Horse show vet might see 30 horses a day

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PHOENIX (AP) — Away from the cheering at the horse arenas, the glittery show clothes of competitors and the judging of champions inside the ring, Dr. Greg Byrne watched an Arabian trot in a circle.

RA Saint Patrick was expected to show in a class called "hunter pleasure" in a few days at the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, but the 10-year-old horse seemed agitated.

"Before we do anything, we're going to re-shoe," Byrne said to Patrick's owner, Millie Chipman. "That should solve 90 percent of the problem."

Solving problems such as these had been keeping Byrne plenty busy over the past week.

As the veterinarian of the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, he tends to up to 30 horses a day, addressing soreness, allergies, bellyaches, dehydration and sometimes more serious injuries and illnesses.

He has been working in that official capacity on and off since 2005, but he has been serving Valley horse owners and trainers at the show since 1997.

The show, which has 2,400 horses and is billed as the largest in the world, is building steam for this weekend, when champions in dozens of classes, including halter, hunter pleasure, working cow horse, side saddle and reining, will be chosen.

During the show, Byrne arrives at WestWorld of Scottsdale at 6 a.m. and often doesn't leave until 11 p.m.

The United States Equestrian Federation and the Arabian Horse Association require an on-site vet at WestWorld when the first horse arrives to when the last horse leaves.

The 11-day show often turns into a 17-day gig for Byrne, the two other vets and staff with Scottsdale-based Equine Veterinary Services.

Inside Barn 11, Byrne planned to give Patrick a diagnostic nerve-block shot to numb his front right leg. The numbness lasts about an hour and allows Byrne to watch the horse trot to determine which leg is bothering the animal. If he trots better with a leg that's somewhat numb, that's the leg bothering the horse. USEF rules require that if a horse needs a diagnostic nerve block, it must be administered at least 24 hours before a horse show.

Horses such as Patrick travel for days, sometimes from below-freezing temperatures, standing up all the way to the Scottsdale horse show.

"He's a long way from home," owner Chipman said.

It took three days to drive Patrick to Scottsdale from Newberg, Ore.

Patrick's trainer, Mary Jane Brown, said she was confident Byrne would let her know if it was better for Patrick to scratch his showing.

"He's really good with the horses about protecting them," Brown said. "We have to take care of our horses first. Most of us take the high road, and if we have to scratch, we scratch."

Patrick won't scratch.

After the diagnostic nerve block and an X-ray, Byrne recommended that the horse's shoes be balanced and reset to alleviate the leg soreness.

Byrne treats multinational champions for things like foot abscesses with antibiotics and Epsom salts. He gives horses that arrive dehydrated intravenous fluids, treats soreness with acupuncture and chiropractic care, and gives nebulizers to horses with allergies.

"It's a lot like urgent care. You have the snots, the coughs — the oldest horse so far has been 21 years old and the youngest 14 to 16 months. And then, there's things that happen. Lumps, bumps and hitting their head," Byrne said.

Valley trainer Laurie Martin said Byrne sells himself short.

"He almost died," she said, gesturing to half-Arabian IM Zee One. "This horse is a national Top 10 horse. We were all heartbroken."

The day before the horse show began, IM Zee One was pawing at the ground, and Martin could tell from riding him that he wasn't well.

Byrne examined him and told Martin to get the horse to Chaparral Veterinary Medical Clinic immediately.

The horse was suffering from colic after eating hay he was allergic to. The horse already had an operation for colic 21/2 years before, and things were dicey. The horse received massive amount of fluids that helped pass a mass in his intestine and was able to return to his stable two days later.

"Greg didn't mess around," Martin said. "Most vets would have patted us on the head and said, 'Let's see how this plays out.' " IM Zee One won't compete in Western pleasure classes this year, but he's alive to compete again. "You call Greg, and he comes running. I owe him this horse's life."

The tan 4-by-4 truck that Byrne drives from barn to barn is equipped with antibiotics, antihistamines, sedatives and anti-inflammatories. He carries a portable digital X-ray machine, an endoscope, and needles and vials for blood work.

Byrne, who grew up in Prescott and trained in veterinary medicine at Colorado State University, said working the show suits his desire to be outside and work with horses and horse people. He's licensed in 10 states and works horse shows all over the country and in Canada.

He likes working the Scottsdale show because it draws people from all over the world.

He has had to euthanize injured horses at shows, but those are rare occurrences.

"People spend a lot of money coming here, they spend a lot of money to be here, and while we can't control what happens in the show ring, we can get them in the best shape to compete," Byrne said.

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