Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Choosing an equine veterinary hospital

Three times in my life, I have had to trailer a horse to a veterinary clinic for surgery or other procedures. Fortunately, none of these road trips was an emergency, but it was stressful enough! It's a good idea to do a little research on the facilities near you, just in case you do have an emergency. Depending on where you live, you may have no good choices of veterinary clinics -- some folks live hours away from the nearest clinic -- while others, such as myself, live close to many good choices. I tried to do some research on how to choose a clinic, but couldn't find any good advice on the web. I have a feeling it's the kind of thing that is transmitted more by word of mouth. Thought I'd share the little bit I gleaned...

Choosing the right clinic...
Is there a teaching clinic near you? When Harv needed surgery, my vet gave me a few suggestions but said university/teaching clinics have several advantages, namely a cheap labor pool (students) and access to the newest techniques and research.

What diagnostic tools and treatments are available? Try to get at least some sense of what diagnostic tools or treatment might help your horse -- whether it's endoscopy, ultrasound, bone scan, MRI, stem cell therapy, whatever. Learn as much detail as you can. For example, if you think your horse might need an MRI (or your local vet suggests it), did you know there is such a thing as a standing MRI machine? I didn't. The standing MRI alleviates the need for general anesthesia, which carries some risk. Not all facilities have all the bells and whistles. Clinic web sites are very valuable for making comparisons among facilities near you.

What is the clinic's reputation? In my region, Cornell University and another facility in New Jersey are extremely good for reproductive/breeding issues, while two famous facilities in New Jersey are known for lameness. New Bolton is a great all around facility, with top notch researchers experienced in the latest techniques. It's a great place to go for highly unusual or rare cases (these guys have seen it all). You have to be careful about getting personal opinions, but I believe a well-chosen local horseman can offer insight into the local facilities -- stuff you just aren't going to find written down anywhere.

What fees to they charge? A phone call should suffice. Usually you can have a frank chat with the person in the billing department if you are on a budget. A friend of mine who had limited funds made this clear to the facility when she called to make an appointment. The facility didn't say they would cut her a break but she showed me her bill. The facility was "top tier" and had a reputation for being expensive--yet the endoscopy fee was less than I had paid recently at a small local vet clinic. We both agreed they had discounted her procedures. Even if the facility can't do this for you, they can help you decide if a procedure will be informative enough to be worth the expense. The fancy equipment doesn't yield useful information in all cases.

Below are some resources that may be helpful to someone who is ready to hook up the trailer and get their horse some medical attention. But I know you guys will have advice too, not just about choosing a facility but about the whole experience. Speak up, now :-).


Barbaro's hospital one of the best from

Top 5 equine hospitals in the U.S. from Horseman Magazine

Equine ER: A year in the life of an equine veterinary hospital

Does your horse need a specialist? from

What happens to your horse under general anesthetic from Loch Leven Equine Practice

Equine hospital homepage (major UK hospitals)

When your horse visits the UT Equine Hospital...
book available from ($13)

Directory of equine clinics and veterinarians

Emergencies and your horse: Where and what to know From NCSU vet school

Best equine vet schools?
discussion from

What are the large vet clinics in the U.S.? discussion from COTH


  1. I have thanked my stars MANY times that I live 10 minutes down the road from Virginia Tech, which has an excellent large animal hospital. My youngster has been there 3 times (1 routine and 2 emergencies). Each time the care has been excellent.

  2. We just got a new facility locally (a little over an hour away, and I have to say I was amazed at how beautifully constructed it was. There are large exam rooms for privacy, a horse MRI, and one of the surgical suites even has a large observation window that overlooks the waiting area so for those of us that are curious, can watch a procedure/surgery. The arena outside has areas with Hard and Soft footing for lameness exams. With over 10 docs and a couple specialized farriers on staff you can get several opinions all in one place as well. It's really important to know where to go in case of an emergency or just for reliable and reputable routine care, great post!!

  3. I am so, so lucky as I live in New Jersey. NJ Equine is about 20 minutes away in one direction. Since they specialize in lameness and injuries...Smarty Jones was treated's my ace place for consults after my excellent vet suggests a trip there.

    To the northwest, is Midlantic and they have a surgical facility as well and are colic specialists. I have, unfortunately, had to use them on what would have been a surgical colic if I had felt my elderly boy and his heart condition could have survived it. Luckily, his colic miraculously resolved itself, while he was there.

    New Bolton is over an hour away..maybe two, but would be another option for tricky surgeries, etc. I've been there too.

    Bless them all for being available to even the least of us as well as to the grander owners and horses.

  4. Unfortunately, the closest equine hospitals are a pretty far drive (1-2 hours). The Peterson &Smith/University of FL deal with big $$$ Thoroughbreds all the time, so they are pretty much cutting edge. Problem is, if you wait too long the ride up there might get a bit crazy.

    As far as $$$, they are ruthless. The last horse that I know about being sent there for colic surgery required a $3500 *credit card over the phone* just to accept the horse for assessment. No money-no dice. I thought that was pretty sweet considering all the research money they haul in every year *shrug*

  5. We have two excellent clinics - both over an hour away - U. Wisc. and one other. I've had two emergency trips - one ended badly (a fracture) and the other OK (impaction colic). It's nice we've got good places close by.

  6. Thanks for posting so many wonderful resources for equine veterinary information. On the rare occasion that you need an equine vet, it is important to know when and where to go so you can seek the most expert help available as quickly as possible.


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