Just Across the Road: To Hagyard!

March 29, 2011

By: Courtney Zimmerman

For our final internship fieldtrip, we interns and Melissa, the Educational Programs Director and Volunteer & Adoption Coordinator of the Secretariat Center, ventured just across Iron Works Pike to Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. While driving through the entrance to the facility, the first thing we noticed was the large banner on the outside of the building declaring that Hagyard is “The World’s Oldest and Largest Equine Practice.” I have lived in Kentucky for almost four years and I never knew that Kentucky was home to such a famous institution. However, being the self-proclaimed Horse Capital of the World, these findings really should not surprise me anymore.

We proceeded to the Equine Pharmacy and were greeted by our two tour guides, Nicole and Anna. As we began our tour, we learned that Hagyard’s pharmacy not only can make and fill their own prescriptions, but also compound them. The benefit of compounding means that the lab can mix different medicines to alter the taste or composition for the unique needs of certain horses – a process that proves much more efficient than shipping out prescriptions to be completed by other facilities.

After visiting several of the barns they have, most of which can stable 30-50 horses at a time, we trekked inside the surgery prep room. I was taken by how large and complex the operation equipment for hoisting these large animals around the building was. The reality that horses require hydraulic lifts and machinery to position them for even the simplest of surgeries and treatments puts small animal clinical care in less-than-daunting perspective.

View of Hagyard's campus

After visiting the surgery prep room, we made our way to the back of the campus. We then walked into another large surgery room with several hallways leading into it. Down one of these hallways, there was a specialized stall that filtered oxygen for rare equine breathing problems. This therapy was made possible by owners of a horse afflicted with respiratory issues from a donation of over $100,000 to Hagyard.

We then met some equine patients and several foals that were born with some special problems naked to my untrained eye, at least. What was clearly obvious to me, however, was the Guinness beer that one vet grabbed out of the fridge and poured into a mare’s afternoon meal. We learned that Guinness is good for horses too, as alcoholic drinks not only help a horse increase his appetite, but are also useful for horses that suffer from anhidrosis, a condition that inhibits their ability to sweat.

Lovely day for a Guinness

We wrapped up our tour by going into a room consumed by a large hyperbaric chamber. Being around horses so much now for this internship, my immediate thought upon entering the chamber was from a horse’s perspective: oh, what a big and scary white alien monster-thing that looks like it’s going to eat me! (Alright, I took some liberties there, but you get the idea). This hyperbaric chamber is not very common in many vet practices with cost being a factor, but is a valuable oxygen therapy treatment in treating acute or chronic injuries. As the chamber fills with oxygen, the horses receive an increased amount of dissolved oxygen in their plasma, reducing tissue swelling and delivering an oxygen shot to damaged tissues. Horses can have several treatments that last up to an hour for rehabilitation.

As we thanked our tour guides and made the short trip back to the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, I reflected on how intriguing it was to finally visit a real equine vet practice. Those visits occur surprisingly little for non-horse owners such as myself. I was impressed by all the large instruments and advanced technology Hagyard has. What a huge difference between the tiny vet practice that I take my own cats to back home in Cincinnati. Until one personally delves into the economic commitment that comes with owning a horse and keeping it healthy, I don’t think anyone can fully comprehend the amount of money that is shelled out by horse owners to care for their beloved animals – especially in Kentucky! It makes me appreciate that ALL of the horses at the Secretariat Center – and the Horse Park – are extremely well-cared for. It just exemplifies the fact that the Horse Capital of the World not only is a mecca for horses, but a resource for them as well.