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House calls for horses

Program at MU's veterinary school lets students hit the road for steeds in need
Friday, October 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:18 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

A cool fall breeze swept through the barn, carrying masses of ladybugs with each movement of the wind. Standing still in her stall, Peekaboo appeared calm as sutures were removed from her lame leg. The horse’s brown eyes, big as half-dollars, watched the three women repair her leg as dogs and cats wove around the barn.

The chocolate-brown American Saddlebred, known as “Boo” by her trainer, was the day’s third and last patient for the MU Equine Center’s ambulatory service. Amy Rucker, instructor of veterinary medicine and surgery at MU, oversaw the procedures, while Jill Muno, an intern, and fourth-year veterinary student Jennifer Saponas did the primary work on the horses.

Ambulatory service class provides hands-on experience for students

The ambulatory service is an elective class in the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery that lasts for three weeks, rotating two to three students in and out throughout the semester. This type of hands-on class is typical of most veterinary schools, Rucker said.

“It is pretty much exactly what you will be doing in a real practice,” Saponas said.

On weekdays and Saturday mornings, the ambulatory service makes house calls that include treating common ailments such as colic, abdominal pains, lacerations and infections. The calls vary seasonally; in the spring, the service is busier because horses usually give birth to foals then. The service is always on call for emergencies. Students and teachers wear pagers.

Rucker said that in this clinical class, students are able to apply their knowledge to each specific case and put everything they have learned in previous classes together. She also said that communicating with horse owners helps prepare students for future jobs.

Clients include everyone from horse trainers to those who simply own horses as a hobby. Rucker said people hear about the service mainly through word of mouth. Clients generally live in the Columbia area, although some may live a half-hour to an hour away.

Two red trucks carry the team and its equipment to house calls. The trucks are filled with medicine, bandages, a radiograph and ultrasound equipment.

House visits help students learn the profession

On Oct. 22, an afternoon drive south on U.S. 63 took the team to Middlebush Farm, owned by the College of Veterinary Medicine. The farm shelters donated horses and cattle, many of them lame in various ways.

“If someone is not comfortable doing a technique on a horse, they can go there (to Middlebush Farm) and practice it before performing on a client’s horse,” Rucker said.

On this particular visit, a foal named Buster Brown was treated for eye abscesses. He has received the treatments twice each day for the past two months. Rucker and her students give Buster Brown grain and sugar before each treatment, so he welcomes their arrival and behaves while they put the drops in his eyes.

After the trip to Middlebush Farm, the truck heads down Route Z to Hattie Francis’ home to do follow-up work on her horse, Shamrock’s Delight. The Saddlebred has been struggling with a uterine infection.

Saponas and Muno perform an ultrasound and work together to flush out the infection while Francis and Rucker look on. Francis said her horse is obviously better after a few weeks of twice-a-week procedures. She said Columbia is lucky to have a place like MU’s veterinary school, with its specialized techniques and facilities.

She also said she thinks the ambulatory service is a good way for students to learn their profession.

“It is hard to learn these things on a computer. You have to learn what you are doing on an actual horse,” Francis said. “The bottom line is, they do good work because the students are well supervised by the clinical instructors, and I am happy with everything they have done with my mare.”

After leaving Shamrock’s Delight, the team heads farther along Route Z to the last scheduled patient of the day, Peekaboo. The visit is a follow-up to leg surgery received two weeks ago at MU’s Equine Center.

After the sutures are removed, Rucker, Muno and Saponas head back to campus. Saponas said this was a shorter day than usual; the rounds usually last from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the chance of emergency calls at night.

“You come early and leave late,” Saponas said. “They are long hours, but you really get to learn hands-on.”


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