Horse Veterinarian Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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Is becoming a horse, or equine, veterinarian worth the education and licensing requirements? See real job duties and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a horse veterinarian is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Horse Veterinarian

A career as a horse veterinarian, also known as an equine veterinarian, involves treating injuries and diseases in horses in addition to preventive care. Consider some of the positive and negative aspects of this career before choosing your line of work.

PROS of a Career as a Horse Veterinarian
Job growth as fast as the national average (jobs expected to increase 12% by 2022*)
Equine medicine is now nearly as advanced as human medicine*
High Earnings (median salary was $88,000 in 2011**)
Multiple specialties to choose from*

CONS of a Career as a Horse Veterinarian
Veterinary school is difficult to get into (there are only 28 accredited programs*)
Emotional stress involved in working with and euthanizing sick horses*
Spend a lot of time driving to farms and ranches*
May work long hours, including nights, weekends and on-call for emergencies*
Danger involved with working around large animals*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a horse veterinarian, you'll provide health care to horses much the same way physicians provide health care services to people. While you may have an office, you'll spend a lot of your time traveling to farms to see your patients. As such, you may have a veterinary vehicle stocked with medications and equipment that can be used to treat, vaccinate or diagnose horses, like ultrasound and radiographic devices, stethoscopes and surgical tools. Your duties might include dressing wounds, setting fractures, administering medications and performing surgeries, such as Cesarean sections. Some of the horses you work with will be scared or in pain, and you might have to protect yourself from kicks, scratches or even bites. You'll also give horse owners advice about breeding, feeding and shelter issues.

Horse veterinarians usually own their own private practices or work in group practices. You may choose to work in general equine medicine, providing a variety of services to all types of horses, or you could choose to specialize in a discipline or breed of equine veterinary medicine, such as racehorses, surgery or internal medicine. Horse veterinarians often work long hours, and you may need to be available nights, weekends and on-call for emergencies. You may find this job to be emotionally taxing, since you'll be working with sick animals, some of which you will have to euthanize. While working outdoors and in farms can be pleasant, you may also have to work in poor weather conditions and perform surgeries in unsanitary conditions.

Career Prospects and Salary

According to the BLS, only about six percent of private practice veterinarians work just with horses. Although the employment of veterinarians in general was predicted to increase 12% from 2012-2022, the growth for farm animal veterinarians is expected be somewhat slower. However, job prospects are still excellent, since most veterinarians focus on companion animal care and there is little competition for equine care jobs. The best job prospects will be in large animal practices, public health services and government agencies.

The AVMA reports that the median salary for private practice veterinarians, including all specialties, was $100,000 in 2011. Equine veterinarians, however, were among the lowest-earning specialists, reporting a median salary of $88,000.

What Are the Requirements?

Education

All veterinarians must graduate from an accredited veterinary school. Admission to veterinary school is highly competitive, and the BLS reports that more than half of the applicants in 2010 were denied admission. Most students admitted into a veterinary program have already earned a bachelor's degree, though you might also gain admission without a degree if you've completed the required prerequisites, such as anatomy, biology and zoology. You'll also have to take a standardized competency exam, such as the Veterinary College Admissions Test (VCAT).

After gaining admission, you'll spend four years in veterinary school to earn your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. You'll complete in-class and laboratory instruction in topics like pharmacology, anesthesiology, infectious diseases, parasitology, neurobiology and imaging. You'll also complete clinical rotations, particularly during your final year of study, in areas of veterinary medicine, like cardiology, radiology and equine medicine.

Licensure

All states require licensing of veterinarians. Licensing requirements vary somewhat, but all include the DVM degree and a passing score on the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. Most states also require that you pass a jurisprudence exam covering its state regulations. Most states require that licensed veterinarians complete continuing education to make sure that they keep up on recent medical advances.

Job Postings from Real Employers

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) states that there are more than nine million horses in the U.S., and equine veterinarians are an important part of their care. Employers often look for licensed veterinarians with experience in equine medicine or a veterinary specialty . Read the following excerpts from real job postings in March 2012 to see what employers were seeking:

  • A veterinary service in Florida advertised for a full-time veterinarian to provide horse care with a focus on examinations for lameness, diagnostics, imaging and before-purchase examinations. You'd need to have your DVM, a Florida license and two years of experience in equine medicine as well as being board certified with diplomate status.
  • A full-service animal hospital in Ontario was looking for a new or recent DVM graduate to help in the expansion of its equine services over the next several years. Some on-call hours were required and the salary was negotiable.
  • A mixed-practice animal hospital in North Carolina advertised for a full-time DVM with an interest in equine reproduction as well as strong communication teamwork skills. The employers also required 1-7 years experience.
  • A group practice in Pennsylvania was seeking a small-animal veterinarian associate with a DVM with 1-7 years of experience, though it might also accommodate those interested in equine medicine/surgery.

How to Beat the Competition

Complete Postgraduate Training

It is not mandatory to gain additional training after veterinary school, though you may gain further expertise in your field and increase your earning potential by completing a residency in equine medicine. Residency programs last 3-4 years and allow you to gain supervised, hands-on experience in clinical settings. Your clinical rotations may focus on topics like equine anesthesia, surgery, internal medicine and radiology. Alternatively, you may choose to complete a 1-year internship before entering the workforce.

Get Board Certified

The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners offers certification in the equine medicine specialty to qualified applicants who pass a certification exam. To be eligible to sit for the exam, you must have a DVM degree from an accredited college, hold a veterinary license and have six years of clinical practice experience. The experience requirement can be substituted with completion of an approved residency program. You must maintain certification every five years by completing 90 hours of continuing education.

Other Career Paths

If a career in equine medicine isn't right for you, consider specializing in another breed or discipline of veterinary medicine. You could, for example, focus your practice on companion animal care, which the AVMA reports is the chosen specialty of most veterinarians. If you still want to work with large animals, you might shift your focus to food animals like cattle and other food animals. Some veterinarians specialize in food safety, which involves inspecting livestock and enforcing regulations to ensure animal products are safe for consumption. You might also become a research veterinarian, who performs tests on animals in laboratories.

Veterinary Assistant

You may not want to become a veterinarian at all. If this is the case, consider a career in veterinary assistance. These professionals work alongside veterinarians of various specialties, helping with treatments, surgeries, laboratory testing and other animal care tasks. While the risk of work-related injuries is still high in this career, you will most likely work indoors in a clinical setting rather than having to travel to farms. You do not need postsecondary education for this career, and most training is done on the job. The BLS reports that jobs in this field were projected to increase by 14% from 2010-2020. As of May 2011, these assistant earned a median salary of $22,830.

Farrier

If you desire to work specifically with horses but want a career that requires less education, consider becoming a farrier. In this career, you'd prepare horseshoes, make custom shoes, trim horse hooves and nail shoes onto the hooves. Experienced farriers often work with veterinarians to solve severe foot problems. To prepare for this career, you may complete an apprenticeship, though there are no strict requirements. Some veterinary schools also offer shoeing programs. According to Salary.com, these professionals earned an average salary of about $20,000 as of April 2012.

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