Book Excerpt–Insight to Equus: Holistic Veterinary Perspectives on Health & Healing by Tomas Teskey, DVM
The whirlwind of college, veterinary school and “working hard to fulfill the great American Dream” was in full dramatic swing as I ventured across southeastern Arizona, visiting a guest ranch with 80 horses for the second time in a week. They loved that I was able to come, even if I was the only veterinarian that would drive the 70 miles whenever they called with a problem.
My learning curve was as steep as ever. I was seeing animals of all kinds and performing procedures most graduates would never get the chance to do simply because I was told, “either do something or put him down, Doc.” On arrival, one of the favorite trail horses was in obvious distress, wide-eyed and visibly distended in her belly. Horses with abdominal pain, or colic, were decidedly more prevalent at this guest ranch, so after treating this horse with the routine pain-killers and fluids, I asked if I might get a quick tour or the place and the feeding schedule.
The head wrangler was more than happy to oblige, and as she led me on a personal tour of the ranch, we visited about the feeding schedule, types of feed, work schedule for the horses, and how much she was spending on everything, including my veterinary services. As we circled around the hay barn, I watched as the other wranglers loaded up ten big 100 pound bales of alfalfa hay on a flatbed pickup truck, and commenced to driving all around the two acre turnout where all eighty horses began to excitedly vocalize and take up positions to be the first to get at the fresh hay. The ranch fed ten bales of hay twice a day, and the horses had the majority of the hay eaten within 30 minutes, a feeding frenzy that was obviously a big highlight of their day.
After the bulk of the hay had been rapidly eaten, the dominant horses continued to sift through the remnants, searching mostly for the tasty alfalfa leaves that were mixed in with the dirt and sand so common in the Arizona desert. At first I thought they were licking up the dirt, but getting closer, I could see them pushing the dirt and sand aside with their noses to find the remnants of hay.
The following week, I was back at the ranch to follow up on the two previous cases of colic, and to check on two others that weren’t doing quite right. Happily for me, it was about lunchtime when we finished checking the horses, and we all filed in to the dining room to escape the sun and flies for a cool drink and some soup and sandwiches–I loved having lunch there. After we all sat down with our plates, I looked at the owner and told her, “I think we need to modify your horse management here on the ranch.”
Everybody at the table stopped chewing at that moment, as she raised an eyebrow and asked me, “Oh, what do you mean?”
“The horses are getting colicky because of the alfalfa, and because they are picking up a lot of sand when they eat it. I’d like you to build a covered feed bunk big enough for all the horses to eat together, right in the middle of your turnout and put grass hay in it, free choice.” Everybody at the table seemed shocked, trying to imagine how they would fit in to such changes.
“I’m sure when you put a pencil to it, you’ll find out the grass hay will be more expensive, and you’ll have the cost of the feed bunk, but we have serious problems with colic, as well as lamenesses I feel are being worsened by feeding alfalfa. Things are getting worse right now, not better.”
Within a few weeks, the feed bunk was built and the horses were completely different, not only because there wasn’t a single colicky one in the last two weeks, but because the wranglers noticed several other changes that were making everyone’s lives better.
Making fewer emergency trips to the ranch had reduced my income, improved the horses’ health, reduced lameness and injuries and allergies to the tune of $3150.00 per month. I began to see and feel what it was like to work for people and their animals, in good conscience.
Coming in June, 2019: Insight to Equus: Holistic Veterinary Perspectives on Health and Healing. You can pre-order your copy here.
Tomas Teskey D.V.M. www.insighttoequus.com