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Sterilization clinic gives glimpse of unwanted horse economy

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 | 6:31 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Jamie Holmes bought her stud horse, Boogie, because he was the best ride she’d ever had. Holmes intended to have him sterilized, but after a truck accident, a broken foot and a breakup, she couldn’t afford the $400 quotes she was receiving from vets.

On her ex-boyfriend’s 110-acre farm in Franklin County in east-central Missouri, Boogie had to live isolated in a round pen after mares broke down the electric fence to his 10-acre paddock and had four unwanted foals.

Holmes ended up moving farther away and didn't see Boogie for six or seven months. When she did, he wasn't the same.

"He lost some weight, his feet weren’t trimmed enough, his mane and tail looked kind of rough," she said. "He was the most beautiful horse I had before, and now he’s not.”

When Holmes, who lives in Washington, Mo., heard about a free horse sterilization clinic at MU, she jumped at the chance.

“I pulled every string possible to get transportation and drove an hour and a half away because I couldn’t afford to miss that," Holmes said. "It was an all-day event, and it was worth it.”

Boogie was sterilized and will be able to run free with the other horses on the farm in less than a month.

MU veterinary students sterilized 10 other horses this weekend at the clinic at MU’s Middlebush Farm. The clinic is the only one of its kind in Missouri. Organized by MU vets, it aimed to combat horse overpopulation as well as mitigate burdens on horse owners affected by both the economic downturn and a glut of horses on the market, said MU veterinarian Alison LaCarrubba. All of the horse owners had to demonstrate a financial need.

LaCarrubba said the clinic was a success.

“The owners were just thrilled. They were really thankful for the whole procedure and said that it was handled professionally," LaCarrubba said. "They were also excited to work with the students and be part of the process.”

Some veterinarians and equine organizations around the country have attributed the overpopulation of horses to the closing of slaughterhouses in 2007. A nationwide survey by the Unwanted Horse Coalition, a nonprofit that sponsored MU’s weekend clinic, said more than 58,000 horses were slaughtered in the country in 2007.

Another benefit of the clinic is that students gained field experience. About 20 students performed anesthesia and surgery, LaCarrubba said. The students sedated the horses, put them under anesthesia, laid them on the ground and flipped them onto their backs and performed the surgeries. The horses ranged from about 600 to 1,200 lbs. Normally, students get experience in field castrations through an ambulatory elective offered at the veterinary school.

“Each student was involved in surgical procedures and was able to be involved in anesthesia," LaCarrubba said. "They were excited to have the opportunity to be involved in multiple procedures in one day.”

MU veterinary student Sarah Spidel said she had performed sterilizations during on-the-job training with veterinarians, but she had never done so many in one day. She called it a great opportunity for a good cause.

“A lot of people have big hearts and want to take in these animals, but they don’t necessarily have the financial means to take care of them," Spidel said. "It’s a nice service we can offer to people.”

Kim Doller said veterinarians get asked about the problem but don’t always know how to fix it.

“The unwanted horse problem is definitely a big problem, so it’s nice to do something to help,” Doller said.

LaCarrubba hopes to repeat the clinic in other areas of the state if funding is available and area vets are supportive.

“It would be nice to do this in different areas of the state where we could affect different groups of people,” she said.


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