From winning jockey to veterinarian

From winning jockey to veterinarian

Ramon Perez's long-running love of horses inspired his move from racing at Belmont to becoming an equine practitioner.
Sep 01, 2010
Sydney, Australia — From an early age, Ramon Perez knew he wanted to go into the family business. Both his father and godfather were successful jockeys, and Perez wanted to be just like them. As he grew up, Perez bonded with the horses that surrounded him, and he became a jockey, too. In fact, he was a high achiever. In 1994, Perez, at 17, rode 107 winners in some 675 mounts, earning nearly $2 million, according to Breeders Cup statistics. In 1995, Perez won the sport’s prestigious Eclipse Award, given each year to the best apprentice jockey. Perez has won at some of the nation’s top racing spots, including Churchill Downs and Belmont Park.
But in 2001, Perez had a change of heart. Unable to continue racing the way he wanted to, Perez turned his love for horses toward another career path—becoming a veterinarian. Now, at 32, and after graduating from the University of Florida in May, Perez is interning for the Randwick Equine Center in Sydney, Australia, and keeping horses in his life in a new way. DVM Newsmagazine caught up with Perez to talk riding and his unlikely path to becoming an equine practitioner.

Perez riding horse
Photos courtesy of Dr. Perez
DVM: Did you always have a love for horses?
Perez: I have always had an affinity for horses. My grandfather was a professor at the University of Minnesota and always thought I could “speak” with horses. I was always a quiet, shy kid, but I used horses as my confidantes. Horses can’t speak, and they never judge you, so growing up I relied on that friendship with them. I always seemed to have a knack with the high-strung horses, which was a challenge and satisfying when they finally begin to trust you. Then my hard work started to show results.

Perez crossing the finish line
DVM: Why did you leave riding?
Perez: I basically outgrew my job. I was a tall kid, but I was a skinny teenager when I started, so my weight was not that big of a deal. As I got older and stronger, it became increasingly difficult to keep my weight down. Ideally, I needed to be around 108 pounds. The things I would do to lose weight would scare the average person. At the end, I was losing four to eight pounds per day, and I was miserable. I realized that I was doing it because I didn’t know anything else and not because I was passionate and loved it like when I started out.

Perez in the winner's circle
DVM: Why did you decide to become an equine practitioner? What inspired that move?
Perez: I never truly thought I could become a veterinarian. I was a young kid that dropped out of high school with a ninth grade education. Statistics just don’t support [that career trajectory]. But I knew that my grandfather thought I was smart enough to go to college. I majored in another love, history, but always thought about ways to get back to what I loved, which was horses. I decided to take pre-vet courses and applied to veterinary school. I knew if I got in to veterinary school there was only one track for me, which was equine. I think the administration at the University of Florida is great and thank them every day because, in my opinion, they took a chance with me. I didn’t have the 4.0 GPA or the excellent SAT scores—because I never took them—but I had wonderful experiences with racehorses that took me around the country and world.

Perez racing flat out
DVM: What similarities do you find between being a jockey and being a DVM?
Perez: A jockey works on split-second decisions during a race. Vets work on quick decisions during an emergency. With riding, you have to judge your horses and your competition so you can quickly think about the consequences. That’s similar to veterinary medicine in that the action I take now, how will it affect the animal? What consequences come with making that decision? In both jobs, the experiences are critical. You can learn from mistakes in a race or a case and change your actions the next time.

Perez and horse being led prior to race
DVM: What advantages does your former career as a jockey give you in your new career as a DVM?
Perez: I still have to prove to clients that I’m fully capable of caring for their pet. I probably have a slight advantage from most because I have grown up in the racing industry, so breaking into it is easier, and I understand the terminology. It may help that I have ridden, so I can understand the problem from a rider’s standpoint, too.

Perez portrait in his racing colors
DVM: How did you connect with the Randwick Equine Center while in school? And why are you going back?
Perez: I did an externship between my junior and senior years. It was really just good luck on my part that I joined up with them. I wanted to do an international externship — perhaps just an excuse for an exotic vacation — but I also heard good things about the clinic and the doctors. Once I arrived, I saw all the things I wanted to study — lameness, surgery and ambulatory racetrack medicine. The decision to go back was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. I have a chance to work with excellent veterinarians, excellent trainers and world-class racehorses. The practice has 18 veterinarians, included two boarded surgeons and one boarded internist. The main clinic in Randwick has a complete surgery unit and two satellite clinics. The majority of the work is done on Thoroughbreds with a racetrack ambulatory practice.

Dr. Perez in action
DVM: Following your internship, and as you move into the next phase of your career, what do you hope to do?
I really want to take the next year to improve my skills and move toward my goal of becoming a respected veterinarian among my peers. I want to improve my lameness and surgery skills. Then, I may think about a residency for large animal surgery. My bond with horses has defined me as the man I have developed into. Horses have beautiful souls that never judge, never ask anything from you, trust you fully and want to succeed for you. I couldn’t think about my life without horses.