Your Guide to Equine Health Care

Behind the Scenes With Blood Donor Horses

Learn how these “heroes” of the equine veterinary industry step up to save other horses’ lives.

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The RVC’s equine blood donors, including (from left) Miller, Sonny, and Freddy, “have no idea they’re heroes,” says Dr. Josh Slater. | Photo: Courtesy Dr. Josh Slater
His handlers say Miller appears to love his job. He’s a real people-horse, so once a month when he comes in from his spacious pasture to have his blood drawn, he seems like a happy guy.

The 1,700-pound Shire-cross gelding gets lots of attention and, of course, treats on “blood day.” It generally takes about an hour for his humans to collect the 10 liters (2.5 gallons) of blood from his jugular vein, and that means a full hour of one-on-one people time for Miller.

Miller is one of four “blood horses” living at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) Equine Hospital, in Hertfordshire, U.K.

Along with Darcy, Sonny, and Freddy, he’s an equine blood donor, providing whole blood and plasma to critically ill horses in the hospital. Their job saves lives, and in exchange the RVC veterinarians ensure the blood horses lead relaxing, high-quality lives with priority attention given to their welfare.

“These horses live in a social group and enjoy a good, natural lifestyle,” said Josh Slater, BVSc, BVM&S, PhD, Dipl. ECEIM, MRCVS, former president of the British Equine Veterinary Association and professor of equine clinical studies at the

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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