Michelle MacDougall – Veterinarian – Harness Racing Update

by Victoria Howard

When children are asked what they want to be when they grow up, many say, “I want to be a vet.” But it is not easy to become a veterinarian because it takes 8 to 10 long years of study. After completing an initial four-year bachelor’s degree program, it takes an additional four years of veterinary school.

And becoming a vet doesn’t just mean working with cute, cuddly animals, as there are times when a vet may have to make the heartbreaking decision to pull an animal out of its misery in the last moments of its life.

It takes a willing person to be able to deal with the emotional and physical stress that comes with being a veterinarian. So why are these people doing it? They do this primarily to promote animal health and welfare.

In 1960 98% of vets were men, but today it is around 50/50 and in the future women will dominate this field.

Michelle MacDougall was one of those little girls who decided early on that she would one day become a vet.

“I was about 10 or 11 years old when I decided to become a vet. My family did not have horses, but when I was 4 I attended a day care center on a dairy farm and the neighbor was a retired standard breed horse trainer. That’s how I started to get involved with the Standardbreds, ”said MacDougall. “In fact, this particular farm is still working to continue retraining and placing retired Standardbreds, and I help with retraining and placement as often as possible.”

Born in Portland, ME, MacDougall began practicing equine medicine in 2009, juggling her time between making farm calls for fun and showing horses in southern Maine, and attending racetracks based in Scarborough Downs and at neighboring training centers.

Today MacDougall spends his summer working at Tioga Downs in New York and Pompano Park, Florida in the winter.

Recently, she made her dream come true and bought a farm located 16 km from Tioga.

Currently, MacDougall owns breeders, but cannot own racehorses on the tracks where she practices.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being a vet?

“When a stable makes me part of the ‘team’, and when the coach gives me the ‘nuts and bolts’ details of how they work. I can better identify possible areas of change and best help the horses, and when that happens and the horses start to perform more and more consistently, I know I have been successful in helping them. Seeing horses that previously wrestled get better and then stand in the winning circle is proof that I am helping to make a difference.

What is the most difficult thing?

“My job is not easy. I would say the hardest thing is identifying areas on the horse that could use assistance, then following a plan that fits the beliefs and values ​​of each trainer and owner. There is no one way to run a stable and being able to adapt to the many variations can be exhausting and frustrating.

“Every day I try to help educate on up-to-date methods of nutrition, supplementation, and breeding in general, while balancing physical constraints – build, age, temperament, etc. – the horses themselves, and the financial constraints of links with the most recent treatments, diagnoses and therapies available.

“There is no single recipe for success, so sometimes it’s very difficult to find the right combinations to be successful for my clients. When I take the time to understand what’s going on, come up with a treatment program or therapy plan, and the horse isn’t responding as expected, clients will move on to another vet. Losing customers that I work hard to help is probably the hardest part of the business. “

Do horses have feelings and emotions and do they understand humans?

“Absolutely! Just spend 10 minutes in the barn during mealtime and you’ll see a plethora of feelings and emotions. And, they sure understand us. When a problem does arise, it’s more often than not because the people don’t understand it.

“People might not know it, but I watch every race live on the two circuits I work on. There is no race to post that I don’t watch my clients’ horses and keep getting information to help them better.

“I also challenge myself every year to bring a currently racing standardbred to the National Show in New Jersey. I usually choose my unmounted horse in May / June from my father’s racehorses. I break them to get in the saddle and compete in August. I love to show how amazing the breed is by showcasing a newly trained racehorse in the saddle, currently racing, in such a prestigious event as the National Standardbred Horse Sale.

What is the future of harness racing?

“The future of harness racing is what we put into it. We need a constant influx of young people and newly interested people as drivers, trainers and owners.

“If we continue to come up with a good product and work together as an industry, I think we can support a viable business, but we have to stay united and rejuvenated.”

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About Catherine Sherrill

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