Track Veterinarian

Veterinarian bandaging leg of a horse
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Track veterinarians inspect racehorses to verify that they are fit for competition.

Duties

Track veterinarians are licensed equine practitioners tasked with ensuring that all racehorses at a track are healthy and sound for competition. They are employed by the racetrack association and are not available for personal hire by trainers seeking veterinary care for their animals.

Track veterinarians observe horses during morning workouts, inspect entries in the paddock area before each race, and closely monitor the starting gate area as horses are loaded.

They remain on call during live racing to attend to any injuries, emergencies, or late scratches in the paddock or gate area. They also notify the racing stewards and racing secretary of any horses that are not in proper condition for competition by placing them on the “Vet’s List.” 

Track vets also oversee the collection and testing of blood and urine samples used for random pre-race and post-race drug analysis. They also observe horses after each race for signs of lameness or exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (nasal bleeding). All data on injuries and other medical issues are then entered into a computerized database.

It is common for track veterinarians to work five to six days each week with a schedule that includes evenings, weekends, and holidays. Work often occurs outdoors in varying temperatures and potentially extreme weather conditions. All veterinarians, especially those working with horses and other large animals, must take care to follow proper safety precautions so that they can minimize the risk of injury.

Career Options

Track veterinarians may transition into regulatory roles such as state veterinarian positions. They may also go into private equine practice to offer routine care to clients at the track or breeding farms. Outside of the equine industry, they may work as pharmaceutical sales representatives, college professors, military veterinarians, researchers, or government inspectors.

According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), nearly half of equine veterinarians are involved with performance horses (44.8%). Other major areas of service include pleasure/farm work (17.2%), racing work (13.7%), and reproductive work (13.2%). The American Veterinary Medical Association’s employment survey (conducted in 2013) indicated that there were 3,827 veterinarians working exclusively in equine practice.

Education and Training

All equine veterinarians must successfully graduate with a general Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, the culmination of a rigorous course of study involving both small and large animal species. There are 30 accredited colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States that offer a DVM degree.

Upon graduation, vets must also pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) to become licensed to practice in their state. Approximately 3,000 vets successfully complete the NAVLE exam and enter the field each year. At the end of 2013, in the most recent AVMA employment survey available, there were 99,720 practicing U.S. veterinarians.

Professional Associations

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has a membership of more than 10,000 veterinarians hailing from 67 countries, making it the world’s largest equine veterinary organization.

The AAEP puts on a major convention each year that offers over 100 hours of educational lectures and demonstrations designed for equine veterinarians.

Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not collect data specifically on equine veterinarians, but it does include them in the more general category of all veterinarians. The median salary for all veterinarians was $84,460 per year ($40.61 per hour) in the 2012 survey. The highest paid ten percent of veterinarians earned more than $144,100 per year while the lowest paid ten percent of veterinarians earned less than $51,530 per year.

According to the AVMA, the median professional income for equine veterinarians (before taxes) was $88,000 in 2011. The mean first-year salary for equine veterinarians was $47,806 in 2013.

Job Outlook

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the veterinary profession will expand at about 12 percent, approximately the same rate as the average for all professions.

Prior years saw much faster growth (as high as 33 percent), but there has been a bit of a slowdown in the veterinary services industry and the number of graduates entering the field each year has increased (from approximately 2,500 per year to about 3,000 per year). 

The American Association of Equine Practitioners reports that the highest concentrations of equine vets in the United States are located in California, Texas, and Florida. Outside of North America, the three countries with the highest concentrations of equine veterinarians are Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom.