A vet’s diary: Drama at the races

I WAS asked by Newcastle Racecourse to hold a horse awareness course for the staff in the rare event that they may have to hold a horse.

It was aimed at giving them confidence in horse handling and making sure they don’t get injured. I took my horse, Piccolo Pete, along as demonstration horse and we had an enjoyable hour discussing situations, tacking and untacking him.

But my words come back to haunt me when I was duty vet at Newcastle last Tuesday. The sun was shining, the ground was reasonable and everyone was in an upbeat mood. During meetings there are three vets at National Hunt meetings – two on the track and one covering the paddock and stables.

The mood swiftly changed during the third race when I was the second vet following the race. A horse ran out on the bend, unseating its jockey, who then had to be taken away with concussion.

This was followed by a horse requiring attention, followed by another unseated jockey lying prostate behind the hurdle.

With the doctors and another vet all occupied, if left just me. We continued to follow the runners who all seemed to settle, but then at the second-last hurdle a horse collapsed with exhaustion.

I ran to the horse, flailing about, and knelt on his neck. If a horse’s neck is in contact with the ground, they are unable to get up, so kneeling on it gives them time to recover and get their breath back.

Despite my best efforts there were, however, members of the public who thought I was trying to strangle it.

As we needed to get a screen around us, I asked the jockey standing nearby to pass my radio. As I reached out for it, I must have shifted my weight slightly and the horse took the opportunity to throw me off his neck and get to his feet.

In the scramble, he threw his head around wildly, managing to whack me extremely hard on the top of my head. I struggled to my feet to grab the reins and regain some control, while muttering expletives. The jockey stood speechless.

I assumed he’d never heard swearing like it, so apologised and then started to feel what I thought was sweat running down the left side of my face. It was blood, running down my nose and congealing on my eyelashes. No wonder the jockey was looking at me in anguish.

The horse made a good recovery and I handed him over to the stable girl who was concerned that the blood on my face was the horse’s.

I returned to the paddock to be informed that I was too much of a frightening sight to walk past the people, so I had to go the long way round to the medical room, with the clerk of the course radioing ahead to say I needed treatment. With the blood washed off and two stitches in place, I was able to continue working.

Needless to say there were plenty of comments from the staff I’d earlier taught how to handle a horse. As I said to them: “Do as I say, not as I do.”

We had a great end to the day when Devotion to Duty, a horse I have a share in, comfortably won the sixth race. What a great analgesic. However, the winning photo is definitely one for the album. There is Richard Rutherford, the managing director and owner of Rutherfords of Morpeth, with his usual sartorial elegance, Yorkie Jobling Purser looking smart, and then me with my hair still plastered to my head with blood and muddy knees.

Yet again, I lived up to expectations.

l Remember the laminitis meeting is at Whorral Bank, on March 23, and not March 31. Contact the surgery for further details if you would like to attend.

SALLY BOOTH

Director and Senior Vet