It’s All About The Animals, Part 1

As I’ve mentioned in past posts (see The End is Only the Beginning Part 1 and The”Perfect” Application”), animal experience is incredibly important in the veterinary application process. This experience allows for applicants to understand an owner’s perspective and to feel more at ease when working around different species. For instance, I have a lot of experience with horses and dogs, but not cats; other people in my class have a TON of dog and cat experience, but don’t feel comfortable around large animals. A lot of this variation is because of our future professional interests: I want to work with horses, while others want to focus on small animals, whether that be in shelter medicine or running a practice.

2012 Wind River Ranch Wranglers (photo: Jenna James)
My 2012 Wrangler Family
(photo: Jenna James)

I got my start in working with horses at the meek age of eight. My family and I were planning a vacation, and my dad goes, “Why don’t we go to Estes Park, Colorado?”. So my mom gets on the computer and starts Googling (keep in mind, this was in 2001 and Google wasn’t as huge as it is today) and finds Wind River Ranch, a Christian Family Guest Ranch, in Estes Park. We spent a wonderful, action-packed week out at “the ranch”, riding horses on trails and in the arena. I was hooked–my dad didn’t know what he had started! For my birthday later in the summer, I asked for horseback riding lessons. We were able to find a local stable that offered lessons, so my brother and I started lessons in October 2001. Over the next few summers, we headed back out to the ranch for more weeks of fun and riding adventures.

Tank, my Wrangler horse.

Ever since our first trip, I knew that I wanted to work at Wind River as a wrangler. There was only one stipulation: wranglers have to be at least 18 years old for insurance and liability reasons. I waited patiently until Summer 2011, when I was able to spend three weeks volunteering and helping out. At the time, I was training and showing my 4-H project horse, so I was unable to stay longer. The next summer, I was out for over six weeks-until I had to take a summer class that started in July. This summer, though, I get to spend over two months in this wonderful place with friends that are as close as family. It’s going to be a sad day when I head back home, but I also get to look forward to something new: starting LMU-CVM as a member of the Inaugural Class of 2018!

SONY DSCWorking at Wind River gave me a lot of valuable horse experience. While I have shown horses since 2002, work as a stable hand and trail guide present unique challenges from showing. First, as a wrangler, I am not only responsible for the safety of my horse and myself, but also for all of guests on the ride–usually about 10 to 15, if we have two wranglers riding. The wrangler in front, the lead wrangler, makes sure that we take the right trail, that the trail is safe (sometimes trees fall over the trail and we have to detour), and that the group stays at a safe pace. The drag wrangler, the one at the back, makes sure that guests are properly controlling their horses (i.e. not letting them eat grass or run up on the horse in front of them), stops traffic when we have to cross a road, and picks up objects that a guest may have inadvertently dropped (like a hat or sunglasses). Both wranglers have radios so that they can communicate with each other, and with the wranglers at the barn, to let them know that we are going to be arriving at the barn soon so they can be ready to help guests off their horses. We all had to work as a team in order to keep everyone safe while on and around the horses at the barn and on the trails.

A lot of horses=a lot a poop!
A lot of horses=a lot a poop!

Wind River has a large herd of horses, about 70 to 80 head depending on the year. Herd maintenance, of course, requires a lot of attention. If one horse gets sick and isn’t quarantined, then pretty soon the whole herd will be out of commission. We check all of the horses while grooming them and preparing them to be saddled, and any issues we see, whether it’s a runny nose or girth gall, gets written on a white board so we know to keep an eye on them. Fortunately, there’s been only a couple of times when there was a serious injury or sickness that required the vet’s attention. One of these instances was with a horse that colicked (basically a horsey stomach-ache; see here); colic can be very serious, especially if the horse starts to roll (in order to alleviate pain) because their intestines can actually twist and cut off blood flow to different sections. Luckily, we were able to get a hold of the vet, who instructed us on what medications to give before we loaded the horse in the trailer to go see her. Sometimes, mild colic can be resolved by walking the horse around, letting them eat some fresh grass, and offering water; other times, these medications are needed to help the horse’s intestines work as they should. Every case of colic presents a little bit differently, so I appreciated getting to see how the vet handled this case.

I got to take my mom (a fellow equestrian) on a private trail ride when my family stayed at the ranch.
I got to take my mom (a fellow equestrian) on a private trail ride when my family stayed at the ranch.

Working at Wind River not only provided me with valuable animal experience, but also life experience. I learned more about teamwork in the two summers working at the ranch than any other time in my life; our motto is, “No one’s done until everyone’s done.” So, whenever the wranglers are finished for the day, we go to other work crews or the kitchen to see how we could help them out. This teamwork philosophy is especially important in veterinary medicine because I can’t rely solely on myself and my abilities; I will need to be able to trust my technicians and fellow doctors to be able to take care of patients. Gaining animal experience isn’t just about working with animals; it’s also learning how to interact with people from different backgrounds.

Somewhere, over the rainbow…

Next time, in Part 2, I’ll be talking about my experience in the 4-H Horse Program. Stay tuned!

If you haven’t subscribed to get instant updates, just click “Follow” on the right hand sidebar and enter your email address. Do you have any questions about gaining animal experience? Comment or email me! Do you want to know more about the veterinary application process? Check out my page “Applying to Vet School“-I’ve collected all of my posts into one place for easy access!



Posted on May 20, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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