How to be Prepared for Farm Calls

10 steps toward more positive experiences during farm calls and emergencies

Have you ever waited for your horse’s veterinarian for what seemed like an eternity past the appointment time, your frustration building by the minute? Have you ever had trouble getting any vet out in an emergency, much less your own, or ever swallowed—hard—when you learned the cost for the services performed? Have you ever considered what can you do to avoid these scenarios or alleviate or even eliminate these negative feelings?

It might behoove you to put yourself in your practitioners’ shoes for a moment. Veterinarians don’t start each day planning how they can get under your skin. They want to give you and your horses the best service they possibly can. They’ve gone through years of specialized schooling and training to ensure they can do just that. And they’ve taken an oath to use their knowledge and skills for the benefit of society, to promote equine health and welfare, to relieve animal suffering, to protect public and environmental health, and to advance comparative medical knowledge.

So what’s your part in the process? We asked two mobile equine veterinarians — Danny Borders, DVM, of Borders Equine Clinic, in Middleton, Idaho, and Brittany First, DVM, of First Equine Veterinary Services, in Mobile, Alabama—how clients can prepare both themselves and their horses for veterinary visits. Read on to learn 10 ways you can help your veterinarian maximize time, cut costs, and ensure you get the service you want—and, perhaps, go the extra mile when you need it most.

1. Establish a relationship with your veterinarian—before you face an emergency.

“That relationship is so important, especially when it comes to emergency services,” says First, who shares her practice with her husband, Patrick First, DVM. “Some practices may not accept nonclient emergencies, or if they do, their fees may be higher than for an established patient.

“From the veterinarian’s viewpoint, it can be a safety issue,” she adds. “There have been instances where veterinarians have been called out for false calls and have been robbed for money or ­medications. Especially if a client is new to the area, just having a wellness exam done—not only for horses but for other livestock and pets—to establish that ­relationship helps both the vet and the client feel more familiar and at ease.”

2. Tell them what you need.

When you call for an appointment, tell your veterinarian (or the office staff) how many horses you’d like them to see and what services each horse needs.

“It’s very, very common to be told that we’re going to see a specific horse with a specific issue, and we allot a specific amount of time for that issue—how long it might take us to perform the service needed and whether that includes ­diagnostics—and then find that they need additional services or that a barnmate has a horse that needs something, as well,” says First. “Of course we want to address all this, but it can put us behind schedule and, especially in the equine world, emergencies also come up.”

So think about that long wait that so often irritates; it could be due to another horse owner saying, “just one more thing,” or it might be an emergency. While emergencies that delay your veterinarian are inevitable, do your part and call ahead to find out if you can add to the existing appointment; this lets him or her allocate more time, if possible, and stay on schedule.

“If we are running behind, we call or text the client and let them know our new ETA,” First says. “I always ask if this is okay or if we need to reschedule, because the client might need to be elsewhere at a certain time.”

3. Anticipate what your veterinarian might need.

If they’re breeding, they’ll need warm water so, if it’s winter, make sure the water is turned on. If they’re performing radiography or ultrasound, they’ll need a power source. If they’re doing a lameness examination, they’ll need an unobstructed place for the horse to move around while they’re observing.

“No environment, especially out on the farm, is going to be perfect, but certainly having access to power and a light source, especially if it’s an emergency or at the end of the day when natural sunlight is lacking, is imperative,” First says. “Some of our equipment can operate on batteries, but some can’t. Even an extension cord to the barn or providing a standing light source is helpful.”

4. Keep a running list of questions.

“It happens to me when I take my truck to the shop,” Borders says. “I’ll have two or three things that I thought of before, but if I didn’t write them down, I’ll probably forget them until I leave the shop. Then I have to make (and pay for) another trip. But if I’d kept a list, (the mechanic) could address the issue and save us both time.”

First says she encourages clients to write their questions down and take them directly to their veterinarians, rather than perusing websites where they might get false information.

Once your veterinarian sees your horse and makes a diagnosis, he or she might point you toward additional information. “I will sometimes refer owners to reputable websites or send them articles on certain topics,” says First. “And we frequently post relevant articles or information on our clinic’s Facebook page and create client handouts on specific topics.”

How to Be Prepared for Farm Calls

5. Teach your horse ground manners.

Be sure, if age-appropriate, that your horse can lead, stand still, accept touch, and place his feet. And be prepared to hold your horse while the vet examines him (so have a halter, lead, and twitch available).

“It may be the most broke horse in the world, but as a veterinarian, most of the time I’m going to ask something of that horse that he’d rather not do, even if it’s as simple as giving an injection,” Borders says. “So he needs to be under control.”

You know your horse and his temperament best, so if there’s something your veterinarian needs to be aware of, let him or her know. “Modern sedatives and anesthetics can allow us to work with issues if we know beforehand, but if I get blindsided by a behavioral issue, it can become a dangerous situation for everyone involved,” says Borders. “I don’t expect a yearling to have the same ground manners as a 5-year-old bridle horse, but the owner shouldn’t expect me to 1) train their horse, or 2) get something accomplished with that yearling that I could accomplish with the bridle horse.”

First adds, “We sometimes get the comment ‘They don’t kick,’ but all horses do. It’s just their option whether they choose to or not. I like to remind my owners that they’re the usual caretakers and feed-givers, so their horse associates them with rewards. But we’re trying to figure out what’s going on, which usually involves a series of pokes for … drawing blood or getting them sedated.

“Some horses are needle-shy and, when it comes to lameness exams, we’re trying to elicit pain because the horse can’t tell us where it hurts,” she adds. “So our relationship with the patient is going to be different than the owner’s and, thus, the horse might react differently.”

Also consider that a painful or uncomfortable horse might not act like himself.

6. Have horses caught and ready.

When the veterinarian arrives, have your horse haltered and in hand (or in cross-ties or in the stall), and make sure you’re dressed appropriately to assist (e.g., no flip-flops!). Get your horse clean enough so the veterinarian can see cuts, abrasions, swelling, loss of body condition, or any other visual signs.

“Because I’ve educated my clients, they’ve learned how important that is,” Borders says. “But particularly with new clients, it’s not unusual to walk into a pen where the horse hasn’t been caught and the owner doesn’t have a halter or lead rope in their hand. It’s a waste of time (translation: money).

“I don’t help people catch their horses, ever,” he adds. “I’m extremely blessed that I’ve only gotten significantly hurt a few times, but half of those times were helping someone catch a horse.

“And as far as cleaning, if a horse has an injury, just running a hose over it is enough so that when I get there, I can do a more detailed cleaning more quickly,” he says.

7. If you can’t be there, provide contact information.

The veterinarian might need to reach you with a question or to get approval for a procedure or treatment that might exceed what you’ve budgeted.

“A veterinarian needs to establish a vet-client-patient relationship (VCPR) to dispense any medications or pursue diagnostics or treatment, so I try to get all their contact information—phone, e-mail, and mailing address—so we have an open line of communication,” First says. “Then, if I have any questions or concerns about the patient that the owner might not have thought about, I can get in touch.”

Borders adds, “I don’t want to spend several hundred dollars on radiographs for a horse without running that past the owner.”

How to Be Prepared for Farm Calls

8. Have horses’ health records handy.

Particularly if you’re a new client, knowing a horse’s health and feeding history will help your veterinarian make the best decisions.

“It’s common for clients to have those records in their barn or in their trailer when they travel, but many don’t,” First says. “It’s good for us to know what a horse has been vaccinated for and when they’re potentially due, especially if they’ve moved in from a different geographical region that may face a different set of health threats. We’d also like to know if they’ve ever had an adverse reaction to a vaccination.”

Similarly, First encourages clients to keep records of each horse’s previous fecal egg count results and deworming treatment to help avoid issues with medication resistance in parasites.

“Feed and supplements are subjects that clients usually go to their nutraceutical company or their friends or their trainer with, but most vets would be happy to look at a feed bag or supplement container to check the nutritional analysis,” she adds.

Your veterinarian might be able to tell you whether you’re oversupplementing or if you need to add any important nutrients to your horse’s feed regimen.

9. Have payment ready unless you’ve made other arrangements.

Some veterinarians routinely bill their patients. Others expect payment on the spot. Know your vet’s policy.

“I expect payment at the time of service,” Borders says. “I do have a small percentage of clients, maybe 3%, who have an established credit record with me but, generally, to eliminate office work and ensure that I get paid, I don’t bill clients.”

Similarly, First requires payment at the time of service. “It’s just easier,” she says. “It’s just (me) and my husband, so we don’t really have time to be bill collectors. We certainly have expenses as far as inventory and lab costs that we have to pay for immediately out of pocket, but since we are exclusively ambulatory and have several vehicles, we put a lot of wear and tear on our trucks, as well as go through a lot of fuel, so payments cover those. On an average day we put 150-200 miles on each vehicle—that adds up quickly!

“For practices that have a clinic or haul-in facility, costs also include electricity, maintenance, and different types of insurance as well as stall shavings, hay and feed, and repairs for anything horses can break,” she continues. “And, your vet may have employees who are expecting their paychecks for working those long hours, as well.”

It’s also important to know what types of payment a practice accepts, especially if an emergency arises. Not everyone accepts checks or allows payment plans. Some accept CareCredit (health care financing), others don’t. Still others offer discounted packages with advance payment.

“We offer a wellness plan that includes routine services that every adult horse, no matter their age, needs for an entire year,” says First. “It includes vaccinations, a Coggins test, a sheath cleaning, an oral exam and dental float, a lameness screening, a physical exam, and a fecal. It comes in two visits, with the farm call included. And clients on the plan get 50% off one emergency call.

“The plan provides a 15% discount on the cost of those (routine) services individually, and the client can pay it all up front or (monthly). It gives clients a little insurance, especially from the emergency standpoint, and it also allows us to develop a relationship with the patient because we’re going to see him twice a year. It makes it affordable and allows owners to do what’s best for their horse. Even if your clinic doesn’t offer it now, they might consider implementing a plan like this if they get enough requests.”

10. Respect your veterinarian’s time.

While the veterinarian is examining your horse, silence cell phone alerts and resist the urge to text or take photos, particularly if you’re responsible for restraining the horse.

Also understand that veterinarians have families and personal lives outside of work. Keep after-hours calls to emergencies only.

“Most equine vets are accessible,” says First. “Our clients have our personal cell phone numbers, and we text back and forth. Most equine vets are on call 24/7 because for whatever reason, horses like to need us in the middle of the night.”

First says one of her biggest complaints is clients not respecting her time and calling or texting after hours for nonemergency situations such as dental exams and vaccines. “Even when clients text us thinking, ‘It’s only a text; they’ll see it later,’ it’s still a distraction and sometimes wakes us up at night,” she says. “For those things, e-mail works great or simply calling during business hours to schedule.”

On the other hand, she urges owners to not use portals such as e-mail or Facebook messenger for emergencies. “Please call, and most importantly, leave a message,” First says.

“It comes down to common courtesy and respect: There are some hours that you just don’t contact people unless it’s a true emergency,” she says. “And when it is an emergency, it’s always better to call when you initially think there’s a problem than to wait. Waiting can only put the horse in further jeopardy. Plus, when we see something early, treatment is often less expensive.”

And it’s during emergencies, when the adrenaline is pumping and your emotions are on overload, that you’ll be especially glad you’ve prepared in advance and established a good relationship with your veterinarian. If you’ve followed the advice offered here, your vet will be able to trust your judgment and provide that extra, above-and-beyond treatment that’s so appreciated during such stressful times.