Training for the Veterinary Marathon

Foal Running
From new foals to spring grass and overly exuberant pasture playtime, spring is the busiest time of year for equine vets.

Put on your sweatband and turn up the Rocky theme song: it’s spring. In the horse world, that means foaling time, colic cases, laminitis from new lush grass, and a multitude of other health issues that pop up when our horses are feeling their oats with the thaw of winter.
As an equine veterinarian, spring is the busiest time in practice. Mix in the emergencies as listed above with the standard spring vaccination appointments and Coggins testing to start the show season and that recommended eight hours of nightly sleep goes right out the window. So how do us vets stay in top shape? Here’s our secret training schedule.


  • Early on, this month is still a little quiet, so eight hours of sleep per night is a reasonable goal. Take advantage of the slow post-holiday lag.
  • During roughly the third week of January, depending on your geographical area and practice, it’s time to start getting ready. A nightly seven-hour accumulation of sleep is a good goal; sprinkle in a few early foalings at 2 am to start acclimating those bleary eyes.


  • Six to seven hours of sleep in the first few weeks is a reasonable goal. If you find yourself with an early night, consider worrying about that one mare in late gestation that just doesn’t seem right, or that laceration you’ve stitched up for the second time in a row. That should keep you up for an extra hour or so.
  • Later in the month, you may begin to feel early signs of sleep deprivation. At this point, count on an average of five to six hours of sleep per night, as those late night foalings creep up, along with emergency neonatal care.
  • Consider working in some during-dinner espresso at this point in the season to help push through those late evening appointments.


  • March is a major push forward in your training schedule. Count on at least one night a week with very minimal sleep. To help ease yourself into this, think of ways to catch some shut-eye on the fly. Suggestions include:
    1. A quick five-minute power nap while at the gas station filling up your vet truck;
    2. A cozy ten-minute slumber in the stall with a newborn. Remember to set an alarm or have an understanding client wake you.
  • You may catch yourself fantasizing about sleep. That warm, comfy bed may be calling your name. Squash that temptation. Your phone is ringing.
  • By late March, if you’ve followed this schedule, you’ll almost be a sleep-deprived zombie pro. On a scale of one to ten, your red, puffy eyes should be about a seven.


  • This is it! You’ve almost made it. By now, any night that you are allowed four hours of sleep is a bonus and you should be able to be in REM-mode as your head hits the pillow. If this is your first year of training, you may resort to an IV drip of caffeine.
  • The flurry of founder cases wedged in between breeding mishaps along with keeping those spring vaccination appointments on track has honed your brain to run on overdrive. Your truck’s floor is littered with candy wrappers that have become your primary source of on-the-go nourishment.
  • You may find you haven’t showered for a week. This is normal. Also, don’t worry if you’ve forgotten you have a significant other. He/she understands and hopefully has remembered to feed the dog.
  • Is all this training worth it? Consider the feeling when you’ve helped save a young girl’s beloved fat pony from crippling laminitis. Or, when that weak foal just needed a few nights of IV fluids and meds to get him on his feet. This is the sustenance that gets you through the marathon season of spring.

ANNA O’BRIEN, DVM, is a large-animal
ambulatory veterinarian in central Maryland. Her practice tackles
anything equine in nature, from Miniature Horses to zebras at the local
zoo, with a few cows, goats, sheep, pigs, llamas, and alpacas thrown in
for good measure. Follow her on Twitter: @annaobriendvm.


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