Utah State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine provides hands-on learning experiences for students early in their education at the university’s Animal Science Research Farm, but some students take it a step further by traveling to the Navajo Reservation in southern Utah during spring break for a horse castration clinic. It is an important service in a place where ecosystems can be damaged by overpopulation of wild horses and animals suffer malnutrition due to too little available wild forage.
Cameron Etherington from Taylorsville, UT, is a second-year student who is always looking for practical experience. He said school provides learning opportunities on campus, but helping in a real-life situation is one of the best ways to learn.
“We spend more time learning the theory and rationale behind procedures and treatments than we do performing them in the first two years of vet school,” Etherington said. “It was nice to have the opportunity to take that knowledge and apply it.”
Tessa Guy, another second-year student who earned her undergraduate degree from University of California San Diego, gained surgical experience as a veterinary technician at a large animal clinic and working alongside veterinarians at USU.
“Being a part of the entire procedure and working as a team was a great experience and example of how I would like to work in a clinic outside of school,” Guy said. “Getting to work with the horse owners was a wonderful experience. They shared stories and explained about their traditions and culture as we were working with their horses.”
This is the third year Karl Hoopes, an assistant professor, DVM and USU Extension equine specialist, has traveled with students to southern Utah for to conduct the clinic. He said working with underserved communities is important to him because education is one of the best ways to make lasting changes.
“The people of the Navajo Nation are wonderful people who care deeply for their traditions and their horses,” Hoopes said. “Education in terms of vaccines, deworming, nutrition and wound care is very important for them. They are always very willing to listen and visit. We don’t always have a classroom to sit down in and talk about new concepts, but standing around a horse after a castration is a perfect time to talk and share knowledge with students and the animals’ owners.”
The people who are part of the Mexican Water Chapter near Bluff, UT, have limited access to veterinary care for their animals. Curtis Yanito, head of the Mexican Water chapter and the district 9 grazing committee, said a veterinarian used to come from Blanding, just 45 minutes away.
“Now we have to call to Cortez (CO) or Farmington (NM), or somewhere else,” Yanito said. “It takes about two hours either way for them to get here. A lot of times we try to work with the Navajo Nation, but there are only a few veterinarians out there to cover the all the agencies.”
Yanito said all the people need is education, then they can help animals themselves for basic care. He said horses are an important part of their culture and traditions because of their versatility.
“The way the tradition goes is that we are from the mother Earth,” Yanito said. “We take care of nature, nature comes first because that’s what nursed us first.”
Hoopes said teaching animal care and learning about Navajo traditions make the long trip fulfilling.
“I know that I have a few things I can do and share to help them, but they also help me,” Hoopes said. “Their smiles, appreciation and love of their horses help me to better appreciate my horses. It is a treat to go each year and renew friendships, make new friends and learn from them.”
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College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences/USU Extension
Associate Professor, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and USU Extension Equine Specialist
Animal, Dairy, and Veterinary Sciences