Being a horse doctor is wonderful. Just about every day I get up, knowing that I’m going to be outside, working with what-I-think is one of the most wonderful creatures on the planet. So strong, so patient, so willing to trust, so willing to do the most amazing things for people, asking nothing more than a little attention and a good bit of food.
Being a horse doctor is terrible. Not a day goes by that I don’t worry. I worry about if a horse is getting better. I worry about making a difficult diagnosis that I client may not want to hear. I worry that I won’t get called. I worry that I will get called when I have something that I really want to do. I rarely get a full night’s sleep. Sometimes it’s because I get a call to go out to see a sick or injured horse. Sometimes it’s because I’m worrying. My phone rings all the time: when I’m in the shower, or at the gym, at a restaurant, or even in the bathroom. I’ve coached young boys playing games while consoling concerned horse owners. I’ve spoken to concerned horse owners while on vacation, walking through the streets of foreign countries. I carry a terrible responsibility: to help horses, to help people.
Being a horse doctor is wonderful. Just about every day, I wake up knowing that I’m going to go out and help somebody, and help a horse. I like that. It feels like I’m doing something good for the world. I really love horses.
Being a horse doctor is terrible. I have to deal with the worst sides of human nature. I have a long list of people who have asked me to be there for them – to take care of their horse, to give them needed supplies, to help their mare bring a new foal into the world – and then have simply refused to pay me for the work that I’ve done, or for the products that I’ve given them. Afterwards, I’m the one who is bad-mouthed. I’ve seen horses given needless medications, and countless needless products and supplements, all in an effort to live up to people’s expectations for them. And I’ve been called ugly names for not wanting to participate in the charade.
Being a horse doctor is wonderful. Just about every day, I get to see friends who I have known for years. Friends who have shared triumphs and tragedies, and with whom I have shared my own. I have become part of their lives. Friends who trust me, not just to do the right thing by their horse, but to do the right thing. Friends with whom I have shared joy and laughter, triumph and heartbreak, both in the horse world, and beyond.
Being a horse doctor is terrible. In addition to my own concerns, I become part of every client’s worry about his or her horse. I share hurt and despair when bad things happen: and especially at the end. Each client has his or her personal pain – I carry a little bit of each and every one. I have seen awful accidents happen to horses, bad memories that I won’t be able to forget, and that I don’t want to describe. I wonder if, in some way, these are not like the emotional scars that soldiers take away from battle. Not as extreme, not as emotionally devastating, but just as real.
Being a horse doctor is wonderful. Veterinary medicine is an art, and a science. I know lots of artistic tricks that help me convince a 1200 pound animal that I’m not going to hurt him, even when I might: just a little bit. I’m paid to be a veterinary Hercule Poirot, noticing countless details, and trying to assemble them into a diagnostic package that makes sense. Some cases are actually pretty simple, and I can take care of them quickly: with an injection, perhaps some fluids, or maybe just tincture of time. Others are more complicated, more difficult, and more frustrating, requiring time, patience, and a variety of approaches to find the right answer, if a “right” answer can be found at all. I get to help sick horses find health. I get to help worried owners relax, and not worry. At the end, I can help provide comfort and understanding, and give my client’s emotions a soft shoulder on which to rest.
Being a horse doctor is terrible. I am constantly told that I am wrong. Everyone’s an expert, it seems. I’m accused of not being open-minded, that I only like drugs and surgery, that I can’t do this or that (even when I can), and that I don’t care about the “whole” horse. I’m told that I’m wrong by “dentists,” and farriers, and “chiropractors,” and any number of “therapists.” And when it turns out that I was right after all, no one remembers. I often feel crushed by the stupidity of some of the things that people are told, and by the lies and weasel words that are used to get people to spend seemingly limitless dollars on needless products and services. I hate seeing people waste time and money on needless things: time and money that they should be using to enjoy their horse.
Being a horse doctor is wonderful. Experience has brought a good deal of wisdom, and tempered some of the arrogance that first came with being a “doctor.” I understand more about the limits of what I can and cannot do. I understand the limits of my profession. I accept myself for who I am – I accept others for who they are. I have made many deep connections: it’s the most important thing in my professional life. I help horses, and I help the people who own and take care of them.
Being a horse doctor is terrible. I have made countless decisions that affect the lives of other people, and their horses. Happily, almost all of them have turned out well. But not all. Sometimes it’s not possible. Sometimes bad things happen, no matter how much you know, how well you work, how perfectly you do your job. I remember the battles that I’ve lost, and the people that I’ve lost them with. Soon, there will be another battle to fight, and I will fight it as hard as I can, replacing some of the old memories with new ones. Again and again.
Being a horse doctor is wonderful. I live comfortably, but not extravagantly. I can go out to a nice restaurant every once in a while. As a veterinarian, I still get a little respect. There seems to always be something to do. My days aren’t boring, and in between my work, I get to play some: on the golf course, in magic sessions – isn’t horse medicine just another kind of magic? – with friends, with family.
Being a horse doctor is terrible. Paperwork is a constant part of my life. There are insurance forms. Health certificates. Lab forms. Over and over again. I sign lots of papers every month, and I’m not always sure what my signature really means. It takes lots of time, and some people don’t think that’s worth anything at all. I know, because that’s what they tell me. My time isn’t worth anything to them. It’s terrible, being told you’re worthless.
Being a horse doctor is wonderful. I wouldn’t have chosen any other profession. No matter how terrible it can be sometimes.