A good vet is like a good husband (or wife!) – they’re there for you 24/7, they listen to your panic-stricken outpourings with empathy and practical suggestions, they share in your disappointments and are thrilled by your successes, they treat your horse like a member of their own family and you have their personal number at the top of your speed-dial list. Actually a few husbands out there could probably learn from those points! All relationships take time to gel however: some are new and exciting, some are stuck in a bit of a rut and others are still at the ‘not quite sure if he/she’s The One’ stage. Relationships always need a bit of work and there are ways that you can keep your vet happy. If you become their favourite client then you’ll be sure that they’ll go that extra mile (or at least yard) for you and your beloved equine. If you’ve got a good one already then you need to be sure you keep them. Every practice has one or two clients that the vets fight over getting out of visiting (“sorry, you’ll have to go to Mrs Tweedybottom’s today mate – I’m too busy castrating Damian the Devil Horse/sticking hot needles in my eyes/emigrating to Outer Mongolia”). Don’t become that client!
Here is my slightly tongue-in-cheek Top 10 Ways To Become Your Vet’s Best Friend:
1. Tea. And if at all possible cake! Vets spend a lot of time wedged behind their steering wheels and driving is thirsty work. There are a lot of yards where I won’t take a cup of tea (previous bad experiences with dead spiders at the bottom of mugs, clients who go from holding a mucky poultice to chucking a tea-bag in a cup without at least sticking their hands under the yard tap inbetween, places where you just can’t bear to stand and listen to the owner rabbiting for another 10 minutes even when you’re gagging for a cup) but there are some places where I’ll deliberately visit around the time that I know the kettle goes on and the cake tin comes out. We rarely stop for lunch so after a mammoth session rasping teeth what better than a large refreshing cuppa and a slice of home-made chocolate cake? It might even make me a tiny bit more favourable towards your bill…
2. Toilets, especially if your vet is female. We drive around all day and drink lots of tea. ‘Nuff said.
3. Catching the horse before we arrive. Because inevitably we’re running late (all that tea and cake…) or Angel the Wonderhorse, who on a good day will put her own headcollar on and lead herself in, will choose the very moment of the vet’s arrival to decide that she doesn’t want to be caught again. Ever. I really ought to learn to keep a paperback in my back pocket to entertain me on those surprisingly frequent occasions that I find myself sitting atop a gate watching a red-faced owner chasing her horse round the field with a bucket of pony nuts and increasingly desperate pleas to ‘stop being so bloody stupid and just stand still’.
4. Tea. Just milk in mine please.
5. Gates. Especially of the electric variety. These are a new phenomenon to me. In my previous job in Yorkshire gates were rusty, bent, iron affairs, secured either with baler band or a length of equally rusty chain. Occasionally they were even hung on hinges and swung freely, but more often than not they had to be lifted or dragged. However down here people are either posher, aspire to be posher or are more worried about theft because the electric gate appears to be de rigeur. I can kind of see the point of limiting access to your property, but equally you have to be sure that those you intend to get in can actually get in! Every gate seems to have a slightly different system for access. I have a note in my diary of the keycode for some of my more regular clients, some make sure that the gate is opened in advance of my expected arrival time, others have an intercom and are ready and waiting when I press the buzzer. However these people seem to be the exception.
Let me describe to you a scenario I encountered just last week… I arrived at the gate, which was separated by a longish drive from the house and yard, bang on time for the appointment. I pressed the buzzer. Nothing. I waited a monent and pressed the buzzer again. Still nothing. I got back in the car and rang the client’s mobile – which went straight to answerphone. I got out and pressed the buzzer again. Still nothing. I then noticed a sign on the gate saying ‘to gain access ring 07974 xxxxxx’. I rang the number. A very helpful lady answered, but she could not open the gate as she used to live in the house but had sold it and moved out three years ago. I suggested that the current property owner should probably take the sign down. The helpful lady agreed, but didn’t see that there was much she could do in the present circumstances from her new house 200 miles away. I rang the buzzer again. Then I shouted. Still nothing happened. I was on the verge of writing a note, pinning it to the gate and driving off when I decided to give a blast on my car horn a try. Mercifully this brought the client into view and she pressed the button to remotely open the gate for me. I pulled up in front of her stables whereupon she proceeded to berate me for being 15 minutes late. I was not amused. This would never have happened with a lump of rusty iron and some baler band.
I also had a vet student let go of a gate as I was driving through it the other day and watched in horror in my mirror as in slow motion the gate swung shut, dragging the bolt across the paintwork of my new car. I can hardly blame the client for this though!
Lastly, if you have a true emergency, which I am driving to as fast as I am legally able and you have rung 3 times whilst I am en route to plead with me to get there more quickly, it would speed things up a little if you had the three sets of gates along your drive open and ready for me to drive straight through, rather than standing at the end of the drive wailing and watching as I get in and out of my car twice to open and close each gate. True story!
I HATE %£$**^”# GATES!
6. Tea, and if possible, cake.
7. Pay your bill! In the old days it was acceptable to take a year to recompense us for the drugs, fuel and sundries that we have already had to pay for before we set out to visit your horse. Nowadays we’re not so keen on being out of pocket for so long, essentially providing you with an interest-free loan. Taking two months to pay for a vaccination is a joke – if you don’t have the readies for scheduled essential visits you should think twice about the costs of horse-keeping. Large unforseen bills are more sympathetically looked upon, but not if you bury your head under your duvet. Speak to your practice – most don’t mind you paying a bit at a time so long as you keep in contact and the bill’s going down. If the total debt isn’t decreasing and your mobile is never answered and emails bounce back we’re inclined to get a little jittery about the chances of ever seeing our money.
8. Nice horses. To be honest these aren’t the be-all and end-all. I’d much prefer a nice owner and a horrid horse to the other way round. At least I don’t take it personally when the horse hates me. I do generally prefer to see some evidence of basic manners having been instilled (talking about the horse here, but equally…) and some appreciation from the owner that it’s not a great idea to hospitalise the vet. If I say that I’d rather the horse was sedated for something it’s usually on the basis of years of ‘interesting’ experiences. I’ve been knocked out 3 or 4 times in the course of my career and frankly, I’d rather look after my few remaining brain cells.
I generally find the best behaved horses to be those in professional yards – racehorses, hunters, serious show-jumpers and eventers. They’re used to having things done with them and they’re handled on a day to day basis by people who have a working, rather than emotional, relationship with them. The worst (sorry!) are generally 16yo cobs on DIY livery owned by middle-aged ladies who rode as children and have got back into it later in life. As a rule they barge and push as the owner stands by and watches. Any attempt to use a twitch is likely to see you thrown off the yard as some sort of horse-abuser.
9. It may sound obvious, but I generally expect a headcollar as standard. I once turned up to geld a colt and the owner didn’t own one. How she expected me to administer IV drugs and chop its testicles off with no-one holding onto it I don’t know. I had to send her out to buy one whilst I waited and drank tea.
10. Tea. Did I mention tea?