The diversity of the equine industry means that some veterinarians provide only specialized services, like treating lungs and limbs of top equine athletes that travel the world. Other practitioners prefer a more robust practice style, managing the health and well-being of “pasture pets” on small acreage farms one minute then working with dozens of broodmares on a commercial operation the next.
Regardless of the exact nature of your practice, discussing your clients’ needs to ensure their horses receive the best possible care is essential. In some instances, an owner or manager might not even be aware of potential problems or welfare issues their horses face or ways that you might be able to make their lives better. Consider some of the following ways to improve the lines of communication with your clients.
1) Take time to talk.
Everyone seems to be set on hyper speed these days. Meeting the needs of our scheduled clients, fitting in emergencies and still finishing work at a reasonable hour to soak up that life-work balance we’ve heard so much about is challenging. Although we spend countless hours in our trucks driving from farm to farm, we need to slow things down and avoid “drive-through practice.”
Calls for routine vaccinations don’t need to take very long but often provide a great opportunity to address other health issues that frequently get downgraded in the overall scheme of things. Weight management, for example, is one area that is easily overlooked and has grown into the proverbial elephant in the room. Equine obesity is on the rise, mirroring the epidemic in humans. Several studies estimate that almost 50% of horses are overweight or obese (i.e., a body condition score of greater than 6 on the Henneke scale).
Speaking with your clients about weight management is important but challenging. According to both the 2012 and 2015 American Horse Publication’s (AHP) Equine Industry Surveys, the majority of owners are directly responsible for the feed and nutritional status of horses in the United States. Because overweight/obese horses are so common, owners may forget what a “healthy” horse is supposed to look like. They may also need reminding that in addition to the negative impact on health — it is associated with equine metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, laminitis, and more — obesity is also considered a welfare issue, much like owning a horse that is too thin.
2) Provide reliable information (even when you’re not there).
Dr. Google and other electronic tools help spread rumors and old wives’ tales regarding the diagnosis and treatment of equine ailments faster than ever. Break this cycle but embrace the electronic age, turning the power of the Internet to your advantage. “Talk” to your electronically and provide 24/7 service the following ways:
- Create and maintain your own website with up-to-date information about your clinic, hours, and the services you offer. Consider using an online appointment scheduler;
- Make sure your clients know about your website. Include it on new business cards (500 cards cost less than $10) that you share with all clients at every call;
- Provide links to reliable, well-written articles on popular topics to encourage clients to seek ideas and suggestions on horse management from reputable sources. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has excellent client education materials, such as vaccination guidelines, nutrition, choosing nutritional supplements, among others.
- Try your hand at blogging or provide a place for owners to post comments and questions that you can also add your two cents’ worth;
- Use Facebook and/or Twitter to keep your clients in the loop. Tweet interesting facts or news such as, “Great new article on feeding to help laminitis on our website.”
Electronic resources can also help owners revisit a topic long after you’ve left the farm. Clients don’t recall all of the facts you shared, and providing permanent and easily accessible information helps improve compliance. For example, post standard follow-up instructions for common conditions such as lacerations (e.g., when do those stitches come out?) or administering medications (e.g., was that once or twice a day?).
3) Embrace change so your clients will too.
Ensure clients are aware of new recommendations throughout the industry. One great example is deworming. Although the AAEP updated their Parasite Control Guidelines in 2013, many horse owners still deworm using calendar-based rotational methods or the “when I remember” approach that contribute to anthelmintic resistance. The good news is that the 2015 AHP Equine Industry Survey indicates that owners are becoming increasingly dependent on their veterinarian for deworming advice, providing a great opportunity to ask if they are aware of deworming protocols based on fecal egg count (FECs). The imminent release of the Parasight System will facilitate the transition—a smartphone-based tool that provides on-site quantitative FECs in less than 5 minutes to guide appropriate deworming.
During vaccine appointments, take time to discuss other issues concerning a horse's health, such as weight management.
4) Use your own resources.
Conferences are a great place for fulfilling CE requirements, catching up with old friends, and making new ones — otherwise known as networking. Consider the areas of your practice that are very popular and taking up too much of your time or are not being adequately addressed. Go out of your way to find professionals in those areas.
Interest in complementary and alternative medicine, for example, continues to grow in popularity. Do you have an acupuncturist, chiropractor, or massage therapist to recommend to interested owners? Who is your local equine extension specialist to refer clients to regarding pasture management, hay and soil testing and other valuable information? Who should clients ask for a detailed analysis of their horse’s diet, including all forage, pasture, concentrates, supplements and treats, especially if they have an underlying medical condition like equine metabolic syndrome (EMS)?
Encourage clients to use a farrier you recommend. This is particularly important for a horse requiring long-term care, such as a club foot, that requires the combined (and harmonized) skills of both professionals.
5) Fine-tune your communication skills.
Not all veterinarians are equally comfortable broaching new topics, introducing novel ideas, or (nicely!) informing clients that their approach to a certain situation is antiquated. This is especially true when we are pressed for time, are not completely comfortable about the given topic, or emotional situations, such as end-of-life care. Recognizing the need for excellent client communication, the equine industry has several resources available for practitioners interested in learning new ways to have fruitful, efficient conversations. Look into conferences devoted to communication to enhance your ability to talk with your client and benefit your patients.