Plaidcast 318: Dr. Eleanor Green, Dr. Jim Heird & Dr. Adriana Wilford by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services

Plaidcast Episode 318 Dr. Eleanor Green Dr. Jim Heird Dr. Adriana Wilford

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Piper and Traci Brooks speak with Dr. Eleanor Green and Dr. Jim Heird about a revolutionary equine veterinary education program and Dr. Adriana Wilford about equine dentistry. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!

GUESTS AND LINKS EPISODE 318:

  • Host: Piper Klemm, Publisher of The Plaid Horse and Traci Brooks
  • Guest: Dr. Eleanor Green is the co-director of the Lincoln Memorial University Equine Veterinary Education Program and Chair of the Advisory Council.  Dr. Green holds the Carl B. King deanship of Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and served as president of three national organizations: American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, American Association of Veterinary Clinicians.
  • Guest: Dr. Jim Heird is the co-director of the Lincoln Memorial University Equine Veterinary Education Program. Dr. Heird is the former coordinator of the Texas A&M Equine Initiative and the former director of the Equine Sciences Program at Colorado State University. Dr. Heird is also the past President of the American Quarter Horse Association.
  • Guest: Dr. Adriana Wilford grew up in Southern Maine and developed a love for horses at a young age. Dr. Wilford earned her BS in Animal Science from The University of Vermont and then went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Wilford graduated at the top of her class in 2019 and was the recipient of the Charles F. Reid Sports Medicine and Imaging Award, as well as the American College of Veterinary Surgeons Large Animal Surgery Prize. Upon graduation, Dr. Wilford completed a one year rotating internship at B.W. Furlong and Associates in New Jersey, where she developed a love for internal medicine and a keen interest in dentistry. Dr. Wilford is currently an Associate Veterinarian at Dunbarton Equine in Newtown, Connecticut.
  • Title Sponsor: Taylor, Harris Insurance Services (THIS) was founded in 1987 to provide specialized insurance for all types of equine risk. THIS places their policies with the highest rated and most secure carriers, meticulously selected for reliability and prompt claims settlement. THIS is proud of their worldwide reputation for responsive and courteous service, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss your equine insurance needs and provide you with a quote.
  • Photo Credit: Copper Arrow Photography
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  • Sponsors: Purina Animal Nutrition, America CryoLAURACEA, BoneKare, Alexis Kletjian Jewelry, Show Strides Book Series, Online Equestrian College CoursesWith Purpose: The Balmoral Standard, and American Equestrian School

This transcript was generated automatically. Its accuracy may vary.

Piper Klemm [00:00:33] This is The Plaidcast. I’m Piper Klemm, publisher of The Plaid Horse magazine. And coming up on today’s show, we are going to talk about more vet school options because we need more equine vets in this country. So if anyone is interested in that, we highly encourage you to find your path and we hope this episode helps you with that. I am joined by Traci Brooks of Balmoral Farm, and this episode is brought to you by Taylor Harris Insurance Services. Welcome back to the plaidcast, Traci. 

Traci Brooks [00:01:05] Thanks, Piper. Happy to be here. 

Piper Klemm [00:01:08] I saw Carleton more recently than you at the PCHA convention and clinic and and you were at the first week of Thermal this past weekend. 

Traci Brooks [00:01:18] Yes. Yes. All of that was happening right after the holidays. Right into it. I heard great things about the convention. I heard it was amazing. 

Piper Klemm [00:01:28] It was it was really cool. They had a number of great clinicians, including Jack Towell and Carleton and Laura Kraut. And it was really an educational symposium. We had a bunch of colleges there meeting with people. And then we saw the Foxfield riding team. I think there were like about 20 of them riding without saddles and bridles, doing these patterns, threading the needle, jumping jumps. One of them jumped up to like meter 20. One of them jumped standing on a horse’s back without a saddle or bridle. It was it was extremely impressive. 

Traci Brooks [00:02:06] They’re amazing. And they’ve been doing that for so long and have performed everywhere and I wish they would perform more these days. It’s so cool for everyone to see that. 

Piper Klemm [00:02:16] Yeah. And I mean, even just because they they got on at the barns and like road down to the ring, you know, without, without anything and you know, and sometimes the horses are following each other and then sometimes are not depending on the patterns and stuff. I mean the discipline is truly incredible to watch. And then they said a lot of the those kids show those horses and do other things with the horses. There was just there were such variety. There were there were warmbloods and thoroughbreds and quarterhorses and ponies and Welsh ponies. And it was such a it was such a great group. And those kids are so solid. 

Traci Brooks [00:02:57] Yeah, Fox Field has been known for that for so long and they do the whole wire thing back, back in the day. I feel like all the horses were gray. Now it’s it’s more of a variety of horses, ponies, everything, isn’t it? 

Piper Klemm [00:03:10] Yeah, I think there were only two grays in there, most of them. A lot of chestnuts and a lot of bays this time. Yeah, And they do the color guard with the flags on, I mean, it’s. It’s. It’s a whole thing. And, um, you know, a few of them. A few of them popped off too, here and there. And they just, you know, hop right back on and figure it out. And, you know, the first day there was one horse that didn’t want to play. And, you know, I feel like I learned just as much watching watching them all handle that as I did as I did in some of the clinics, because it was really cool how they took a situation that was devolving a little bit and put it right back together. And and they all have a carrot in their belt loop, which is really cute. 

Traci Brooks [00:04:01] It’s so nice and I feel like it’s great for people to see that it doesn’t always go perfectly and it looks easy when they do it well. But it’s actually so hard and it’s hard to get all those riders and all those horses in sync. So it’s nice to see that it’s not always perfect and these horses need to get acclimated and go different places. And like I said, they used to go I feel like a lot more places. And now probably an outing is is less normal for them. So just the atmosphere and the new place, I’m sure it’s a lot to deal with. So I’m sure it’s fun to see that process. 

Piper Klemm [00:04:38] Absolutely. And and to have goals that are not like a show oriented or winning oriented. I mean, I think that is some missing in today’s world. And, you know, the amount of work that that goes into rehearsing that and perfecting that, um. You know, and being part of the team and part of that group, I, I think is something that we’ve like misplaced a little bit at horse shows today. 

Traci Brooks [00:05:05] I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s so great. I wish more people would do things like that. And even if it wasn’t like the drill team, just any sort of any sort of different horsemanship fun thing where you’re with your horse and you’re with other people who share your passion. It doesn’t always have to be at the horse show. 

Piper Klemm [00:05:24] Absolutely. And, you know, I think we’ve lost a lot of our like almost barn camaraderie, like at the barn, because we’re all so busy and we come at different times. And as I state a lot on this podcast, I am a hypocrite on this statement as well. But I think that that community we’re missing, we’re trying so hard to optimize so many things that we. That we miss out on kind of that that humanity side. 

Traci Brooks [00:05:51] I think that’s so true. And even when people come to the horse show, they used to hang out more with their barn family and hang out all day at the show. And now I feel like people come and they they know everything’s online. They know what time they’re going to show so they can really get it orchestrated down to the minute. So they come and they do what they need to do. And, you know, as far as their own ride and they ride and and maybe hang out a little bit, but it’s not it’s not how it used to be, where everyone was there all day and it was hurry up and wait. You can cheer for your barn mates. You can still do that. But I feel like a lot of people just have other stuff going on. 

Piper Klemm [00:06:29] Absolutely so. And then it was it was a really exciting weekend, too, because I feel like it was the first time that Carleton was really out and about since the book came out. And people are getting their book signed. And it was really fun, I think. I don’t know. I think he had fun. 

Traci Brooks [00:06:48] He definitely had fun. Yeah, good. Well as long as you had fun that’s all that matters. 

Traci Brooks [00:06:55] No, he had fun. And he doesn’t you know, he doesn’t often say that because he’s so critical. He’ll say, well, I could have done this better. You know, he usually says everyone else is great, but he’s really hard on himself. But he thought everything was so well done. He loved the event. He loved how different it was. He loved that people were really engaged. People did come up to him and tell him they were enjoying the book and the audible. So that made him feel good. I think he’s we both are. I think we’re both shocked that people are actually liking it, because I think whenever you do something like that, you put something out there and you’re like, Oh, I wish I would have done something differently, or are people going to like it? Or This information is stuff that we felt like when we were writing it. We felt like it was very basic, but we thought that that was a good place to start and that it’s basic for us and it’s what we do. But not everyone knows our protocols and our routine. 

Piper Klemm [00:07:51] You do every day. You’ve been doing the same things every day for so many years. It’s it’s very, I would say, more second nature than basic. 

Traci Brooks [00:07:59] Yes. Yes. So I was like, is this going to be interesting? So it’s been refreshing to have people come to us and say, I’m listening to Audible while I’m doing my chores and now I’m going to work something else into my protocol with my horse or the way I think about things, or it made me feel better. A lot of trainers are saying it made me feel better to reinforce what I’ve been doing, which I think is is also awesome. And we say throughout the book an audible. There’s no one way. And Carleton even said that after this symposium, he said, Jack Towell said something one way, and I said it in a different way. But we were able to work together because our goal was the same. And he said, I think it was great for people to to see that, that there’s there’s not just one way. 

Piper Klemm [00:08:51] Absolutely. And everyone wants there to be an answer or a cure all. And there isn’t. And it’s finding that everything that’s right for every student and every horse. And it’s about us as students taking as much responsibility as we can to to better ourselves in in every way that we can and learn from the best in the sport. I just loved the convention and the clinic weekend and really trying to turn, you know, the award ceremony into something that’s very educational, you know, and watching olympic gold medalist Laura Kraut really work with with so many people and watching all the clinicians like tailor things to every horse, every clinic we saw, every clinician made slightly different exercises. You know, if the exercise plan wasn’t quite right. For where a horse was, you know, in maturity or greenness or, you know, how they responded to the previous exercise. And really the goal is to come out, have better horses, walk out of the ring, then walked into the ring. And that that’s such an individualized process. And we’re all trying to make things scale and do mass things and get the numbers and the stats and all the stuff. But like at the end of the day, learning is about one horse and one rider and relationships and putting things together. And I think in our increasingly technical number of followers, number of likes, number of whatever society, real relationships with your horse, with your people, with your students, with your trainer is mean more than ever. 

Traci Brooks [00:10:33] It’s so true. And just keeping that open mind that what works one day might not work the next day or with one horse might not work on the next horse. And I think also seeing things not work is really helpful because it sounds great. You know, people talk about things or write about something in a book, but when you see the Fox Field drill team, you know, have a bobble and just go right back to it. To me, that’s that’s a huge take away. And in the clinic, something might not go well. And we’ve had it in the clinics that we’ve done. Something starts to unravel a little bit. And I think the most educational things are when things don’t go well and watching how people handle that, how the horses handle that, how you break it down into pieces to rebuild those to me are the great takeaways. 

Piper Klemm [00:11:24] We’re going to take a quick break here and be back with our guests. . 

Piper Klemm [00:13:31] Dr. Jim Heird, Ph.D., is the co-director of the Lincoln Memorial University Equine Veterinary Education Program. Dr. Heird is a former coordinator of the Texas A&M Equine Initiative and the former director of the Equine Sciences Program at Colorado State University. Dr. Heird is also the past president of the American Quarter Horse Association. Dr. Eleanor Green, DVM, ACVIM, ABVP, is the co-director of the Lincoln Memorial University Equine Veterinary Education Program and chair of the Advisory Council. Dr. Green holds a Carl B. King deanship at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and served as president of three National organizations, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners and American Association of Veterinary Clinicians. Welcome to the plaidcast, Jim and Eleanor. 

Dr. Jim Heird [00:14:27] Thank you. We’re very excited about doing this this morning. 

Piper Klemm [00:14:31] Eleanor, can you tell us a little bit about the new equine equestrian program at Lincoln Memorial University? 

Dr. Eleanor Green [00:14:37] Yes, I can. Let me tell you a little bit about the history of this. Dr. Jim Heird and I have both been immersed in the equine industry for our entire working and personal lives. So we have a deep understanding of what will serve the horse best. And in addition, we have a lifetime of experience in what horse owners, equine veterinarians, the equine veterinary profession and the horse industry need and want. And there are a lot of challenges right now in equine veterinary medicine and the equine industry about getting health care for the horses and about training students and have them graduate ready to go. So there was a memorable day when Dr. Heird and I were traveling through Lexington and he said, Wouldn’t it be great if we had an equine only veterinary college right here in Lexington, Kentucky? And imagine the kind of students that we could graduate. Of course, Centre College couldn’t meet accreditation guidelines that the idea was wonderful. And so we began talking about options that really would fit accreditation standards for veterinary colleges today. And what we came up with was an equine veterinary education program within an existing college. 

Piper Klemm [00:15:50] Tell us about Lincoln Memorial University. 

Dr. Eleanor Green [00:15:52] We chose Lincoln Memorial University for this program because it’s a very innovative college university to work with. And and so we realized the challenges that traditional veterinary colleges have when they implement a very specialized program within a large land grant type university for really just a small number of equine focused students. And last fall, we were talking to Mark Cushing, who’s the CEO of Animal Policy Group and works very closely with LMU, in fact, help them get their accreditation. And he said, you know, you ought to talk to them about it. They’re innovative, they’re flexible, and they might be a good place to start. So we did and we talked to their CEO, Pete Debusk. We talked to their dean, Dr. Stacy Anderson, and we found that they had a large interest in this program and we were able to launch it with them. What makes them the ideal place. Again, they’re private, so they don’t have to get a lot of approval all the way through a bureaucratic system. And again, they’re flexible and innovative and they also have a really, really good veterinary program. And they are used to using a distributed model. Which part of this program has some distributive functions. So and they have a faculty that is very excited about implementing this program. You know, we were visiting, Dr. Heird and I were visiting with the faculty at a reception that we had in Lexington, and we were talking to the faculty about this program, and one of them said, Yeah, all the faculty who don’t like change have already left. So again, you have a unique set of faculty who really love to push the envelope and do new things. 

Traci Brooks [00:17:47] Two questions. First of all, what’s a distributive model? For us laymen. 

Dr. Eleanor Green [00:17:52] Okay, a distributive model. In the classic veterinary colleges since time began, they had a veterinary teaching hospital where the students got essentially all of their clinical training, and then they started adding some little externship to where they would spend a week or two or maybe even a little bit more out with practices to learn the practical side of things and see how it’s done in practice. The distributive model has gone a step farther and virtually all of their clinical education is provided in practices. They do not have teaching hospitals at all. So what that does is decrease the cost because the teaching hospitals are relatively expensive and and gives the students all of their clinical training with different practices that are in the throughout the country. 

Traci Brooks [00:18:46] Wow, so you had to create all of these relationships with practices as you as you sort of built this whole thing? And and how long did that take? How long did it take from inception to actually starting it and building those relationships and getting the program up and running? 

Dr. Jim Heird [00:19:04] Well, the interesting thing about this program is we we have an unbelievable advisory committee, which maybe we will have time to go through. But I have yet to call a single person- veterinarian, farm manager, industry leader, that doesn’t say, wow, this is what veterinary medicine, equine veterinary medicine has needed for a long, long time. And so the program has sold itself as we talk about what makes this program unique. It has really sold itself to the industry, to veterinary medicine, to practices. And in farms I have farms right now, they’re saying, do we only get one? Now, if you’re going to have kids that know about horses that are bright and want to work hard, they say we’ll take more than one every summer. 

Dr. Eleanor Green [00:19:54] So I think I’ll dive in here and talk about why people think this is so important. Currently, equine veterinary medicine is facing numerous challenges. In fact, some describe it as an equine veterinary profession in crisis. In response, the American Association of Equine Practitioners recently created a commission on equine veterinary sustainability to address these issues. What are some of those issues? Many areas of the country are facing shortages in equine veterinarians, and shortages really cannot be replenished with the rate in which equine veterinary graduates are leaving colleges today. In fact, only 1.3% of veterinary graduates nationally enter equine practice directly with another four and a half percent that go in equine industry internships. All right, that sounds low, but still, it’s feeding the equine veterinary profession. But within five years, 50% of these veterinarians leave equine practice or even veterinary medicine altogether. And there are a lot of reasons that we cite for this. One is burnout and the salaries and new equine graduates are really known for getting lower starting salaries. And part of that is because, as you can imagine, people aren’t going to let a new graduate touch a very valuable horse until they get some experience under their belt. And these are the types of issues that this program is directly going to solve or at least contribute to solutions to. And that’s what makes it very exciting. 

Traci Brooks [00:21:31] I was just going to say what a great model and I am. I would think that other other colleges and universities would be wanting to adopt this. And I was going to also ask you, how did you go about forming your advisory committee and who’s actually active on that? 

Dr. Jim Heird [00:21:48] Well, the advisory committee, to be honest, is all I put the advisory committees together that I know the people and I know that they all get along in a group setting. And so we’ve used, you know, we’ve got 50 some years each in this industry and Eleanor in veterinary medicine, me in the industry. And I just picked up the phone and said, ‘We need your help’. And every single person has said, ‘count me in’. Some of the people that are on this committee and I don’t have them in alphabetical order, but Chris Cox, a four time winner of Road to the Horse, has his own TV show for 20 something years. Eddie Kane the general manager of Calumet Farm, Rich Decker, who basically started WinStar farm after Preston Wood sold to them from Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, Debbie Spike-Pierce and Bill Rood from Hagyards Dr. Jeff Pumphrey and Dr. Rhonda Rathgeber, D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Fame racehorse trainer Dr. Ed Murray, who runs a huge vet clinic in Alabama. Of course, Dr. Green and Doctor Andy Clark, who at one time was CEO of Hagyard’s. Mjr. James Clement who’s land resource manager for King Ranch, Brad Jackman, who just stepped down as CEO and owner of Pioneer Equine in California, and David Foley, AAEP Vice president is on it. Eric Hamelback CEO NHBPA. The interesting person that we added is probably one of the premiere back surgeons in the world, Dr. Pat Johnson from UCLA. But you can see that it’s an unbelievable group. They all are vocal and know how to express a thought and they know the industry and they know veterinary medicine. And we think that’s going to be a real help to us. 

Dr. Eleanor Green [00:24:25] You know, another thing that got this group excited was the basic concept. And I think if we if we say, is there one thing you’d like to share about this program that’s different from other programs is that most of the time in veterinary medicine, what’ll happen is that they’ll have a group of veterinary students and then they’ll have opportunities for students within an existing program to concentrate on equine. We’re backing it up. We are recruiting horse people, young Horsewomen and horse men who have a passion for this industry, who have experience in the industry. They’re going to come off of farms and ranches and had a rodeo and pony club and whatever it is they’ve done in the industry, they know horses already. So what we’re doing is getting experienced young horsemen and horse women who want to be veterinarians, not taking veterinary students and then trying to make equine veterinarians ahead of them. The interesting piece of that is that we have as part of the application process, they have to do a video showing this horse experience and they have to have at least one reference that talks about how much experience they have in the industry. So the industry experience is going to be critical to their admission into the program. Yeah. And in the past, a lot of really good students have not been able to get into veterinary colleges. And so what another unique feature of this program is that we will accept students into undergraduate program and then they are automatically admitted to veterinary college as long as their grades are decent and they’re good citizens and they complete the requirements. And so what will happen is, is that they don’t have to worry so much about getting in. And a lot of the a lot of young people have have not been able to make it before now. They have to be have the grades and the ability and aptitude to fulfill and complete a rigorous veterinary curriculum. We know that. But there are still a lot of very good young people that didn’t get in who really had the capability of being great equine veterinarians. 

Dr. Jim Heird [00:26:47] Another thing that makes this program really unique, we talked about the debt load that graduating veterinarians have. Now, this is a rather than being a traditional eight or nine year program, this is a six and a half year program from the time they enter as an undergraduate in prevet at LMU. So they graduate from the vet school. That alone is going to save those young people a tremendous amount of money. 

Dr. Eleanor Green [00:27:13] So think about that. They pay less tuition because the entire program is shorter, but they start earning earlier as well. So the economic impact of a shortened curriculum is going to be powerful. 

Dr. Jim Heird [00:27:28] We think the really unique thing about this program and you’ve kind of hinted at it about, you know, who are the people that we’ve talked to? We have added six internships or hands on experiences. The first one starts the summer before they start their undergraduate program, so they’re going to go work for a farm or ranch. Very well known one, probably farm or ranch and handle horses. When we look at some of the issues in equine veterinary medicine, we want young people who really know how to handle and be safe around horses and protect the horses, too. And then as they start into Vet school, they will begin to do summer internships or hands on opportunities with vet practices and veterinarians around the country. 

Dr. Eleanor Green [00:28:24] You know, what’s really good about those internships is that they’re paid. So that, again, will contribute to paying off student debt, which is another issue in the profession today. And imagine the experience they’ll get as they are immersed in the activities of farms and ranches and veterinary clinics. The other feature is these students are going to come in as a cohort, and so they’re going to have peer to peer learning about their experiences that they have gained in these different internships and and otherwise their backgrounds themselves. So imagine a student from out of rodeo with a student at a pony club and imagine them sharing their knowledge of the industry from their past, as well as the experience they picked up during their internships. So we think they’re going to enrich each other as well. 

Traci Brooks [00:29:19] This is so amazing. I have to imagine when people hear about this, everyone wants to do it or everyone’s interested. How many students do you take? 

Dr. Jim Heird [00:29:32] We’re we’re going to be somewhere between. I don’t know what we’ll have this year. Let me back up and answer that, because we’re you know, it’s new. We’re we we wish that we’d had another year, but the program so exciting. We went ahead. I think we’ll have 20 to 25 perhaps this first year. We probably will limit it to 30 a year. That’s about what the demand is out there in equine veterinary medicine, we think. And so we just are excited about getting these students in. I can’t wait to see the applications. We’re going to start looking at those in the spring, and I can’t wait to see the applications and then talk to these young people about where they want to do their internships and all of the things associated with it. 

Dr. Eleanor Green [00:30:20] You know, it’s one of the reasons we appreciate you and appreciate the opportunity to be on this podcast. We’re trying with a new program to get the word out so that we won’t miss young people so that they’ll understand the opportunity that this program affords them. And so we’re hoping that a lot of people will recruit for us out in the industry. Some of these young people who really want to be equine veterinarians. And then the other thing we’re really excited about is imagine the confidence these students are going to have. They all come in with experience. They learn from each other. They have these enriched learning activities. Imagine the level of confidence that they’re going to have on graduation time. And think about how many appealing job offers they’re going to receive. I truly believe we both believe that people are going to line up at the door to hire these graduates. And that’s with already an on site interview. Many of them will have already spent the summer with these students. And so they’ll get to know each other and have these extended job interviews per say, if you want to think of it that way. 

Traci Brooks [00:31:31] You’re making me want to come to school. 

Dr. Eleanor Green [00:31:33] Well, I will start over myself. 

Dr. Jim Heird [00:31:35] Yeah, we both said we wish we had another career left in our lives, wewould start on this. 

Dr. Eleanor Green [00:31:42] You know, the other thing that I really I can’t help but think into the future, but imagine the long term impact on equine veterinary medicine and the horse industry that’s served by equine veterinarians like this. I think they’re going to be tremendous contributors in a very positive way. They’re going to shape the future of the profession and the industry, and I can’t wait to see that as well. 

Dr. Jim Heird [00:32:07] I tell people all the time that I feel very blessed for the career that I’ve had in the horse industry. But I really think of all the programs that I’ve started and worked with. I think this one could have the biggest impact for the industry and for equine veterinary medicine of any of the programs with which I’ve worked. 

Piper Klemm [00:32:30] Where can people learn more?

Dr. Jim Heird [00:32:31]  They can go to the LMU website Lincoln Memorial University. Go to the then go to the Vet School’s website and then you’ll see the equine veterinary education program. There is a connection to it on that website. The applications are there basically everything you need. If that doesn’t work, they can contact Eleanor or I directly and and go from there. 

Piper Klemm [00:32:57] Well, Dr. Heird, Dr. Green, thank you so much for joining us on the plaidcast. 

Dr. Eleanor Green [00:33:00] Well, thank you so much for having us. 

Piper Klemm [00:34:58] Dr. Adriana Wilford grew up in southern Maine and developed a love for horses at a young age. Dr. Wilford earned her B.S. and Animal Science from the University of Vermont and then went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Wilford graduated at the top of her class in 2019 and was a recipient of the Charles F. Reid Sports Medicine and Imaging Award, as well as the American College of Veterinary Surgeons Large Animal Surgery Prize. Upon graduation, Dr. Wilford completed a one year rotating internship at BW Furlong and Associates in New Jersey for internal medicine and a keen interest in dentistry. Dr. Wilford is currently an associate veterinarian at Dunbarton Equine in Newtown, Connecticut. Welcome to the plaidcast, Dr. Wilford. 

Dr. Adriana Wilford [00:35:39] Thanks. Thanks for having me. 

Piper Klemm [00:35:42] So to get started, can you talk a little bit about why horses need dentists and what you regularly do? 

Dr. Adriana Wilford [00:35:50] Yeah, sure. And so I’m a veterinarian with a small practice in Connecticut and I’m an associate veterinarian, so I do a little bit of everything at the practice. But I was, you know, brought on with the expectation that I would take on the dental load with our clients. So I do a lot of dentistry and I definitely have a significant interest in that and always wanting to learn more and really do quite enjoy it. I love this sort of instant gratification part of it. And as for the importance in dentistry, I think honestly, I could argue that dentistry is the most important part of equine health. If I’m being honest and you know, horses are what we call hypsodont, that’s the sort of tooth structure they have, meaning as a lot of horse people out there know, they are sort of, you know, always have that same amount of tooth in their mouth and it just constantly erupts over time. So they have what we call a reserve crown below the surface of the gum line that constantly erupts. And then there’s the part of the tooth above the gum line. And that is what we see when we look in the mouth And the types of animals that have this sort of teeth structure are the horse or the animals that feed on abrasive substances like horses do, and, you know, things like grass or hay that we feed them. And horses are also hind gut fermenters, right? So that material then gets brought into the hind gut, small intestine, colon, and whatnot to then be fermented. So this is really what horses are meant to do. Horses are meant to eat. That is literally what their bodies are designed for. And because of that, that’s why I feel like you can really argue that it is the most important part of medicine and just, you know, it’s the same in a lot of other species. You can compare it to humans where oral health really has a significant impact in overall health and. So if you have an issue in the mouth of a horse that can have problems downstream, whether it’s in the GI tract or, you know, it can also have performance issues, so that can be inter-oral pain from ulcers, things like that. It can be pain in the TMJ because of imbalances in the mouth. So really, issues in the mouth can therefore affect all sorts of parts of the body. And so I think that that is why it really is so important. 

Piper Klemm [00:38:40] Yeah. And so many of these other issues like, you know, stomach, colic, all of these things are so related to to eating patterns. 

Dr. Adriana Wilford [00:38:52] Absolutely. 

Piper Klemm [00:38:55] So tell us a little bit about what is involved in in an oral examination and kind of that the average tooth floating and, you know, how how frequently you’re doing this and you know, and what you’re looking for? 

Dr. Adriana Wilford [00:39:13] Absolutely. So everybody is a little bit different in one the equipment they use and two and sort of how they perform their exams. And that’s also going to be significantly different between a lay floater and a veterinarian who performs dentistry. And as for me, I you know, I always perform an oral examination before I float. That’s not the case for everybody. But I think that that is the most important part of our sort of coin term dentistry. And so I always do sedated exam. So before I even sedate the horse, I’m always listening to the heart and make sure there’s not going to be an issue with the sedation. They get sedated, they have their mouth flushed out. We then go ahead. I always look at the horse and I sort of I don’t always announce that I’m doing this to the owner or anything like that. I’m usually doing it as I’m doing other things. But, you know, I look at the horse’s face for any asymmetries, any swellings, anything like that that we might pick up on. And then I go and I look at the horse’s incisor. So when you lift up their lips, the first teeth that you see, they’re six on the top, six on the bottom, and then you’re four canines in most horses. A lot of mares don’t have canines, but I examine those one for any sort of pathology that we might see there. So especially in older horses, we see with increased prevalence of disease called EOTRH in those horses and that affects the incisors. So one I’m looking for that too. I’m looking for do they happen over a bite or an underbite things that are going to affect the back of the mouth in addition to the front and really anything else blunting chipping obviously horses, that crib we see a lot of chipping and blunting of those incisors sometimes they might have had them extracted in the past. So then you’ll know, oh, I need to pad my speculum or do something different in that regard. So that sort of the pre speculum part of my examination. Then once we have all that, we place the speculum on, open the horse’s mouth and I take a feel of the mouth first, get an idea of how sharp it is. I’m in terms of the animal points that they form and then we go ahead and we place the horse’s head up on a stand. Some people will use they’ll hang them. I’m sure most of the horse people out there have seen sort of both things. Some people don’t even use either of those. They just make their poor technician hold them. But it’s really just sort of preference for the veterinarian or the person floating . I personally like a head stand, so that’s what we utilize. And then in terms of the actual Intraoral examination piece, everybody has their own way of doing that. And so at previous practices I’ve been out with utilized mirrors, which is what a lot of people use. I’m lucky enough the practice that I’m at, we actually have an intra oral scope and so that is what we call like a rigid endoscope. It maybe a foot and a half long with a camera on the end of it. And so that actually hooks right into either an iPhone or an iPod or whatnot to record the video. And so I go through tooth by tooth and each arcade, and I note what I’m seeing in that video. And if there is any pathology present, what I’m seeing there and that way, one, it allows the owner to see actually into the mouth over my shoulder, which is really nice for them. They can actually see what we’re looking at and what we’re doing. And two it allows me to have a really good way for documenting. So if there is some abnormal pathology, I can actually take a picture of it to include it in the record or if I’m there, you know, 6 to 12 months later. And I’m wondering, oh, gee, was this there last time? I didn’t note it in my chart. I can go back and look at the video and see was that there or not or how it is changed. So that is sort of the basis of my full examination. And then at that point we go ahead and we float the horse accordingly based on what we’re seeing. 

Traci Brooks [00:43:45] I love that you’re utilizing all of this technology because it seems like up until pretty recently, a horse dental exam was was pretty old school as far as just looking in the mouth. And so I love that that’s that’s catching up. So I’m guessing that with the actual floating can you walk us through that? Is it with power tools? I know there are lots of different schools of thought on the power tools. Can you talk a little bit about that? 

Dr. Adriana Wilford [00:44:13] Yeah, absolutely. So there are still veterinarians out there that float with hand floats and then there are many that use power tools as well. And then you, of course, have lay floaters that are usually utilizing hand floats as well. And and the point that I like to stress is that in the right hands, really, you can do a very good job with both and in the wrong hands, you can do a very bad job with both. So there isn’t really. I think that a lot of times our power tools get a bad rap. I power float. I think one. Personally, for me, I feel like I do a better job because it is less stress on my body and therefore I can do a better job for the horse. And I was trained to utilize it appropriately. And there are things that you have to take into consideration when you use power floats versus hand floats, but also vice versa. So with power float, the main concern that you usually hear are the concern over overfloating, taking too much of the tooth off. But you can also over float with a hand float. And so I think that’s really important for people to know. And so the max we can take off of a tooth is three millimeters. And that really becomes most of most concern when we are addressing imbalances in the mouth. Basically, when we have a tall tooth that we need to basically work to take down. So you just have to be aware of how much you are floating off and that we are not causing issues. And so I prefer that the power float and the other considerations with that is overheating. There are systems that have like water cooling associated with them. Mine specifically does not, but you can easily combat that by utilizing cold water. So I am routinely dipping the head on my float into a cold bucket of water and then making sure that I turn off the motor in between arcades and then not spending too much time on one tooth. Because if you spend too much time on one tooth one, you could over float that tooth, but two you can actually heat the tooth up too much where it can then damage the whole. So it is important to consider that. But in somebody who knows how to utilize those tools, they’re very effective and can do a really good job. The other reason that I like power floating is because I think there is always this this nervousness behind them. Oh, it’s going to cut my horse’s mouth. And so whenever an owner has that concern, I always do this thing where I turn my float on and I actually put it on my gloved hand and I show them that with it on my gloved hand while the motor is running, it’s not even going to cut my glove. Whereas if you take a hand float and I run that across my glove, it’s going to slice it right open. So I actually find there’s more incidence of tissue trauma possible with a hand float than there is with a power float. So I think that’s really important for people to know. And then the other thing is that obviously power floating requires a speculum. And I am somebody who is very much a proponent of using a speculum because that means that you are, in theory, having done an oral exam versus there are people that will go out and just throw the float in the horse’s mouth and then we don’t know what’s going on and they could have fractured teeth that need to be addressed and other pathology in there. So again, I don’t think that there is a right or wrong technique, and I think that there can be benefits in some over the other. There are certainly horses that truly cannot handle the noise of the float, even sedated. And so those are horses that I say, you know, maybe we do have something that will hand float because it’s just something you don’t do, but it’s certainly not an issue if it’s being utilized in an appropriate manner. And again, I think we both really have the ability to have really good features and then maybe not so good features if they’re not in there in the right hands. If that makes sense. 

Traci Brooks [00:48:45] Yes, that makes total sense. It seems like with with any tool, you can get yourself into trouble, right? And how many how often do you make recommendations? When you look in a horse’s mouth, you say to the person, like, what kind of bit do you use? Your horse has a low palate or your horse has a wide mouth or small mouth. I’m always interested in those kinds of things. And I think it’s it’s fun to to sort of figure out what horse likes, which type of bit, how involved you get with that? 

Dr. Adriana Wilford [00:49:17] Yeah, I so I would actually say that that’s not something that I reference much at all. And I say that because the bit doesn’t actually interfere with the teeth, right? It sits in a place where horses do not have teeth in the mouth. But that being said, I think that sort of highlights the importance of talking about dentition and how it can affect performance, because I do think that there are a lot of things that we see in the mouth that do result in performance issues that are not necessarily bit related, but that we may think are related to the bit because it manifests in fussiness in the bridle. And so things like that can be from one very sharp enamel points. So horses, the way that their mouth is situated, their their mandible sits inside of their maxilla. So basically think of it, they’re the lower part of their deposits inside the upper part. And because horses chew in an elliptical fashion that causes them to develop, sharp enamel points on the outside of their upper teeth and on the inside of their lower teeth. And if those points get significant enough, it can result in ulceration of the mucosa on the cheeks. So I cannot tell you the number of horses that I get in their mouth and it looks like they have like tiger claw marks down the insides of their teeth or sorry, down the insides of their cheeks. And so those horses, they may actually be really fussy on the bridle, not because of a bidding related issue, but because when they’re working and asked to change their head carriage and whatnot, they can just feel the points of those teeth digging into the ulcers on their cheeks. Another thing that we’ll find is horses that have imbalance in their mouth. So basically the upper arcade, the teeth in the Upper Arcade should sit on top of the teeth in the lower arcade, and it should be even from front to back. But a lot of times what will happen is they’ll develop a big, what we call like ramps on the back of their back molar or hooks. And because of the elliptical fashion in which they chew, it impedes them and that can cause TMJ pain. And same thing with if they have tall teeth throughout their mouth for various other reasons. And so they’re not having a smooth grinding surface that cause that impeding, which then stresses the TMJ. And then when they’re asked to carry themself in a frame and they’re stressing different parts of their body that there’s pressure on that and having the bridle on their face. And so that is uncomfortable for them. So I think a lot of the performance issues that we see are not necessarily related to the bit and and are really are potentially related to the issues in the back of the mouth. 

Piper Klemm [00:52:20] So tell us a little bit more about kind of why you would would choose a veterinarian. I know a lot of people don’t have as many options and in different areas of the country. But, you know, is something that you can have if you don’t have that option, can you have your veterinarian come out at the same at the same time as your equine dentist? Or how can people kind of manage their horses care that the best they can? Ideally, obviously they have someone that does both like you. But but you know in the less served areas of the country. 

Dr. Adriana Wilford [00:52:53] Yeah, absolutely. I mean I think that’s very reasonable. And for a lot of people it’s a financial issue too, right? So some people just find that they can’t afford to have their veterinarian do their, you know, their routine floating for them. That being said, I think the importance of having your veterinarian do it is one knowing that you’re going to have an oral examination performed and that we are going to identify pathology because a lot of and I’m not saying all because that is not that’s not the case, but there are a lot of floaters out there that do not perform oral exams, largely because a lot of them don’t use speculums. And so being able to identify that, pathology then allows us to prevent issues from occurring down the road. And that is my my biggest thing with the oral examination and having your vet look in your horse’s mouth. Because we can prevent problems before they start. It is probably the most important piece of preventative medicine in a way in that regard. And so, you know, we do have many, many people in our practice that use lay floaters or use somebody else for their dentistry. And usually what I try to insinuate is that it’s important to at least once a year have your veterinarian come out, sedate the horse, put a speculum on it, and just look in the mouth and make sure everything looks okay because a lay floater can’t always address certain things within the mouth. And so you may actually end up having to have your veterinarian or veterinarian out in the future, even if you have somebody else float your horse’s teeth. Because for instance, if your horse has a fracture and needs an extraction, that’s something that requires sedation, which is going to require your veterinarian. And so. That can sort of save you a step in a way in doing that. And there are there are issues in the mouth that sometimes require veterinary attention. So I’ve had actually a number of horses that were not initially floated by me that were new to me in the last year that I got in there. And they had massive ulcerations in their mouth from whatever reasons, unbeknownst to me, but probably things like foreign bodies and whatnot in the mouth. And those were things that those horses required medication because of that. And somebody who’s not a veterinarian is not going to be able to address that issue. So I think that that is the biggest the biggest piece there. And in terms of the importance of having your veterinarian look in your horse’s mouth, and I would stress that the best way to do it is probably just to have your veterinarian come out at some point in time, sedate the horse, perform the oral exam. It doesn’t necessarily have to be at the same time as the floaters there, though sometimes that is what ends up happening because sometimes the horse does require sedation and lay floaters cannot provide sedation legally in most states. And so sometimes veterinarians are called out to sedate for these foaters. 

Piper Klemm [00:56:19] Well, Dr. Wilford, thank you so much for joining us on the plaidcast. 

Dr. Adriana Wilford [00:56:23] Yeah, you’re very welcome. Thanks for having me.  

Piper Klemm [00:57:40] To learn more about anything we’ve discussed on today’s show, visit the plaidhorse.com. You can find show notes at theplaidhorse.com/Listen. Follow the Plaid Horse on all the social medias. You can subscribe to the print edition of the Plaid Horse magazine at theplaidhorse.com/subscribe. Please write and review the plaidcast anywhere you listen to it. And if you enjoy this episode please share it with your friends. I will see you at the ring! 

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