Insight into a thoroughbred veterinarian - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Insight into a thoroughbred veterinarian


The atmosphere on the backside of Churchill Downs might remind you of a 19th-century farm community.

A blacksmith is at work...ankles get wrapped...there's grazing in the grass...a nanny goat wanders around the horse stalls. And it's here you'll find a doctor who still makes house calls.

Doctor Rick Fischer is the chief veterinarian at the Downs.  Almost everybody back here knows him as "The Doc."

"My grandkids call me Papa Doc," laughed Fischer.

Doc has about 1,200 patients back here.  He is the man you call if your horse is sick, or needs a jug of fluids to keep hydrated.

"It's electrolytes and some fluids, vitamins, that we give a horse after he's breezed or worked or ran on Lasix.  Kind of pump him back up.  These are all athletes...gotta keep 'em like the running backs, keep 'em all healthy," says Fischer.

"This horse has got a little infection in one of his legs, an abrasion," he continues. "Got him on antibiotics, just to make sure it doesn't get infected...These horses' legs are kind of like the tires on a race car if one of them goes bad, you're in trouble."

And then there's the filly with a scraped shoulder.

"This filly hurt herself in the starting gate yesterday, and we're going to give her a tetanus shot," Fischer said. "Because tetanus in a horse is not a pretty thing. It's almost always 100% fatal...My theory is, the quicker you can get in and do what you gotta do, and leave 'em alone, the better off you are for you and the horse and the holder."

Doc's dad was a horse trainer, so he was born into the racing game.  He's owned a couple of Thoroughbreds that almost returned his investment.  And now he looks back on a career filled with more four-hoofed patients than he can count.

"On June the 8th," he says, "it'll be 41 years since I got out of vet school.  And if anybody'd told me I'd still be doing this 41 years later, I'd have said 'you're crazy.'  But you know, I just love it...They have the same kind of problems that all the human athletes get, joint problems, especially under these conditions: in their stall 22 hours a day, living in the inner city, pollution and things...they get a lot of respiratory problems. So our work's cut out for us to keep these horses at a top level at all times."

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