BY JESS CLAWSON
Every rider, trainer, and owner of horses has one thing in common: we’re all worried about our horses’ soundness and health on some level. Whether our horses are in a demanding competition program or our trail companion, we want them to feel good and do their jobs well.
Atlantic Equine Services helps horses up and down the east coast. Founded by the world renowned Dr. Omar Maher, the practice specializes in equine sports medicine and lameness. Not only does the practice stay on the cutting edge of diagnosis and treatment options, it is comprised of top notch veterinarians and technicians. They are all equestrians themselves and understand the needs of competitive horses and riders. Servicing New England, New York, and both Ocala and Wellington in Florida, they reach a wide variety of clientele.
Laying the Foundations
Maher grew up in Morocco, where he graduated from vet school in 2002. After participating in competitive internship and residency programs, including one year in France and two years at the Rochester Equine Clinic, he did a surgery and lameness residency at UC Davis.
In 2008, he joined the New England Equine Medical Center. As a surgeon and lameness diagnostician, he was instrumental in starting the advanced imaging program. He developed an international reputation for brilliance in surgery and lameness diagnosis.
There he would also meet people who would become his colleagues at Atlantic Equine, including Dr. Heather Beach, Dr. Jacqueline Bartol, and Dr. Kate Britton.
Maher – who is board certified in surgery, sports medicine, and rehabilitation – wanted to do more lameness work and be more ambulatory. “I wanted to go to farms and competitions and follow horses all the way to the show ring instead of just doing the hospital part.” So he founded Atlantic Equine Services in 2013.
“When I started, it was just me. No other vets, no technicians.” A year in, after building a solid practice, he called Beach and asked her to come on as an associate with the plan to become a partner after two years, which she ultimately did.
Unlike Maher, Beach did not always know she wanted to be a veterinarian. “I got the classic ‘you can’t do math’ thing that girls are told and by seventh grade I believed it.” She went to Boston University to major in anthropology and took a part time job as a pharmacy technician, where she realized she was, in fact, good at math in science. “It took someone looking at me and telling me ‘you’re doing math right now’ for me to realize that I could do it.”
She learned about Tufts University’s equine sports medicine program at a graduate school fair and realized she could see a path for herself in sciences after all. “I had to work my tail off for two years to fix up my science bonafides, and people had to take chances on me, but it was absolutely the right decision. This is what I’m meant to be doing.”
Beach is proud of how far she’s come in her career. Her switch from general medicine to a lameness specialty when she joined Atlantic Equine Services meant she had to build a new client optic. “When you’re young and female and relatively unknown it doesn’t happen easily.” She worked hard at it, and has succeeded in building an excellent reputation for herself.
Bartol was the next to join the practice. She specializes in internal medicine. “I don’t remember wanting to be anything else but a vet. I was crazy about animals. I felt like I had a calling. In vet school I decided to specialize in horses.”
Internal medicine is “like working on a puzzle. It’s exciting. I have to ask the right questions, perform a thorough evaluation of the horse, choose the appropriate diagnostics, and then assimilate all of the information to solve the mystery. It’s so great when it all comes together: diagnosis, treatment, healthy horse, happy owner.”
Technician Kimberly Bodytko appreciates Bartol’s approach. “She walks in and people feel relieved when she leaves because she really listens to their whole story and gives her opinion. They work together to formulate a plan. She’s so in depth. Internal medicine is so interesting because you have to look at it from such a step back. You have to think about the history and look at the future and their goals and make a whole plan. And she sees a lot of things that are so unique, skin allergies, equine self mutilation syndrome, everything. It’s so cool.”
Carrying on a Legacy
Dr. Kate Britton came on board next. Driven by her lifelong passion for horses and veterinary medicine, she majored in biochemistry at Skidmore College and went on to complete vet school at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and an internship at the New England Equine Medical and Surgical Center. She then began working for the Dr. John Steele of Steele & Associates, a legendary sports medicine veterinarian. “What I learned from Dr. Steele wouldn’t fit in a magazine. I learned so much from him. I wish I could have learned more.” Steele passed away in 2017, still practicing veterinary medicine at 92. A few months later Britton joined AES.
“I just really love the horses, and there’s always something new to keep you on your toes. We’re not limited in what we can do for our sporthorses. We have a lot we can do to prevent and treat injury in our equine athletes.”
Britton also performs traditional Chinese veterinary acupuncture, which she learned at the Chi Institute, and often uses that in the course of evaluation and treatment of horses in conjunction with clinical evaluations.
The most recent addition to the practice is Dr. Christine Machin, who joined as a sports medicine fellow and is staying on as an associate. At 12, Machin started doing ride alongs with her local vet who told her that if she wanted to be able to keep riding and practice veterinary medicine, she needed to specialize. “I just didn’t want to do anything else. I wanted to be with animals. It was the only thing I ever thought about doing.”
She enjoys the level of care she can bring to horses in their practice, and the opportunity to solve what are often complex problems contributing to horse unsoundness. “We have such amazing resources at our disposal, including the range of knowledge in the practice. It’s really rewarding.”
Top Quality Support
Kimberly Bodytko is one of their veterinary technicians. She learned to appreciate veterinary medicine while taking care of an injury-prone horse she had in her youth, and has come to love working with the variety of horses the practice sees and how they treat every horse with care.
Atlantic Equine Services is special because of the people involved, even more than their access to the best in diagnostic technology. “Everyone in this practice is amazing,” said Bodytko, who has been with AES for three years.
Bodytko, whom Maher describes as essential to the practice, is always ready to sing the praises of any of its vets. “Dr. Maher is so cool. I go into surgeries with him and it’s mesmerising to watch. He’s an artist with this stuff, from ultrasound scanning to surgery, the work he does is so beautiful and he can help horses perform in a way that’s like artwork.”
“Dr. Bartol is one of the coolest vets I’ve ever met,” Bodytko said. “She thinks outside the box. Her perspective is so unique and interesting, and she has such an incredible depth of knowledge.”
Bodytko admires Britton’s dedication to her work, explaining that she often drives hours from home every day to get to clients, and that when she arrives on the farm she’s bright and engaging. “She loves to teach. Any time I want to learn something and ask her, she gets right in there with me and shows me how to do it. She wants everyone to further their own careers, too.”
Beach, too, is a very talented teacher and practitioner. “She actually takes the time to show the client the leg anatomy on an ultrasound,” Bodytko explained. “I don’t think she realizes what a fantastic teacher she is. She wants her clients to feel that they know everything they can know and she helps them understand.”
Bodytko appreciates how their newest team member, Machin, approaches horses and clients. “She’s amazing at staying positive in the moment to help clients. She has a nonjudgmental way about her, walks into a situation and doesn’t judge people, horses, anything.”
It’s About the People
Each of the vets brings a particular brilliance to the practice. Maher’s surgical and diagnostic skills have earned him an international reputation, and his US-based clients will fly him to Europe or Canada to evaluate horses on a regular basis. He often consults with other veterinarians on complicated cases. Maher has served as the FEI vet in international dressage and show jumping competition and was the staff surgeon for the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2011, and is looking forward to serving as an FEI vet at the 2019 Pan American Games.
Beach loves specializing in lameness because it’s key to horse health and because she’s especially drawn to diagnostics. She appreciates having access to every tool available, but beyond that, realizes that it’s the mind of the diagnostician herself that carries the most importance. It takes both extraordinary depth of knowledge and keen instincts to figure out what exactly is bothering a horse. “Good quality diagnostics and good quality medicine, that’s the most important thing to me,” she said.
She also realized along the course of her career that dentistry is critical to sporthorse performance and that sometimes the problems horses experience originate in the mouth. While she focuses primarily on lameness, when she does dental work she brings the same skill for examination and diagnostics to the work.
“I wish people understood how important it is to have a sedated, thorough examination of the horse’s mouth. Sometimes that’s the answer to the horse’s problems.” The practice invested in intraoral cameras to perform thorough exams, along with other state of the art dental equipment.
Britton, Bartol, and Machin also approach educating humans with a positive, empathetic touch. “There’s nothing like observing the horses, getting to know them from the ground up,” Britton said. “We can learn so much from the horse by just observing them.”
Machin and Bartol both stress the importance of preventive medicine and care. “It may seem like a larger financial and time investment, but it keeps potential problems from becoming bigger and keeps the horses sounder and in work,” Machin stressed.
The team members are all horse people and riders themselves. Their understandings of competition and horses’ needs help them work with owners and trainers to come up with the best treatment and maintenance plans for every horse. “It’s always easier for me to do a job when I know what the goals and important competitions are so I can plan,” Maher said. “That’s when we can help the most.”
First in Science and Technology
Atlantic Equine Services stays ahead of the curve in research and technology. Maher and AES were the first to adopt several important therapies in the northeastern US, such as:
• Polyacrylamid gels, a breakthrough injectable treatment for osteoarthritis.
• Pro Stride injections, which Maher was among the first to use when they were experimental and which reduce pain associated with arthritis and deliver naturally-occurring anti-inflammatory proteins. Beyond IRAP, which counteracts inflammation by blocking the inflammatory protein interleukin-1 within joints, the Pro Stride injection employs the ACT Protein Separator to reprogram white blood cells to be anti-inflammatory and secrete IRAP. This therapy suppresses joint inflammation and regenerates cartilage in the early stages of osteoarthritis.
• Functional electrical stimulation (FES), a therapy that allows the veterinarians to treat muscle spasm and atrophy in a comfortable way that allows the horse to go right back into work in most cases.
• The Artemis Laser, the world’s most advanced laser therapy device for horses. Horses suffering from tendon or ligament injury, laminitis, bone bruising, inflammation, or pain can benefit from the rapid inflammatory mitigation and noninvasive regenerative therapy offered by the Artemis Laser.
AES is still the only private veterinary practice in the northeast to have several cutting edge tools and therapies, including:
• The needle scope, which allows for a standing endoscopy using a needle-sized scope rather than laying a horse down for surgery.
• The Curo Device, a new diagnostic device for hind suspensory desmitis diagnosis and muscle function evaluation.
• TENEX, a new technology for tendon and ligament injury that allows the breakdown and suction of deceased tissue, which speeds up the healing process.
Atlantic Equine Services has the best and the newest in veterinary technology, but what makes them special is the team of veterinarians and technicians who treat each horse as though it’s their own and put their extensive training, insight, and brilliance into diagnosis and treatment.
About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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