Veterinary experience generally falls into one of two categories: observation and hands-on experience. The observation part of animal and veterinary experience is very fun and serves as a jumping-off point to begin learning how to handle animals. Even as a high school student, you can ask a vet if they would mind letting you shadow them during appointments and surgeries at a clinic. I would suggest arranging to come in once a week for a summer, or shadowing three days a week for a month or so. You want to come often enough that you are seeing a variety of things and a lot of things, but not often enough to burden the clinic or vet.
Transitioning from observing to actually doing things is a bit harder, because a lot depends on you as an individual, and the veterinary practice. However, the more time you spend observing, the more time you’re giving yourself to ask questions and learn. And as you get to know the veterinarian and technicians, they will start to trust you and (most likely) will tell you what they are doing and why they are doing it. Eventually, they will teach you some basic things, like animal restraint and behavior, and later some medical procedures, depending on the practice. As long as you remain positive, curious, open to learning, and ready to help, the veterinary staff will accept you with open arms and teach you a lot of fascinating things.
It can be difficult, transitioning from observing veterinary staff to actually gaining hands-on experience, but once you prove your grasp of basic animal restraint, it will be much easier to start learning some pretty exciting things. And once you’re more involved in something, the more interesting it is, and the more questions you’ll have.
And don’t worry if it seems like you’re not fitting in or not able to do much at a certain clinic. Get what you can out of the experience, and then find another clinic at which to intern. Try a smaller or larger clinic, or try a practice with multiple veterinarians. Try a mixed animal practice, or a specialized clinic that caters to exotics.
Most vet schools love to see students with a wide variety of experiences, so be sure to get both large and small animal experience, even if you are pretty certain that you want to work with horses exclusively. You don’t know if you like something until you try it, right? Also be sure to get one experience that will really stick out—whether that’s volunteering at a wildlife refuge in Africa, working on a goat farm, or volunteering at a zoo. All of this may seem overwhelming, but it’s easier than you think to find programs that will help you get animal experience over the summer or when you travel abroad. I arranged all my internships myself, and it wasn’t too hard to contact local vets and organizations to ask them about internship possibilities or employment. All it takes is preparation, perseverance, and courage!