A veterinarian placing a syringe in the vein of a horse. © iStockcom/Jan-Otto
A veterinarian placing a syringe in the vein of a horse. © iStockcom/Jan-Otto

The vet handed me the needle and vacuum tubes and, at the slightly bewildered look on my face, asked if I’d ever taken blood from a horse before. Upon my answer of “no”, he shrugged and said: “I’ll show you the first one, instruct you for the second, then you can do it by yourself.”

Having started at 8am on my first morning, he had me taking blood samples from broodmares used to produce top class racehorses by 8:05 – not something I would expect to be allowed to do as a second year vet student anywhere in England.

I spent the rest of that morning with Neils, the vet, driving to different yards and observing while he performed rectal ultrasound scans on mares, assessed an ongoing case of RAO (Recurrent Airway Obstruction) and extracted a tooth from a very old and very hairy pony, alternating between being utterly flummoxed by his exchange of German conversion with clients and him then explaining things to me in perfect English. I then returned to the stud yard I was based at (between Hannover and Hamburg) to groom, feed and bring in the mares.

Although I was technically supposed to be on pre-clinical EMS at the stud, Neils was eager for me to learn from him, in addition to the more husbandry-based experience I was gaining from being on the yard. Some days were spent entirely on the yard, and others were spent partially with him, gaining bonus clinical experience. Neils was a “one-man-band”, running a mobile equine practice by himself – an alien concept, compared to the practice based vets that are the norm at home.

About halfway through my first week, I spent an entire day with Neils and, having watched him scan (via rectum) more mares than I could count, he decided there were a few safe candidates for me to try my hand on (or, rather, arm in). After a few minutes of fumbling around, I managed to orientate myself and understood far more clearly what the grey and black mush on the ultrasound screen represented.

Creme egg

We then went on to x-ray a horse with a fractured radius and I assisted in applying its Robert Jones bandage. I took a few more blood samples and we called at other horses to drop off medication, vaccinate, assess lameness and rasp some teeth.

I felt like I’d had a taste of what it would be like to be a qualified vet – not from the practical and clinical things I got to see and do that day, but from the 14 hour day, having had nothing but a Creme Egg to eat and not stopping for breath…

However, arriving back to the yard that evening just after the arrival of a new foal made it worth every second. Between them, Neils and the yard manager explained everything that was done and needed to be done just after a foaling; we examined the afterbirth to ensure none had been retained, assisted the foal while it began to suckle and kept an eye on both the mare and foal for the next few hours.

The end of my two weeks in Germany came around all too soon and was quite sorry to have to leave. I was taken aback by their hands-on attitude and desire for me to get as much out of my placement as possible, and not just be another pair of hands for mucking out.

The generosity I experienced from everyone I worked with is something I’m extremely grateful for, and will never forget.

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