Assistance With An Equine Vet: Jesslyn Bryk-Lucy
Understanding horses can not always be an easy task, it usually takes an expert to follow the journey of the four-legged champions.
In conversation with equine vet, Jesslyn Bryk-Lucy, DVM Centenary University, Hackettstown, New Jersey, USA, La Polo finds out answers of some prevailing questions from the equine industry.
BONDING WITH THE EQUINE
I have been riding since I was 5 years old. It seems horses were always in my blood. I rode competitively as a junior and played polo as an undergraduate at Cornell University. During undergraduate studies, I became a professional, riding, teaching, and training. I did this for five years before realizing that I could not achieve the goals I really wanted as a trainer. I knew, however, that horses had to be a part of my life and career. I turned to veterinary medicine, and it has worked out well for me. My time riding and training has given me a deeper understanding of equine behavior and our sport to better serve the needs of the horse and communicate with the owners/riders/trainers/managers.
HORSES FIGHTING OBESITY
It is true that there are many horses that are overweight. Unfortunately, this body type is the one that wins in the show ring, especially in western and hunter disciplines. These horses are prone to laminitis, arthritis, and soft tissue injuries because of the extra weight. I do not see this changing until the horses that are thinner pin better in the show ring. I am not saying horses should be skinny; a BCS of 5 or 5.5 are healthy, but are often 6-7 for the show ring. This will continue until governing organizations stop it.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THEY RETIRE OR ARE INJURED?
We don’t have a lot of horses that are “abandoned.” Most of the horses I deal with are rehomed or retired or given an easier job that they can still do despite some injuries or age. Unfortunately, some owners choose to send their horses to auction, where there is the potential that they end up on a slaughter truck bound for Mexico or Canada. Several years ago, equine slaughter was banned in the US. I am against this. Once the slaughterhouses in the US were closed, we did have more horses going to inappropriate homes where they were starved, not given veterinary care, or misused. This happened because there was nowhere for them to go. When the slaughterhouses were open in the US, the government (likely FSIS) had control and regulation over the humane handling of these horses. Now that they are shipped outside the US, they have to ride on a trailer for 20 hours at a time to be shipped across the country, north or south, to still be slaughtered outside of our control. I am hopeful Canada and Mexico are humane in their handling. If we had slaughterhouses in the US, the trailer ride could be shorter for these horses and less stressful. It is not fair for these horses to be so stressed for so long only to be slaughtered. It is a horrible end. I am fully in favor of euthanizing the horses that may end up on these slaughter trucks; it is a much more humane option. I work with some rescues that save horses for slaughter. It is true that some of them have no more quality of life, but it is not fair to them to ship them all over for the same end. The AAEP is also in favor of reopening slaughterhouses in the US for horses for these reasons.
HORSE ILLNESS AND THE KEY TO COMMUNICATE
Horses do speak to humans. Their behavior and many, many small cues speak volumes. Understanding this language comes from years and years of simply being around them and being observant. There are obvious cues like a tail swish, ear position, and lifting a leg, but just as much information comes from their eyes, lips, and muscle tension in the body. I also think an individual has to have an innate feel for understanding horse and animal behavior and expressions. I am proud to say I am “fluent’ in equine. I can walk in a barn to treat a horse and know how it is going to go 90% of the time simply by reading the animal. They read our body language as well, and they are probably even more fluent than I am!
ARE THE HORSES SAFE?
One of the most publicized viruses to affect the horse is Equine Herpesvirus. This can cause a deadly neurologic disease that can kill horses within 24 hours. We do not have a vaccine against this neurologic strain, but vaccinating for the respiratory form of the virus can decrease nasal shedding and prevent some transmission. Horse owners need to make sure their horse is vaccinated every six months and practice better biosecurity.
HORSE INDUSTRY AND ITS IMPROVEMENT
This is a broad question. Overall, I think the horse industry is doing well. We can always work to improve the quality of life for the horse. These opportunities will present themselves along the way as they did with racing fractures and some reproductive diseases and hopefully the equine industry will respond appropriately as they have in the past.
WHAT IF THE HORSE BREAKS A LEG?
This depends greatly on the bone that is broken, the severity of the break, the personality of the horse, and the finances of the owners. In general, if a bone is shattered (compound fracture), the likelihood of returning to the previous level of work is virtually zero and many of these horses are euthanized. Euthanasia is in the best interest of the horse here because they can develop further devastating complications from standing on three legs and the recovery is very stressful for the horse and they may end up with chronic pain. If a horse fractures a bone and it is not displaced (hairline fracture), in certain cases, the horse may fully recover after appropriate rest or surgery and return to full or lighter work. I have had several of these. It is very difficult to avoid fractures. We do what we can, like individual turnout or controlled exercise, but horses will be horses and fractures sometimes happen.
YOUR EQUESTRIAN PROGRAMS
I am at Centenary University in Hackettstown, NJ (USA). Our university is nationally recognized for its Equine Studies programs and equestrian teams. At Centenary, I am the director of Animal Health, the University’s pre-vet program. I am also involved in the Equine Department at Centenary. These are programs with an emphasis on hands-on skills to make students better all-around horsemen. We offer classes to work on riding, training, handling, safety, business, health, therapeutic riding, showing, grooming, and many more areas to expose students to as much as possible to prepare them for the field. We also encourage internships to get students real life experience (that may lead to jobs) while still in school. Our program also boasts faculty who are judges, stewards, vets, and trainers who bring back lessons from the real world into the classroom.
Centenary also offers therapeutic riding programs for veterans, as well as children and adults with disabilities. Through my work with this program, I was recently named Veterinarian of the Year for Region II by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH, Intl), a nonprofit for therapeutic riding and other equine-assisted services. In addition to my work at Centenary, I am the owner of Leg Up Equine Veterinary Services.
YOUNGER GENERATION INTO HORSE INDUSTRY
The horse business is hard; you need to pay your dues and work tirelessly to achieve your goals. Many students now want instant gratification and the best jobs straight out of school. You need to work your way up, and if you’re lazy, you won’t succeed. The equine industry is old fashioned, and the only way to climb the ladder is to prove yourself over and over. Also, communication and networking are key. Make good connections, do the right thing all the time, and you will be respected. Your reputation goes a long way in this industry.
IS HORSE INDUSTRY DECLINING? I do not feel that the horse industry is in decline. My practice is as busy as ever and we have a growing incoming class each year. I love our industry, and I’m glad so many others do, too.
HORSES- A WAY OF LIFE
Horses are a way of life, not a career. I embrace the equine lifestyle and it is a part of who I am. I love to ride. Although I don’t have much time for it anymore, I know I will get back into it. My daughter also began riding at age 2, and I love to watch her ride. Now, my job is to help the horse and owner continue to do what they love to do in the ring. That part of the job is very rewarding. I tried to ride professionally, but I wasn’t that good and did want some freedom to travel and have a small life outside of horses. Vet med has given me the best of both worlds.