At some point in the life of a domestic horse, it is going to need to be seen by a veterinarian. That is inevitable. If a horse owner is lucky, vet visits will just be routine vaccinations or health care but the probability is high there will be an incident of illness or injury that the owner cannot manage without professional help.
Professional help means help from someone who has an official degree in veterinary medicine, not your brother’s uncle’s neighbor who once had a “hoss” in his yard that he healed with a dose of turpentine and beer. A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine is a necessary part of maintaining a horse’s health.
For the past 14 years, Dr. Stu Sherburne was my horses’ vet. I met Stu in November of 1998 about two weeks after I had moved to Bangor and had not even had a chance to look through the phonebook for a vet. One of my horses, a big accident-prone mare named Gretchen, decided she couldn’t wait.
Procrastination rarely works in my favor and on the aforementioned night it was really working against me. Not only had I not found a vet but I had also not taken the time to replace the metal T-posts used by the previous property owner to fence in the pasture. Like a good Stephen King novel, many small occurrences came together to create one big gory event.
Gretchen was a creature of habit, as most horses are, but she tipped a bit more to the neurotic side than most. I was late for her evening feeding due to a “quick trip” into town for feed. Stillwater Avenue in Bangor during the Christmas shopping season makes all “quick trips” marathon trips so I was delayed and arrived home nearly an hour later than expected. There had been some snow which became ice as Gretchen paced back and forth on it, as she anxiously waited for my return. The packed snow became slippery and so Gretchen slipped.
Judging by the damage to both the fence post and the horse, it appeared that she must have gone almost upside down as she fell and landed on one of those metal fence posts. It would have impaled her like a gruesome carousel pole but the angle was off. Luckily, Gretchen was walking and alert but had a serious wound on her withers.
Frantically, I called every vet listed in the phone book and only one was available. That was Stu. He showed up not too long after he was paged and immediately apologized if he seemed a bit worse for wear as he had been up for three days straight. Possibly he exaggerated, but considering the life of a vet, probably not.
He patched Gretchen up, left me instructions and did follow-up checkups. She healed beautifully with only a tiny scar. It wasn’t the last time Stu worked on Gretchen or any of the other horses. Stu compassionately nursed Ivy, my first horse, through a five-day colic. He researched how to help a horse heal from a fractured pelvis when Raffles had a freak accident in the field. He has helped me keep my horses healthy well into their golden years and when their lives were coming to an end he helped them pass peacefully. Stu has a great sense of humor but is straightforward about treatment of an animal. He saves his humor for teaching my young son how to make “mud soap” or teasing me about how many old horses I have.
The relationship between a horse owner and vet can be tricky with each one occasionally thinking that the other has no idea what is going on. I can confidently say that Stu and I had mutual respect for each other, even if he did think my collection of old horses was ridiculous. I listened to him, he listened to me, we shared ideas, I asked questions, he answered them, it was a symbiotic relationship. Until last week when Stu stopped by the farm to say that he was moving on to a new phase of life. His two daughters have grown up and he and his wife are ready to experience more of life that he put aside while working in the clinic and raising his girls. I was selfishly sad that he would no longer be my vet, but he will always be a good friend.