Veterinary students, clinicians offer care for horses through the Equine Field Service

After finishing their first three years of professional training, fourth-year students in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine face their biggest challenge yet. They must demonstrate the knowledge and skills they learned in the classroom during 12 months of clinical rotations. While students who graduate from the college gain experience in all aspects of veterinary medicine, including equine, many of them also get a chance to take their knowledge off campus through the Equine Field Service.

“We have four to six students on each three-week block of clinical rotations. They go on all of our calls,” said Dr. Rebecca Funk, clinical assistant professor of equine field service in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. “The goal is to get the students to take the patient history and do the preliminary physical exam. While a senior clinician will oversee the treatment in a complex case, the students will do this for simple cases and routine examinations. We rarely take a call without a student with us.”


Dr. Rebecca Funk, at left, does a chiropractic evaluation on a horse at Virginia Tech's Campbell Arena. Dr. Rebecca Funk, at left, does a chiropractic evaluation on a horse at Virginia Tech's Campbell Arena.

Veterinary students assist with the full range of services offered through the Equine Field Service, part of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which provides primary and emergency care to patients within a 35-mile practice area of Blacksburg, Va. Services include preventive health care, reproductive and foal care, lameness and performance examinations, podiatry exams and treatment, neurologic evaluations, chiropractic care, acupuncture treatment, and nutritional consultations. The “horse ambulance” accepts routine calls from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and provides 24-hour emergency care year-round.

“Students gain the opportunity to see what equine practice is like in the real world,” Funk said, because many equine veterinarians offer an on-the-farm ambulatory service. “These are the kinds of cases they are going to see in private practice after they graduate.”

For fourth-year student Theresa Economos of Virginia Beach, Va., the three-week field service rotation proved invaluable and confirmed her decision to pursue equine practice after graduation.

“It’s nice to get out in the field and learn from clinicians how to work with horses and talk to clients,” Economos said in an article in the winter 2012 issue of Virginia Tech Magazine.


Each of the Equine Field Service trucks is a veterinary hospital on wheels. Each of the Equine Field Service trucks is a veterinary hospital on wheels, stocked with medical and dental supplies and equipped with running water, electricity, a refrigerator, and ultrasound and radiograph machines.

All fourth-year students in the equine and mixed species tracks, two of the five tracks in the veterinary college’s unique tracking curriculum, spend at least one of their clinical rotation blocks with the Equine Field Service. Other veterinary students, who must pursue an equine block, either have a clinical rotation with the service or the teaching hospital. 

Practical experience, constant variety

The 35-mile radius outside of Blacksburg might not seem like a large area to cover, but it includes a large and thriving equine community.

“I like the variety and the people,” said intern Dr. Laura Hoholik. “We go from practicing sports medicine with a performance horse one day to treating a family pet another day.”

Hoholik and Dr. Annie Martin, another Equine Field Service intern, are pursuing year-long internships before entering private practice. The interns help to bridge the gap between fourth-year students in their clinical rotations and senior clinicians, allowing students to better transition into becoming veterinarians.


Fourth-year veterinary students and Dr. Rebecca Funk, at right, provide in-field care to a horse in Blacksburg, Va. Fourth-year veterinary students and Dr. Rebecca Funk, at right, provide in-field care to a horse in Blacksburg, Va.

Patients also benefit from the extra hands on deck. “One of our big strengths is that patients are getting really good primary care,” Hoholik said. “All of our senior clinicians are boarded specialists, so they are getting veterinary care from someone who has additional expertise in the area.”

Whether a student, intern, or clinician, team members also have the advantage of the latest equipment to treat horses in the field. Each of the four trucks in the Field Service fleet are equipped with medical supplies, running water, electricity, a refrigerator, and imaging devices. In the field, clinicians can administer medication and perform radiographs, ultrasound examinations, shock wave therapy, and endoscopy. They can even do minor surgeries, but for complex cases, they refer clients to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Blacksburg for treatment.

For hundreds of horses and their owners in the region, the Equine Field Service offers peace of mind and the best veterinary care available both for emergencies and equine wellness.

  • For more information on this topic, contact Michael Sutphin at 540-231-6716.

Meet the team

The Equine Field Service team is made up of the following people: 

Success stories

Throughout the year, the newsletter Hoof Prints provides more information to the Equine Field Service’s clients about clinical services and hot topics in the world of equine medicine. It also features success stories of horses treated by the team.

A range of services

The Equine Field Service offers many services, including routine and preventative health care, age-specific equine care, core services, and diagnostic and imaging services. A few examples include the following:

  • Physical exam and body condition scoring
  • Equine wellness program
  • Vaccinations
  • Dentistry
  • Nutrition
  • Performance horse evaluation
  • Medicine and field surgery
  • Neurology
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic care
  • Digital radiology
  • Ultrasound

A new podiatry unit

Dr. Scott Pleasant, an associate professor of equine field service and equine extension, and Travis Burns, college farrier, recently established a podiatry unit in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. 

This unit provides referral care to horses in particular need of specialist foot and hoof care. Team members work in close collaboration with the new podiatry unit to provide care to horses within their coverage area.

The college is one of only a handful of U.S. veterinary schools with its own farrier.

Care available for other large animals

The Veterinary Teaching Hospital has a Food Animal Field Services team that provides on-the-farm primary and emergency care. This program takes an integrated approach to the identification, solution, and prevention of health problems in a variety of farm animals. 

The Equine Field Service routinely joins forces with the food animal team on farms needing veterinary care for both horses and food animals.

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