July 5, 2019

Equine rotations at Tsuut'ina and Siksika Nations give vet med students a leg up on horse care skills

New UCalgary initiative builds strong relationships with Indigenous communities

Ollie, a handsome buckskin gelding, stands patiently under a bright blue sky as a veterinary student examines his hooves. Ollie’s owner, Marvin Dodginghorse, looks on.

"I let one of my granddaughters ride him. She placed on him the last rodeo,” says Dodginghorse, an experienced horseman who has been running an after-school riding program for youth at the Tsuut’ina Nation since 2006. “Two of my granddaughters, my two youngest ones, both qualified in barrel racing for the Indian National Finals Rodeo last year.”

Ollie, along with other horses at Tsuut’ina, are getting physical and dental examinations.  And some, like Ollie, are also being assessed for lameness problems. Their care is part of a new equine health rotation for fourth-year University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) students at the Tsuut’ina and the Siksika Nation, providing health services for 65 horses.

Ollie was a model patient for fourth-year veterinary students to work with — calm and friendly.

Ollie was a model patient for fourth-year veterinary students to work with — calm and friendly.

Collene Ferguson, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

In trying to determine the cause of Ollie’s lameness, students Brenna Sakatch and Erica Ward do a complete workup including X-rays, under the watchful eye of Dr. Mike Scott, DVM, an equine practitioner who is board-certified in equine surgery and sports medicine, and associate professor at UCVM.

 Students and horses benefit

“These horses are ideal for students to work on; almost without exception they’re well-trained and patient. Many are horses used for children’s riding programs or by individuals for rodeo competition or personal use,” says Scott. “There’s an excellent cross-section of typical equine general practice work — routine dental cases, more advanced dental issues, some interesting medical workups, and some very good lameness cases.”

Dr. Jean-Yin Tan, DVM, an equine clinical sciences instructor at UCVM who is board-certified in equine internal medicine, came up with the idea of a new two-week rotation in collaboration with local Indigenous communities. She organized the Tsuut’ina portion of the rotation with Julie Dodginghorse and her father, Marvin.

Marvin Dodginghorse, left, Jean-Yin Tan, and Julie Dodginghorse at a recent equine health rotation at the Tsuut'ina Nation.

Marvin Dodginghorse, left, Jean-Yin Tan, and Julie Dodginghorse at a recent equine health rotation.

Todd Korol, for the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

“This program gives our students experience in a range of equine medical care and interacting with community horse owners, so students learn both clinical and professional skills,” says Tan. “It’s a win-win initiative, as the cost of the services we provide are covered by UCVM for the education of our students, and there’s a need for quality veterinary care for the horses in Indigenous communities.”

Marvin Dodginghorse enjoys having his community involved in helping veterinary students learn under the guidance of UCVM veterinarians and technicians. “I'm really impressed with Jean-Yin’s knowledge. And I’ve been around horses my whole life, since I can remember. My grandfather, he used to buy, trade, and sell horses. I kind of followed in his footsteps.”

Scott is struck by the appreciation and kindness shown by all of the horse owners. “They’re patient and encouraging with the students, obviously understanding that we have the goal of teaching as well as caring for the horses, and they are happy to allow things to proceed at the 'student' pace.  Many owners stay for the whole day, watching what we do, asking thoughtful questions, encouraging the students, and telling funny stories.”

'Open wide!' UCVM student Jenna Brandon files a horse's teeth as Jean-Yin Tan oversees.

'Open wide!' UCVM student Jenna Brandon files a horse's teeth as Jean-Yin Tan oversees.

Todd Korol, for the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Building good relationships and doing good work

Amanda Kuzyk takes a quick break to grab an apple before starting her next patient’s dental exam. She had no horse experience before she started UCVM, “it was a steep learning curve,” and is excited about the intensive, full days honing her veterinary skills. “But it’s not just about the horses’ health, it’s also about building good relationships with people in the community.”

“In addition to the practical aspect, there is opportunity for growth and understanding through this type of interaction with Indigenous communities that has the potential to deeply affect individuals open to this type of learning,” adds Scott. “It is a good thing for all involved, an opportunity to do good work that can make a difference and represent the best of who we are and what our profession is about.”

As part of UCVM’s One Community, One Health Strategic Plan, the faculty is committed to working with, and learning from, Indigenous Canadians, and partnering with the greater UCalgary community to build a sustainable plan for Indigenization.

Jenna Brandon leads her next equine patient in for a dental exam.

Jenna Brandon leads her next equine patient in for a dental exam.

Todd Korol, for the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Marvin Dodginghorse checks medical records on Ollie with UCVM student Amanda Kuzyk.

Marvin Dodginghorse checks medical records on Ollie with UCVM student Amanda Kuzyk.

Todd Korol, for the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine