary Medical Association


Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges


United States Department of Agriculture-

Animal and Plant Inspection Service


This article is also available in brochure format. To request a copy, please call the AAEP office at (800) 443-0177 or (859) 233-0147

Overconditioned Horse

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Case of the Quarteroverconditioned horse

Louisa is a beautiful 9 year old gray Pasofino mare. While active and lively (sometimes too lively) she carries too much condition – she is fat. Body condition scoring in the horse is done on a scale of 1-9, and Louisa is a 7+. Louisa’s people know this and have been actively trying to help her lose weight. Louisa is on a calorie and carbohydrate restricted diet, as well as thyroid supplementation. Progress has been slow, but is being made. More turn-out, in a dry lot, has helped immensely.

Louisa has Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) – insulin dysregulation. Obesity may be the result of the insulin dysregulation, but it may also contribute to the insulin problems. Adipose tissue, fat, is more metabolically active than we used to recognize. The fat cells likely contribute to the poor carbohydrate metabolism and insulin issues. The late summer has brought new challenges to Louisa and her condition. Seasonal changes in the horse’s metabolism (think about hair coats and cycling in mares) make this a riskier time for both Cushing’s disease and EMS horses. Grasses that have been growing hard through all the early summer rains start to dry out and concentrate sugars as they are stressed. Remembering that adipose, or fat cells, are metabolically active – many horses have shrugged of their winter thinning in favor of Spring and Summer pasture plumpness – insulin dysregulation and especially insensitivity are worse now. All these factors combine to pose a very serious threat of laminitis in effected horses.

Mona is Louisa’s mother. She has Cushing’s disease, also known as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID). Many PPID horses also deal with insulin dysregulation. Mona suffered from severe chronic laminitis issues that eventually resulted in tendon surgery and ongoing corrective shoeing. Her difficult lessons were invaluable in helping Louisa’s owners to recognize the signs of laminitis early on – before more serious damage was done.

When Louisa started standing more than walking her owners wondered if trouble was mounting. Louisa’s people recognized her poor attitude and ill temper as signs of the pain she was experiencing. Dietary restrictions were stepped up – no more reaching under the fence for grass. Protective shoes were applied  – mechanical aides from Nanric, Ultimates. Her exercise was restricted to a very small paddock.

Exercise is important to any horse, especially to the EMS horse as it becomes essential in managing weight and metabolism. In Louisa’s case however, the laminitis has to take precedence. We have to heal her feet and prevent further damage so that she can return to more exercise and continue her efforts at weight loss for healthier living.

Louisa’s mother is a good example of how laminitis can spiral downward in its effects and lasting complications. Thanks to her owners’ astute observations and quick action, Louisa is doing well and may not suffer any permanent damage to her feet.


Fall Vaccines

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Fall Vaccines

What are “Fall” vaccines? First of all, the designation by season is not entirely correct – these should be thought of as the second half of your annual vaccines, and Fall is a reasonable time to give them. While many horses can handle receiving all of their vaccines at once, usually in the Spring, there are a growing number of horses and owners who recognize problems associated with such a heavy dose of vaccine in one day. Serious, life-threatening anaphylactic shock is very rare – more likely the complications we might see would be sore/stiff necks, a mild fever, lethargy and lack of appetite.  We can lessen these complications by giving fewer vaccines – some in the Spring and some later in the year. Different veterinary practices may have different suggested vaccine schedules. Recommendations and needs will vary according to each horse/owner and their housing and performance situations.

Typically the Spring vaccines will be those that protect your horse from mosquito borne diseases, such as Eastern and Western encephalitis (Tetanus – arguably the most important vaccine – comes with these). We like to give influenza and rhinopneumonitis  (herpes) with these in the Spring, boosting immunity before the busy riding and showing season.

Fall (second half) vaccines often are the Potomac Horse Fever (PHF) and Rabies vaccinations. PHF is a seasonal disease, with greater incidence in the late Summer and Fall. It makes sense to have a vaccine for PHF closer to its season of risk, giving the horse a higher, more protective titer when it needs it. Having said that, the PHF vaccine makes more sense as a late July and August vaccine than an October vaccine (remember, second half of vaccines, not necessarily Fall).

Rabies is recognized by the American Association of Equine Practitioners as a core vaccine, as important as tetanus. While rare, the rabies virus causes a usually fatal, highly contagious neurologic disease. This is one of the few diseases you can get from your horse. Vaccine protects your horse – and that helps to protect your family.

Each horse’s situation should be evaluated and an individual plan for vaccination created. We often recommend a second flu and rhino vaccine this time of year, especially for horses travelling amongst other horses, or that are housed with horses that travel. Young horses in mixed and changing populations might benefit from a strangles vaccination.

One important point to consider, especially for people administering their own vaccines – what was in your “5 Way”. There are many variations of combination vaccine products. Often West Nile is not included and it is an essential vaccine for your horse.