SUPPORTING THE LOCAL EQUESTRIAN INDUSTRY: behind the scenes with a vet from Wessex Equine
Wessex Equine vet Andy Richardson & groom Gemma help a foal that's coming round from an anaesthetic - her full story is below
On his rounds, equine vet Andy Richardson, who is a partner with the Wessex Equine Veterinary Practice, sometimes brings good news to yards, stud farms and stables - and sometimes he has to give them news that is not at all what they want to hear.
Marlboroughequestrian.news spent a day with Andy to see how Wessex Equine supports the area's equestrian community and the equestrian businesses that are a mainstay industry in Wiltshire's economy.
Our first stop on a bright May early morning was at Catridge Farm Stud, near Chippenham - where Andy gave three brood mares ultra sound scans and was able to tell stud owner David Powell the good news that all three pregnancies were going well. Mares are scanned at 14, 28 and 42 days and Andy travels with a neat mobile ultra sound scanning unit.
Staff at Catridge were full of their own good news. The previous day a horse raised at the stud had won the Chester Cup - albeit that Montaly had played up in the ring, and only just missed giving the trainer's wife a serious injury as she helped the jockey mount before the race. That victory and two more wins for Catridge horses at the Bath meeting, gave rise to some smiles: "Not a bad day at the office!"
David Powell has been breeding racehorses at Catridge for thirty years. He now has 28 mares and that size of operation means that Catridge appears quite frequently on Andy's daily diary of visits.
Wessex Equine was founded in April 2011 by brothers Oscar and Julian Wain and Andy, who had qualified at Bristol University in 2006. In case they had been over ambitious and there was not enough equine veterinary work for the three of them, Andy went off to a seasonal job at a New Zealand stud farm.
When he got back to Wiltshire in spring 2012, they were so busy he stayed with Wessex Equine. They now have six vets - with Tom Newton and Amy Hawthorn - and are currently looking to expand to seven: "We're all trained to the same level and have the same experience of horses."
"It comes down to giving the clients the right service and gaining their loyalty." Andy always like to try and accept the offer of a cup of tea or coffee if time allows, as it gives time to get to know clients - rather than just their horses.
Their catchment area runs from Bristol in the west to Hungerford and Lambourn in the east, and from Stroud and Cirencester south to the A303. Lambourn is a very special area as it has a major equine hospital and six equine veterinary practices. They work an equine version of health care in the community - as Andy explains:
"We go out to yards - horses don't come to us. Some vets have all singing and dancing veterinary hospitals with tens of millions of pounds of state of the art equipment. We believe it stresses young horses to take them out of their own environment unnecessarily. In addition, we like the flexibility to refer horses to the right specialist for a particular problem."
Some horses will need hospital treatment - and Wessex Equine know which specialist hospital owners can take their horses to if the need arises: "Owners will think nothing of putting a horse into a box and driving off to Newmarket to get it the best treatment."
They travel with a wide range of diagnostic equipment including wireless digital x-ray and ultrasound, meaning they can tackle the majority of problems at owners’ premises.
Next call was to the home of Barry and Sharon Hurley near Calne. He owns Seasons Holidays and has long had a passion for thoroughbreds and racing. In 2007 Seasons Holidays became the first ever commercial sponsor of Cheltenham's Queen Mother Champion Chase.
They are owner-breeders - who are increasingly few and far between in the racing world. They have sixteen horses of which six are broodmares - and they produce three or four foals a year: "They race everything they breed." They currently have the home-bred five year-old Clowance One with Roger Charlton.
Nine year-old mare Seaham Hall's February foal needed a small hernia seeing to. Owned by Seasons Holidays, Seaham Hall was trained by Nicky Henderson and won her first race - a two-mile National Hunt flat race at Ffos Las - in May 2012. She then suffered a broken bone that put her out of racing.
Her foal's hernia could have caused future problems and did not need invasive surgical treatment. So, in the middle of one of the paddocks, Andy Richardson anaesthetised her and used tight bands to bring the skin over the hernia together so the hernia could heal naturally. A quick procedure which left mother Seaham Hall entirely unmoved.
Then it was just a matter of standing around putting the world to rights while waiting for the anaesthetic to wear off. Carefully watched by Andy and groom Gemma, the foal was soon on her feet again and was immediately back suckling at her mother - being anaesthetised is thirsty work.
To date Wessex Equine have been based in an office at Oscar and Julian's parents' home near Broad Hinton. But within six months they plan to move to larger premises at Hilmarton - with a larger office for the four administrative assistants who 'keep the show on the road'.
Wessex Equine's work is divided roughly into three areas: one third is the thoroughbred breeding side. This is the main growth area and stud medicine is Andy Richardson and Tom Newton's specialty.
Another third is with good quality sports horses owned by eventers, show jumpers and riding clubs - often professionals who must have their horses health well looked after.
The final third is taken up with horse owners where money is tighter. This is challenging - sometimes it's a 'sticking plaster over a leaking wound' and sometimes it's doing £200 worth of emergency surgery in the field: "But it can be enjoyable and rewarding work." Andy believes Wessex Equine have "a good split" in the types of work they do.
Next call was to Lizzie Briant who looks after some of HM the Queen's Highland ponies to cast his eye of one of the mares. This was important work because next day she would be in the ring at Windsor Horse Show - before the critical eye of his owner.
Then it was back towards the office and Jane Allison's pre-training and breaking yard - near Swindon. Another two mares for Andy to scan, including a mare recently covered by Frankel. 2017 is Frankel's fifth breeding season and, as his offspring begin to prove their worth on racecourses, his stud fees have stayed at £125,000.
Frankel's owners, Juddmonte Farms, are understandably particular about the mares he covers. This mare had qualified for Frankel by winning a Group Two race in France and being placed in a Group 1 race - and Andy found her in very good shape.
He also had to 'prep' a mare who in a few days would be travelling to be covered by a stallion. Andy took an internal swab to make sure she was not carrying contagious equine metritis - a highly contagious venereal disease of horses brought on by specific bacteria. It can infect stallions and make mares infertile - the last outbreak in Britain was in 2012.
While at Manor Farm, Andy was asked to look at a mare who had torn a huge flap of skin off her head. He had stapled the skin back together and now had to take the staples out. He showed me a photo of the wound he had taken on his phone. It was not a pretty sight, but it had now healed really well.
Last call of the day - not counting any late, off-diary emergency calls - was to Gary Witheford's yard near Burbage. Known as the British 'horse whisperer', horses come to him if they are misbehaving or not performing as they have shown they can.
Andy gets asked to see any of the horses may have an unnoticed physical problem that is causing behavioural issues, rather than a mental problem. This visit included a Hungarian bred horse which he found to be very slightly lame in one leg - one on a score of one to ten.
He also assisted the equine dentist with some tricky extractions - mainly of 'wolf teeth'. These tiny teeth - a little like a child's first tooth in size - often remain and worry a horse and interfere with the bit.
The Wessex Equine way of working means that Andy drives about 40,000 miles a year. Apart from the state of Wiltshire's road (the reason he drives such a tank-like vehicle), his major grouse is the county's mobile 'phone coverage and its many blackspots: "If I was ever in government, the first thing I'd do was to get full and proper mobile coverage - at present it's crippling small businesses like ours."
The day before we met him, Andy was just finishing his routine work and going home to see his wife and their young children when he was called to an injured horse on the edge of Bristol: "I missed their bath time - again. If this was nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday it would be the best job in the world!"
But, he says, he only gets any number of midnight calls during the foaling season - and like new born foals, he does not think much of going out at night in some of the coldest months of the year.
Bath times aside, from all we saw on our day out on Andy Richardson's rounds - with his car full of gear and the office back-up - the equine industry in the area would sorely miss his expertise and Wessex Equine's vets careful attention to their horses' needs. On the evidence of our day on the front line, Wessex Equine's aim to be "Small enough to care, but big enough to cope" - has clearly been achieved.