For the love of horses: Photos and stories from the next generation of equine practitioners

For the love of horses: Photos and stories from the next generation of equine practitioners

A series of profiles of this year's AAEP Markel scholarship recipients
May 09, 2012

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Photo: Getty Images

Eight veterinary school students received scholarships in December from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Foundation and Markel Insurance Co. All are exceptional fourth-year students who advocate for equine welfare and are committed to careers in equine veterinary medicine, thus helping to ensure the success of the next generation of equine practitioners.

Each student received $2,500. The basis of the award is not only a student’s excellence in equine studies but also his or her activities that benefit the health and welfare of horses. The eight recipients are:

  • Ashley Craig, Tuskegee University
  • Kati Glass, Texas A&M University
  • Laura Hoholik, Michigan State University
  • Kathleen McCarthy, Louisiana State University
  • Bo Rainbow, University of Florida
  • Erin Shields, University of Calgary
  • Christine Sutherland, University of Missouri
  • Katie Wulster, University of Pennsylvania

The AAEP-Markel annual award allows each accredited college or school of veterinary medicine to submit one candidate from which the AAEP chooses the finalists and recipients. As part of the application process, each student submits several letters of reference from professors, clinicians and other key mentors. Besides demonstrating their dedication to equine medicine and their academic excellence, the students also submit an essay outlining why they think they deserve the scholarship.

Here are brief profiles of the most recent recipients of this annual scholarship.

Read their stories >

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Laura Hoholik
Hoholik’s family raised livestock on a small farm on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. During her childhood, Hoholik learned about the challenges and benefits of a veterinary career from her mother, an equine and mixed-animal veterinarian.

When Hoholik was 6 years old, she started taking riding lessons with local instructors in her backyard. She joined the U.S. Pony Club at the age of 9, showing horses through her local 4-H program and on the local circuits. She competed in Pony Club until she finished high school, when she sold the horse she competed with in order to focus on her undergraduate courses.

She stopped riding as she began her undergraduate work, playing competitive ice hockey at Lake Forest College, Chicago. After she began veterinary school at Michigan State University (MSU), she rarely had time to ride but concentrated on her veterinary studies.

“My mom was always supportive of my career choice,” says Hoholik. “Once I was interested in veterinary medicine, having a parent in the field gave me many opportunities, such as summer employment and the ability to practice the things I was learning each semester. I also worked with other practices, which ensured I got a varied experience. My mom always encouraged me to observe other veterinarians and gain additional experience through them.”

During her first year of veterinary school, Hoholik joined MSU’s AAEP student chapter. She also attended the Opportunities in Equine Practice Seminar, which provided her with networking opportunities to arrange externships and other programs.

“Through the AAEP chapter, I had the opportunity to go to Lexington to attend various seminars at the major equine practices there,” Hoholik explains. “It was an eye-opening experience to learn about the many avenues of veterinary medicine available to new graduates.”

Hoholik enjoys the many aspects of equine medicine but has specific interests in equine dentistry, lameness and field surgery. She has accepted a one-year internship at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine for next year within its equine field services department.

“After my internship, although I would love to join my mother’s practice, I’m thinking of heading for warmer temperatures than northern Michigan, but I’m not sure where I might end up,” she notes. Her long-term goal is to become a partner at an established equine practice.

She also recognizes the importance of giving back to her equine community and plans to volunteer for U.S. Pony Club events. “Growing up I always had the opportunity to talk with veterinarians during my Pony Club experiences,” she says. “I think I’d like to give back to the Pony Club or 4-H by taking opportunities to teach and mentor young riders.”

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Kathleen McCarthy
“I grew up in Shreveport, La., and was lucky to begin taking riding lessons at 13, competing with hunter-jumpers,” says McCarthy. She quickly became interested in veterinary medicine. “I often watched the veterinarians who came to work on the horses at the barn. Being home-schooled, I could do my lessons in the afternoons and spend my time in the mornings with the horses, often when the vet or the farrier was working.”

After declaring an animal science major at Louisiana State University (LSU) as an undergraduate, McCarthy was encouraged by advisors to consider applying for veterinary school. She started working weekends at a small-animal clinic, and during the summer before her senior year, she worked at a small-animal practice in Montana. She rode along with a large-animal practitioner once a week, working with him while he tended to horses and cattle. The horses she helped treat were mostly backyard and working horses. It was after that experience McCarthy realized she might want to pursue equine medicine.

As a veterinary student at LSU, she got involved with the AAEP student chapter. “During my first year, I didn’t do a whole lot, since I was learning how to handle veterinary school.” During her second year, she began attending wet labs, including an annual vaccine lab and labs on ultrasonography and other imaging techniques, as well as helping with AAEP chapter fundraisers. She participated in LSU’s annual open house, working with the equine treadmill and arthroscopy demonstrations.

McCarthy is primarily interested in ambulatory medicine with a focus on theriogenology and diagnostic imaging. “I especially like driving around as a veterinarian working in the field taking care of horses at the farms, as I had done in Montana.”

McCarthy also enjoyed ambulatory work during an externship at the Genesee Valley Equine Clinic, Scottsville, N.Y., where she will intern after graduation. She decided on the upstate New York clinic after attending the Opportunities in Equine Practice Seminar, the annual seminar for North American veterinary students, during her third year. McCarthy met Amy Leibeck, DVM, at the seminar who intrigued and encouraged her. After the seminar, McCarthy emailed the clinic to apply for an externship. “I had a great time hanging out with the practitioners at the clinic. I really enjoyed the experience a lot. As a large ambulatory equine practice, it was a very good match for my interests.”

McCarthy’s interest in diagnostic imaging was instilled during her first year at veterinary school. “It’s really fascinating how you can get an insight into what’s going on from a radiograph, an MRI, an ultrasound or videoendoscopy. It’s fun to be in a university where we use all those different modalities in the cases we see.” McCarthy furthered her interest in imaging by participating in the Diagnostic Imaging Club at LSU.

The externship at Genesee Valley Equine led McCarthy to apply for her upcoming post-graduate internship, where she no doubt will enjoy the ambulatory aspects of the practice and varied horses it treats.

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Christine Sutherland
Sutherland has always been passionate about the work of veterinarians. Raised on a small farm of cattle and horses in Warrensburg, Mo., she got her first horse when she was 6 years old and joined 4-H at 8, working primarily within the equine group showing quarter horses.

“During high school, I started working for a horse trainer to help pay for riding lessons and to become more involved in the sport, showing quarter horses, which I continued throughout high school and during my undergraduate years at the University of Central Missouri,” she says.

Being involved with equine practitioners via her own animals, Sutherland knew by her freshman year of college that she wanted to be a veterinarian. But she was daunted by the challenge of being accepted to veterinary school. During her sophomore year, she began to work with Greg Houtsma, DVM, at his small-animal and equine practice, Warrensburg Animal Hospital, the equine portion of which is known as Midwest Performance Equine. Through her hard work and with encouragement from her mother and the mentorship from Houtsma, Sutherland was accepted by the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. She continued to show horses through her second year of veterinary school, but soon was forced to back off showing as she was too busy with her studies.

Sutherland joined the student AAEP chapter her first year and became chapter treasurer during her second year of veterinary school. She has attended numerous educational programs outside her veterinary school class work, including the 2011 Purina Veterinary Conference, the 2008 AAEP annual convention and the 2010 Opportunities in Equine Practice Seminar. “Being a member of my AAEP student chapter has given me opportunities to take on externships, practice clinical skills and build new knowledge.”

Sutherland attended the national AAEP conferences each year of school, where she found practices to visit on externships, namely Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery, Weatherford Equine, and Reata Equine Hospital, all in Weatherford, Texas; and Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center, in Los Olivos, Calif. Sutherland is most interested in Western performance horse activities and was intrigued by the mix of race, dressage and Western performance horses in California, with similar opportunities in Texas.

After graduation, Sutherland will join Reata Equine Hospital for an internship. She has a special interest in internal medicine and neonatology. “I like all aspects of the equine practice, but medicine cases are kind of like puzzles—to be able to take small pieces and put them together and come up with the proper diagnosis and treatment. Foals are especially intriguing to work with, and it’s very rewarding to make them feel better.”

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Kathryn Wulster
Growing up in Lebanon, N.J, it was “not in the cards” that Wulster’s parents would buy her a horse at an early age. But she “had the most wonderful trainers, Jack and Katie Benson of Briarwood Farm. They allowed me to work off lessons and leases on sale and client horses by running the in-gate at their many New Jersey and Pennsylvania horse shows.”

Wulster worked and showed horses almost every weekend. And when she was 16, her parents conceded and bought her a horse named Pookie, which she took to various national medal finals. Wulster continued to ride during college and was co-captain of the Tufts University equestrian team, but it wasn’t until she worked in the University of Pennsylvania’s Performance Clinic during her junior year of college that she cemented her interest in equine sports medicine, lameness and imaging.

“I was always interested in veterinary medicine, but early on considered a career in human radiology,” Wulster says. She began to work at Rutgers Equine Science Center, for Carey Williams, PhD, helping care for the horses used for equine nutritional studies.

“Dr. Williams is probably the reason I got into veterinary school,” says Wulster. “It was very serendipitous how it occurred, as she taught me how to exercise horses on the treadmill for various nutrition studies.” This treadmill training was the driving force for Wulster being hired during the summer of 2007 by Benson Martin, VMD, at New Bolton Center.

Working with Martin and with Elizabeth Davidson, DVM—both associate professors of sports medicine—was a real eye-opener for Wulster. “I was just so blown away by their practice of lameness work in all kinds of performance horses. I learned so much from them. It was from that experience that I decided to continue my dream of equine veterinary medicine,” Wulster says.

She applied the following year, after graduating from Tufts, and she was accepted into veterinary school the next semester. “I started getting involved with the UPenn AAEP student chapter early in my veterinary school studies, influenced by upper classmates to become involved. I became interested in the program, the wet labs, the workshops and the influential veterinarians I met.” Wulster became AAEP student chapter president during her second year of veterinary school.

After graduation, Wulster will do a rotating hospital internship at The University of Pennsylvania, New Bolton Center, which will be academic. “I really like surgery, emergency medicine and routine ambulatory work, but I’m most interested in specializing in lameness, sports medicine and imaging,” she says.

She wants to pursue a radiology residency to specialize in high modality imaging, to complement lameness diagnostics. As a practicing AAEP member, Wulster plans to make client education, providing mentoring and scholarship opportunities and collaborating with fellow AAEP-member veterinarians her priorities.

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Ashley Craig

Craig, from Georgetown, Ky., was fortunate to have parents who allowed her to have many animals, and she began riding at 7 years old. “Riding was always a passion of mine; horses are my life,” Craig says.

At age 12, Craig began to show American Saddlebreds, and over the years she worked on breeding and training farms and within various aspects of the Saddlebred industry.

“All I wanted to do is live at the barn,” Craig says. “In the summer my mom didn’t have to get a babysitter for me; I spent all my time there. At a young age I learned what a veterinarian was. From shadowing those who treated my dogs and horses at every turn I gained an interest in practice.”

Craig became interested in why the veterinarians visited. “As a naturally curious person, I had tons of questions,” she says. “What are they doing and why? Combining that curiosity with my love for animals, it was natural for me to fall in love with veterinary medicine. It’s been a passion of mine ever since. It became clear that it was what I wanted to do and that hard work to earn the career wasn’t a deterrent for me.”

Craig spent her undergraduate years part-time at the University of Kentucky and part-time at Georgetown College before entering veterinary school at Tuskegee. At veterinary school, she led her AAEP student chapter as vice president and president. She helped organize the school’s annual horse health fair, which provides low-cost veterinary services and vaccinations. She was also selected as one of two students from AAEP chapters across the country to serve on the AAEP’s Student Relations Committee. And she is the recipient of a 2011 Winner’s Circle Scholarship from the Race for Education and the Simmons Educational Aptitude Award at Tuskegee University.

Craig was Tuskegee chapter president of the Veterinary Business Management Association (VBMA) and then became national president in 2011. Established in 2003 and now constituting more than 3,400 members, the VBMA is a student-driven organization with student chapter leaders driving change at the universities.

“Through my work with VBMA, I saw that equine practice and veterinary medicine are really bigger than one person,” Craig says. “I saw things at my school that needed to be changed, though I often realized I couldn’t enact those changes by myself. Being part of VBMA, I was asked by curriculum committees and different people throughout the educational system my opinions and the organization’s opinions. While I wasn’t always able to make the changes I wanted or needed to at my own school, through this organization I could state my thoughts and do things I couldn’t have done otherwise. It’s a great opportunity. Students are driving the organization, bringing in speakers on contract law, ethics, communications skills, interviewing and financial aspects. It gave me confidence to pursue veterinary practice.”

Craig espouses the notion that good medicine is good business. “We often overlook that as clinicians,” she says. “Some think, ‘We can take care of the medicine; someone else will take care of the business.’ You can’t be in business for long if that’s your mindset. No one is going to look at your pennies like you will. It’s important for every person, especially for new grads, to have a handle on the business aspects of medicine. It’s not just about the business; it’s about communication with clients and colleagues as well as the financial aspects.”

Upon graduation Craig will join Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky., in a field-care internship. Her long-term goals include, among other things, becoming president of the AAEP. In following her business acumen, Craig would like—while pursuing her theriogenology residency—to complete an executive MBA.

With her schooling almost completed during her fourth year, Craig applied to several clinics. “Hagyard fit my personality and style and balanced the business aspects and my interest in theriogenology,” she says. “Dr. Andy Clark, then CEO of Hagyard, became my mentor through the VBMA, which helped influence my decision. Also riding along with several of the veterinarians, seeing how they handled themselves, how they treated the interns and the responsibility the interns were given—it was the perfect fit for me.

“I think organized medicine is often often overlooked for graduating students,” Craig continues. “For me it’s a chance to make a difference in the industry. It’s about being involved, helping make things be what they need to be, and making changes that need to be made.”

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Kati Glass

Glass, from Blanchard, La., grew up with a menagerie of animals but always had a passion for horses. When young she spent most of her time riding her friends’ horses, tagging along to shows and rodeos. As a teenager she got her first horse, an American Paint Horse named Molly. Unfortunately, when on a trail ride with Glass one day, Molly got spooked and ran off, sustaining a severe tendon laceration.

“This was my first experience with a major catastrophic injury,” Glass recalls. Her parents allowed Glass to pursue treatment. After about six months of wraps and therapy, Molly’s injury was almost healed when she came down with contralateral support limb laminitis. “Besides my love for horses, it was this experience that helped foster my interest in pursuing a career in veterinary medicine,” Glass says.

After a cursory physical examination, the veterinarian treating Molly instructed Glass to pack the horse’s foot, as it was most likely abscessed. Despite the best treatment, Molly sloughed her sole, and her P3 rotated, leading to Molly’s unfortunate demise. “It really got to me,” Glass remembers. “If [the veterinarian had] only taken more time to explain the possible outcome to me. It left me wondering and with the feeling that, as a practitioner, I would need to understand more about what we know and what we don’t know and to be willing to explain that to clients.”

After that experience, Glass got a job at Louisiana Downs racetrack working as a veterinary assistant and being mentored by on-track veterinarians. “During that time I not only got experience in equine medicine but also gained an understanding of the Thoroughbred racing industry—a priceless experience that I loved,” Glass says.

Glass began her undergraduate studies at Texas A&M University (TAMU). After three years she did an overlap year as a first-year veterinary student while completing her bachelor’s degree in biomedical science.

The student chapter of the AAEP at TAMU is very active and one of the larger chapters in the country. Glass has been active in the group since her first year in school and worked her way from class representative to chapter president in 2011. TAMU hosts a one-day wet lab annually for veterinary students from schools across the country. This past year the wet lab included 21 sessions from which each student could select four labs in which to participate. In all, 250 students from 22 veterinary schools attended.

“The TAMU CVM clinicians and staff are extremely supportive, which allows us to offer this huge event. It gives participants the opportunity to gain excellent hands-on experience in several skills we may not learn at school and meet some of our future colleagues,” Glass says. In 2011, Glass was awarded a Winner’s Circle scholarship from The Race For Education.

During veterinary school Glass completed several externships. After graduation she will intern at Equine Medical Center of Ocala, Fla., and she plans to apply for residency programs in equine surgery. “It’s not only great Thoroughbred horse country, but being in the South with Spanish moss and cypress trees makes for an environment reminiscent of my home in Louisiana,” says Glass. “It’s a great practice environment, and I’ll be excited to be there. I’m hopeful it will help me become a well-rounded veterinarian as I gain more experience in all areas of equine veterinary medicine, including reproduction, medicine, ambulatory work and surgery.”

Glass plans to apply for an equine surgery residency but, knowing how difficult that path is, she wants to gain as many skills and as much knowledge in the field as she can. Her long-term goals include achieving board certification in equine surgery and conducting research. She hopes to one day mentor students and young veterinarians as her mentors have encouraged and supported her.

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Erin Shields

Shields is a fourth-generation Albertan; her great-grandfather settled a ranch southwest of Calgary in 1902. Shields received a tremendous influence in sports from her parents, both physical education teachers. She began participating in sports in several disciplines, including riding, at an early age.

Beginning in pony club, Shields quickly picked up both barn management and riding skills. She rode both English and Western and could be found on a pony’s back most hours of the day. She began show jumping under Jonathan Asselin at the illustrious Spruce Meadows, the world’s No. 1 ranked show-jumping facility.

Back at the ranch, with influence from her mom, Shields began riding in several Western competitive events, including cattle penning, reining cow horse and ranch cutting, while continuing her show jumping. “I got my feet in both doors from an early age, as well as in other sports, including competitive swimming, basketball, telemark skiing, kayaking and riding,” she says.

Shields received her undergraduate degree in biomedical sciences at the University of Guelph. “At that point I wasn’t sure, with a love of sports and horses, whether I might go into human or veterinary medicine.”

On the verge of applying to veterinary school, several influences prompted her to head in another direction. “I was still involved at Spruce Meadows and saw many of the sport horses being treated with ancillary treatments, including chiropractic, acupuncture and physiotherapy.”

Intrigued by those modalities, Shields moved to Santa Clara, Calif., to attend chiropractic school at Palmer College of Chiropractic West, with an opportunity to go in either direction—treating equine or human athletes.

Shields finished second in her class at Palmer, and her life took another turn: She stayed in California to work at a large sports medicine facility and developed a strong background in that discipline. It didn’t hurt that her mentor and boss was the chiropractor for the San Francisco 49ers, as Shields helped treat injured athletes. “I saw how a group of practitioners with different backgrounds worked together for the best outcome of the athlete—a paradigm for a similar team effort in equine sports medicine,” she says.

Shields also worked with the U.S. Track and Field Team and Olympic Track and Field teams (before the Athens Olympics), and she was invited to be chiropractor for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Eventually she returned to Canada with her then boyfriend and now husband.

With her appetite for chiropractic care still not totally satisfying her ambitions, along with her strong equine influence and love for veterinary school, Shields applied to the newly established University of Calgary School of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM).

“I never felt I would truly be able to do justice to the whole treatment regimen of the horse, being able to diagnose problems and then work with them,” Shields says. “I wanted a solid scientific background to do the best job possible. I felt that only a veterinary school education would accomplish that goal, and if I didn’t apply I’d never forgive myself.”

With Calgary being so new, Shields was part of the class that had to get various programs up and running. Having become familiar with what the AAEP could offer, she realized the school needed an AAEP student chapter. She became involved in the chapter and became its 2009-2010 president.

While at UCVM Shields participated in several externships and upon graduation will do an internship at Moore Equine, a large equine referral facility. Her long-term goal is to work toward board certification in equine sports medicine rehabilitation and maintain her interest in equine chiropractic and acupuncture. She also continues to be involved with Spruce Meadows. Shields doesn’t limit her extracurricular interests to English disciplines, as she continues to ride competitively in reining cow horse events and team cattle penning.

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Bo Rainbow

Rainbow grew up on The Acorn Farm, a commercial Thoroughbred breeding farm in Ocala, Fla. With up to 100 horses on the property, the farm was a great place to develop solid horsemanship skills.

“As a kid I went to the barn every morning and then to school, and I worked in the barn at the end of the day,” Rainbow says. He enjoyed working with his parents as they foaled mares, prepared yearlings for sale and went to horse sales. “I realized the horse business is pretty hard, but I enjoyed being around the barn and wanted to continue in the horse business.”

Originally Rainbow wanted to become a farm manager and help run the family farm, but in time he grew more interested in the veterinary aspects of the horse business through John Peterson, DVM, of Peterson and Smith Equine Hospital, who had been the farm veterinarian for more than 30 years.

“I admired his ability to work with various situations and travel among several farms,” Rainbow says. “I could ask him questions and he instinctively knew how to handle any situation we could throw at him.”

When Rainbow thought about college, he wondered if limiting his career choices to the horse industry was a mistake. He attended Davidson College in North Carolina, far from the Thoroughbred breeding farms of Ocala. Within two years he decided he’d have to remain with his beloved horses. During his sophomore year, Rainbow worked with a therapeutic riding center. “I knew then I wanted to work with horses and wouldn’t be happy doing anything else,” he says.

Rainbow completed his undergraduate work and, before applying to veterinary school, took time off to get back into the Thoroughbred industry. He was accepted into Darley Flying Start, a two-year program sponsored by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister and vice president of the United Arab Emirates, monarch of Dubai. The program is designed to foster leadership within the Thoroughbred racing field by introducing students to all aspects of the industry.

“It was a great internship,” Rainbow says. “I broke horses in Ireland, attended the Tattersalls sale in England, interned with racing stables in Dubai and worked breeding seasons in Lexington, Australia and New Zealand. We would work with horses in the morning and then attend classes in business, nutrition, farriery and race stewarding in the afternoons and evenings. I worked with veterinarians in seven countries. I felt it greatly contributed to my background in the horse industry.”

Rainbow will begin at Hagyard in July with two other newly graduated veterinary students, including fellow scholarship recipient Ashley Craig, profiled above. They will participate in medicine and surgery in the fall and work in the field on ambulatory duty during the breeding season. “I’m ecstatic about it. It’s a great opportunity,” Rainbow says.

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From their stories, we see that each of the AAEP-Markel Scholarship recipients, though of varied backgrounds and experiences, is incredibly qualified, deserving and passionate about working with horses. Each will make a special impact on the equine practice.

Ed Kane, PhD, is a researcher and consultant in animal nutrition. He is an author and editor on nutrition, physiology and veterinary medicine with a background in horses, pets and livestock. Kane is based in Seattle.