Last week I was privileged to join with the Bay Area Equine Vet Camp on a behind the scenes experience at UC Davis because of our barn’s affiliation with fantastic veterinarian and surgeon, Jamie Textor. I received the invitation last minute and was excited to go, but I was not sure what to expect. I had no knowledge of the Bay Area Equine Vet Camp and had spent time at Davis before with various horses, however this tour provided a completely different experience. I wasn’t sure there was going to be much I hadn’t seen or experienced already, and boy was I wrong.
One that I can say without a hint of doubt, that I will remember that day my entire life. I would like to give kudos to the Bay Area Equestrian Club for creating and running the Bay Area Equine Vet Camp. This program is unlike anything I have heard of and totally different than any type of camp I ever experienced. It is geared towards young prospective vets from middle school through college. The camp was developed with the help of the youth that participate, and the camp schedule and activities are based around what the teens want to see and learn. It is an incredible idea with great execution. Our barn was happy to host them one morning of their week. Though I’m not sure if the sheath cleaning lessons were the students favorite part of the week, they did provide them with a new experience that many of them got a good laugh over. I cannot help but hope this program continues to grow.
While tons of fun, this camp isn’t for the faint-hearted or unmotivated. The curriculum provided is challenging, fun and intense. No where was this more obvious than the UC Davis experience. Our tour tried to cover as many things as possible in a short day (big thank you to Jamie Textor for hosting us and setting up all of our talks with different areas of the facility. You are awesome). Early during the day we were able to move around in the Large Animal Hospital facilities observing a horse getting a CT scan and watching a young filly being put under anesthesia and prepped for hernia surgery. We were also run by the ICU and NICU and given information pertinent to those areas (though the NICU was empty, which was more than fine with us). We got to meet and visit the blood donor horses (there are 4) and research horses living on site.
We were told that the blood donor horses were very spoiled and loved visitors and that many people in the public come to see them regularly (sure enough they were vying for the pets of the girls). The research horses are not quite as accessible, but one Thoroughbred in particular was very happy to have a horde of teenage girls stop and love on her for a while. Before heading to see a treadmill demonstration, we were led to the scale to see how many of us it would take to get to the average weight of a horse. It took 22 of us (and we could barely fit on the scale bunched up together) to reach 1250lbs. It was a great demonstration of just how big a horse actually is. Being around them daily, sometimes a reminder like that is necessary. The treadmill demonstration was fascinating, but a little scary. The horses that go on the treadmill are former racehorses turned research horses. They use the treadmill to keep them fit, but also to help with a variety of tests (which we learned about in the drug testing department and research labs later in the day). We then had a stop at Gross Anatomy to learn about their fantastic preserved anatomical models that students and surgeons alike use on a daily basis.
After lunch came the bulk of the very exciting stuff. Our first stop was to the research labs where we heard from both professional researchers and students about the research currently being done at UC Davis. The focus of the research we were able to look at was racehorse injuries and prevention. We were shown a front limb in a pressure machine being used to measure the pressure a horse’s bone and soft tissue are under at amounts of force. They are using other methods to do measurements of force and surface pressure on the leg with special built pressure sensor shoes, a machine that can replicate force down into a particular surface and motion capture video. The work was described as an engineering/medicine multi-discipline project. Computer simulators have been created to run various scenario stress tests based on data collected over years on different surfaces. They have measured so many different surfaces, they have enough data to test on imaginary surfaces now. They also test the various surfaces (real and imaginary) with different types of shoes to find the best combinations. The hope is that they can use this data to discover and create ideal surfaces that will contribute to fewer injuries in race horses.
All of this research is aimed at improving racehorse soundness and performance. One of the big goals of this team was to create a sound mechanical design procedure for race track footing that could customize the footing for each location based on climate while still having the best possible footing for the soundness of the horse (they know that one surface for every location is not best method of developing safer racing surfaces). Future plans of this program include scaling the computer model to specific horse anatomy (ex. long toes, low heels…or limb deformity) to do further testing on how to reduce injuries based on the individual. There’s some BIG work going on at Davis and I am excited to see what comes of it in the future.
The next stop was the drug testing laboratories, which are also heavily tied to the racing industry. Blood (and also urine) from every horse tested at California race tracks (and some from New Mexico) comes to this facility to be tested (as well as from horses tested at various shows throughout the state). On any given Tuesday, they receive thousands of samples (their busiest day of the week). They test for over 1800 different drugs. With the number of tests they run and the number of possible drugs to be found in violation of the level requirements…it is amazing to learn that only about 1% of tests show anything worth a second look and only 0.01% end up in violation of the rules. Of course it’s that 0.01% that leads to all sorts of legal issues and public image problems in horse sports.
They do a lot of testing of products with “claims” on the market to verify if they should or should not be allowed and if they do anything at all (we were shown one product that was supposed to be somewhat performance enhancing that cost $2,000 a box…that was just sheep collagen that has 0 effect on a horse). Many of the research horses we met earlier are used to test drugs for therapeutic benefits for horses (or performance enhancing ones) on the treadmills. Using the treadmills makes it easy to monitor every aspect of the horse while it is in work, which is important when testing medications and their possible uses in sport horses. There’s a lot of complicated work going on in this building, and I was thoroughly impressed by our tour and talk of this facility.
Our last stop was the most “exciting.” This is what many of the teens were looking forward too all day (and I admit, I was as well). Last stop was Necropsy. Yup. You know what that means… (no no pictures of the Necropsy Lab…don’t worry).
We walked in the room greeted by some wonderful smells and the bodies of a large bull and a much smaller horse. The work was already underway (as they do this daily…in fact any horse that dies at a racetrack in CA is required to have a Necropsy done). Thankfully, the two horses that contributed to our educational experience that day were not race horses. I’m not going to go into too many details, but it was pretty amazing (and I got to touch some things I never thought I’d touch). We were able to learn hands-on about different parts of horse anatomy and how everything worked. One of the things I was most interested by (probably because I like to cycle) was the comment “You know how professional cyclists blood dope? Horses do that too.” Of course the physiology of that was explained in detail and the best I can do is summarize poorly. (Their spleen carries a mass storage of red blood cells in case of emergency. When they start to gallop, the spleen secretes its stored red blood cells into the blood stream…which is what allows a horse to perform at such a high level for a short period of time). Cool. The whole thing was fantastic, and of course not something your average teen does every day (or that many would even want to do). Each of the girls handled it with style and clearly all of them have the stomach to be a vet.