It shouldn’t come as any surprise that where there are vet students, there are pets. Dogs, cats, pocket pets, birds, reptiles; I think just about any pet you are allowed to have, there is a vet student that has brought it along with them or acquired it along the way while in vet school. But most pets fall under the broader category of ‘house pets,’ as in you can keep them in your house or apartment.
I brought my horse.
I adopted my horse the summer between my freshmen and sophomore years of undergrad. I had originally gone with a friend to check out a local SPCA barn and see if we could put in some volunteer hours, but as it turned out, they had just gotten an influx of Morgans from a recent surrender. Morgans were, and are, my favorite horses–I grew up in a lesson barn with a variety of breeds and disciplines, but it was the intelligent, proud, athletic, cheeky Morgans that I fell in love with. Our volunteer outing ended with us joking that I should adopt one of the horses. And in the most whirlwind, surreal series of events, I found myself unloading my very first horse at my lesson barn about 2 weeks later.
I spent that summer training her, and she spent my sophomore year at home, teaching lessons at the barn there. The summer before junior year, she came to my undergrad, Otterbein University, as a gift from my parents, where she learned to jump and found the discipline where she really, truly excelled. When it came time for school to start again, she was leased out to a Pony Club rider for a bit before coming back to me in the spring, where I kept her at a barn locally–but I knew I wanted her back at the university barn.
She moved back to the Otterbein barn the summer before my senior year. Keeping a horse in central Ohio can be surprisingly expensive, and with the convenience of the university barn, plus the gorgeous facility and all of the amenities and services offered, my horse’s board was twice my rent. I worked around 4 jobs until I graduated to pay our expenses (as a stable hand at the university barn, living on-site and doing night check at the university barn, working for a private farm, working as a teaching assistant for 2 of the freshmen level equine courses, a retail job at a craft store, and taking art commissions in my copious amounts of free time). On top of all of the jobs, which I could work up to 3-4 of in any given day, I was balancing a full course-load, a research thesis, clubs, acting as president of the hunt seat equestrian team and competing with them, as well as riding my own horse 6 days a week.
You’d think with all of that going on, it would have negatively impacted my academic performance. On the contrary, when my horse came to school with me, my grades were actually better–I finished the last semester of my senior year on a 4.0 GPA.
I had known for some time that the conclusion of my undergrad career meant uncertainty for my horse. I had no idea what kind of time I would have to dedicate to her, and I knew I wouldn’t have the time to work 4 jobs to pay her board and expenses. I had toyed with the idea of finding her a long-term lease home, taking her home and letting her sit, or outright selling her; but all of those options were unconscionable to me. I couldn’t imagine giving up my horse in any way, but I didn’t have a solution.
When my parents came down to celebrate my graduation, they floored me with the greatest present I have been given–they saw how important my mare was to me and to my sanity on any given day. They wanted me to have that when I went to vet school and would help me with her expenses so that she could stay with me and we could continue our journey together.
After I nailed down where I was attending vet school, it was an odd sense of relief. I wouldn’t be moving alone; my horse was coming with me.
One of the lovely ladies I worked for trailered us out to Indiana. My mare took up one side of the trailer, and the other side was loaded up with my couch, mattress, and other assorted furniture. We dropped the horse off at her new barn and continued on to my house. I am sure we were quite the sight; a horse trailer pulling into a residential neighborhood!
While I found 2 amazing roommates who are fantastic and super nice, transitioning to a new state where I didn’t really know anyone was still difficult; having my horse gave me something steady and gave me a way to make friends at our new barn.
Unfortunately, our first year in Indiana was a bit tumultuous, with injury and illness plaguing my mare. The stress of vet school added on top of the stress of dealing with a sick and injured horse was not a great time, but it did give me the opportunity to prove to myself just how much I could handle. I did surprisingly well academically, given the massive time commitment I was expending towards my horse each day for her medical care. Some days when she was injured and stall-bound, I would spend 2 hours hand-grazing her and another 40-ish minutes in travel to and from the barn, round trip. When she was sick, I was spending double that in travel time (different barn), and another 1-2 hours with her, sometimes multiple times a day.
We switched barns during finals week of the spring semester of first-year, where we have remained since. This barn is a short jaunt up the road from the vet school, making my travel time almost negligible, so I can spend more time with my horse and less time burning fuel. It means that even if I don’t have the time to ride, I can swing by the barn on my way home to see her, give her a treat and some attention, and then head home.
I have gone back to riding 4-6 days a week, depending on my exam schedule. Days before exams, I typically don’t ride unless I have a massive gap in my day; but you’ll find me at the barn every other day that there isn’t an exam, riding, and working–I picked up a part-time job at the barn. I take lessons with my trainer about every other week, ride with clinicians she brings in, and she is helping me get back into the show ring as well.
Again, you’d think this type of schedule, especially in vet school, would negatively affect my academics. And once again, it hasn’t. Once we got her healthy, I have had my 2 best semesters academically, with my mare at my side this past year.
I realize as 3rd year (and definitely 4th year) gets busier, I won’t have the luxury of the same amount of free time that I do right now to spend with my horse, but I also have learned how extremely important she is to my life outside the barn, just as much as inside the barn.
She gives me a way to stay mentally, emotionally, and physically strong. She provides me with a break from school, from looking at laptop screens, case reports, journal articles and reference books. She gives me an excuse to spend time outside (something every vet student could use more of). She gives me goals and challenges that don’t relate to my next exam or my career. She offers me a way to relax and to have fun. I can leave from class, go see her, and no matter what I end up doing with her, I can go home with a clear head, refreshed and ready to start in on whatever studying or coursework I have to do.
It is definitely not a valid option for everyone; it is a major time commitment and requires an extreme level of time management, organization, and patience–and leads to very long days at times. But for every bit of effort I put into my horse, she returns to me 10-fold.
While I questioned our path together, I now recognize that the only place for this mare is by my side. This horse not only makes me a better equestrian and horse-person, but also a better student, a better future vet, and a better person in general.
I brought my horse to vet school, and it is the single most important thing I could have brought with me!