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Rapid weight gain can be sour subject


There are just some things that you cannot learn in veterinary school.

There are just some things that you cannot learn in veterinary school.

Some situations just cry out for more than learning and science. This was one of them. All I knew about the woman was that she was from San Angelo, and she had a barrel racing horse that was lame. I had no idea that the episode that was about to occur was going to require every ounce of tact I could muster up and actually leave me at a loss for words.

Six people crawled out of the bowels of the giant pick-up that pulled the brand new three-horse slant. I was guessing the entire rig to have cost about $70,000. Here they were: the woman that was the barrel racer, her husband, her sister, her sister's husband and both of her parents. As I watched the unloading process from the back door of the clinic, it became painfully obvious that this woman was bossy. She had brought all of these people and had a job for each of them.

It was like a military drill as she assigned each one a task and saw to it that it was done to the very last detail.

As I entered the scene with a handshake and introduction, she gave me one moment for a slight smile and then went directly into a detailed description of what was "ailing" the horse. It seems that the only complaint was that the horse was not running as fast as it had last year. In other words, it was about a half of a second slower this year than it was at the same races last year. Her "crew" had saddled the horse, and she was promptly on board, still talking as she trotted off.

Take a picture, lasts longer

No one else in the entire group had uttered a word up to this point. They gathered close around and looked closely at me while I looked at the horse. It was like they were watching my face for any change in emotion or expression. It was making me a little nervous. They were so focused on me that I was startin' to wonder if I had a booger or something stuck to a tooth.

"How long has this critter been lame?" I asked as I wiped my arm across my nose and sniffed.

The spokesman of the group seemed to be the brother-in-law.

He replied, "Ha, that's what we wonder." I had no idea what that meant either.

The pressure of the situation was rising as I discovered that I couldn't see anything wrong with the horse. I had watched the lady trot around the parking lot for what seemed like 10 minutes and that horse had not taken a lame step. The pressure went up even more when the brother-in-law informed me that I was the fourth veterinarian she had brought the horse to.

I was hoping they would give me some kind of hint as to what the other vets had said was wrong with the horse, but they just stood there and stared at me as I watched the horse. Not wanting to disappoint them, I finally stated, "Well, he sure might have a little bone spavin." I figured this was a safe guess, nearly every barrel horse in the world has some degree of it. It is an arthritis that develops in the hock.

As these words left my lips, I began returning the stares into their faces to see if it stirred any emotions. To my surprise, it seemed to rustle up a disgusted look on each of their faces. The spokesman brother-in-law said, "That horse ain't got no bone spavin. If he has any kind of spavin, it's fanny spavin."

Once again, I had no idea what that was. Nine years of being a veterinarian, and I had never heard of that one or read about it in any of the literature. Not wanting to look stupid, I continued to watch the horse trot endlessly around the parking lot. I was digging for some way to ask questions and gather clues without appearing uninformed. Finally I asked, "Which leg is it?" To this the brother-in-law stated, "It ain't in no leg, tell him what the deal is Robby." (Robby is the husband.)

A closer look

Everyone gathered in even closer as Robby the husband began to explain the situation.

"You see Dr. Brock, my wife has gained about 20 pounds in the last year or so. We know that there is nothing wrong with that horse, it just can't carry the extra weight as fast. We heard that you were good at explaining things and hoped that you could tell her; none of us has the guts to."

What page of my notes from veterinary school should I turn to for the answer to this dilemma? My mind became numb as my face became red. Two hours these people drove just to put me in this situation. They were all afraid of her, and I was finding myself scared to death of her also.

What in the world was this bossy momma going to do when I told her the horse was fine, she was just too thick? That's right... a big 'en. You loose some tons and this critter will be at least a half a second faster.

Two hours these people drove, and now here I stood sweating. What would you have done?

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