A Lesson in Humility

A pre-vet student who thinks she knows it all has a lot to learn.

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Horse close up in barn. - Lessons learned by pre-vet student
Photo by Viktoriia Bondarenko/Shutterstock

The following story from our Vet Adventures columnist showcases lessons learned by a pre-vet student while doing ride-alongs with a veterinarian.

It was early morning and my vet tech, Meghan, and I unsuspectingly greeted our student shadow for the day. Julia was a pre-vet student who was preparing to apply to vet school. She had strong opinions about her horse knowledge and equine practice, and she did most of the talking as we drove off.

The drive was about 20 minutes, and when I could get a word in edgewise, I ran down the list of calls for the day.

“Is that it? I thought we’d be busier today!” said Julia. “Most equine vets I know take more calls than that.”

Meghan raised her eyebrows and glanced at me. I didn’t react, but I had a sinking feeling that we were in for a long day.

Mare Glare

When we arrived at the farm, Meghan loaded the tote, and we all headed for the barn. According to the owner, the mare had swelling and discharge under her tail, but her day-old foal was just fine. Before anyone could react, Julia was entering the stall, and the owner gasped.

“Don’t go in there until I get her haltered! That mare is real protective of her baby!”

Julia ignored her and stepped closer to the mare, who had her ears pinned and was lashing her tail ominously, the foal huddled at her side. In a flash, the mare lunged at Julia, knocking her sideways.

The foal scrambled and thudded against the wall, driving the mare into a frenzy. She came at Julia again, teeth bared and striking viciously with both front legs, and the owner managed to drive her back with a lead rope while I hauled Julia out of the stall by her collar hoping our pre-vet student had learned her first lesson.

Meghan scolded Julia, who was miraculously unhurt while the owner haltered the mare and moved her into a set of stocks so I could safely examine her. She’d torn a little during foaling, so I cleaned her up and placed a few stitches.

Julia started to give the bemused owner a lecture about the mare’s behavior, and Meghan quickly interrupted and asked Julia to take some dirty instruments back to the truck for us.

“She’s a piece of work,” said the owner. “I hope you’re not planning to hire her!”

A Prickly Lesson Learned

Meghan monitored Julia closely during the next two calls, and all went fairly well until my pager beeped. A horse had gotten porcupine quills in his muzzle not far from where we were. If we were quick, we could take care of him and still be close to on time for the next call.

As we pulled up to the farm, Julia hopped from the truck almost before I’d put it in park. Meghan gave me an incredulous look and hightailed it after Julia, who was hurrying for the barn. I packed the tote myself and followed after them as quickly as I could.

I could hear shouting in the arena, and there was Julia on the ground, clinging doggedly to a lead rope and being dragged backward by a huge black gelding with a face full of quills.

The owner waved her arms frantically. Meghan screamed for Julia to let go, and finally she released the rope. There was a deep, Julia-sized drag mark across the dirt arena. It was another 30 minutes before we could catch and sedate the horse and take care of the quills.

At this point, we would happily have left Julia at the nearest gas station, but we were out in the middle of nowhere. Julia was unfazed by a second scolding by me and tried to lecture me on how badly behaved my patients were. I turned up the radio. Meghan exhaled loudly and muttered something under her breath.

Mud on the Face of Our Pre-Vet Student

It was late in the day when we pulled up to our last call—a castration. Unless the horse was nasty, I could keep him standing to save time. I was proud of my technique, and over the years, I’d had very few complications.

Meghan and the stablehands got the horse ready while I parked Julia firmly in an adjoining pen and instructed her to keep quiet. After sedation, local anesthetic and a good surgical scrubbing, I incised the horse’s scrotum and pulled the testicles free with a pop and a spurt of blood, an inevitable occurrence when slicing skin open.

Megan poked me, and I looked over to see Julia unconscious and face-down in a manure pile. I was in no position to help her, and neither were my assistants, so we left her where she was and finished the castration without issue.

Julia was sitting up groggily as I cleaned up my patient. Someone had placed the gory testicles on the ground nearby, and she looked away quickly, paling further underneath the manure stain across her face.

“It’s like testicle kryptonite,” Meghan stage-whispered. “Maybe we should set them on the seat next to her to keep her quiet on the ride back.”

Heading Home

I choked back a laugh but went over to Julia, helped her to her feet and quickly checked her over. She kept her eyes averted from the gonads on the ground and silently went to clean herself up. We were sitting in the idling truck waiting for her when she finally rejoined us, chin in the air and closed her door with a bang. A strong manure smell permeated the air.

“Julia, are you feeling better?” asked Meghan politely. I bit the inside of my cheek, determined to keep a straight face. Maybe Julia was finally going to be humbled by something.

There was a stony silence from the back seat, then a huff.

“I’m just not used to seeing such a mess, that’s all. The vets I know do them in a surgery room with drapes and stuff, and it’s much cleaner. You really should try to learn that method.”

This Vet Adventures article about lessons learned by a pre-vet student appeared in the May 2020 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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