The irascible racehorse trainer knew far more about his charges than the callow young vet—or so he thought
You have to put up with a certain amount of cheek in most jobs, and veterinary practice is no exception. Even now I can recall the glowering, imperious face of Ralph Beamish, a local racehorse trainer, as he watched me getting out of my car.
“Where’s Mr Farnon?” he grunted impatiently.
My toes curled. I had heard that often enough, especially among Darrowby’s stuffy horse fraternity.
“I’m sorry, Mr Beamish, but he’ll he away all day, and I thought I’d better come along rather than leave it till tomorrow.” He made no attempt to hide his disgust.
“Well, come on, then.” He turned and stumped away on his short legs towards one of the stalls that bordered the yard. I sighed inwardly as I followed.
Being an “unhorsy” vet in Yorkshire was a penance at times, especially in a racing stable like this, which was an equine shrine. My employer and fellow veterinary surgeon, Siegfried Farnon, was able to talk the horse language. He could discuss, effortlessly and at length, the breeding and points of his patients; he rode, he hunted, he even looked the part with his long aristocratic face, clipped moustache and lean frame.
The trainers loved him, and some, like Beamish, took it as a mortal insult when Siegfried failed to come in person to minister to their valuable charges.
Beamish called to one of the lads, who opened a stall door and led out a bay gelding. There was no need to trot the animal to diagnose the affected leg; he nodded down on his near fore in an unmistakable way.
“I think he’s lame in the shoulder,” Beam ish said.
I went round the other side of the horse. “This seems to be the trouble, Mr Bcamish. I think he must have struck himself with his hind foot just there.”
“Where ?” The trainer leaned over me and peered down at the leg. “I can’t see anything.”My hackles began to rise at his tone, but I kept my voice calm. “I’m sure that’s what it is. I should apply a hot antiphlogistine poultice just above the fetlock and alternate with a cold hose on it twice a day.”
“Well, I’m just as sure you’re wrong. It’s not down there at all. The way that horse carries his leg, he’s hurt his shoulder.” He gestured to the lad. “Harry, see that he gets some heat on that shoulder right away.”
If the man had struck me I couldn’t have felt worse. I opened my mouth to argue, but he was already walking away. There’s another horse I want you to look at,” he said. He led the way into a near-by stall and pointed to a big brown animal with signs of blistering on the tendons of a fore limb.
“Mr Farnon treated that leg six months ago. He’s been resting in here ever since. D’you think he’s ready to go out ?”
I ran my fingers over the length of the flexor tendons, feeling for signs of thickening. There were none. Then I lifted the foot and, as I explored further, I found a tender area in the superficial flexor.
I straightened up. “He’s still a bit sore,” I said. “I think it would be safer to keep him in for a bit longer.”
“Can’t agree with you,” Beamish snapped. He turned to the lad. “Turn him out, Harry.”
I stared at him. Was this a deliberate campaign to make me feel small?
“One thing more,” Beamish said. “There’s a horse through here been coughing.”
We went through a narrow passage into a smaller yard, and Harry entered a stall and got hold of a horse’s head collar. I followed him, fishing out my thermometer.
As I approached the animal’s rear end, he laid back his ears, whinnied and began to caper around. I hesitated, then nodded to the lad.
“Lift his foreleg while I take his temperature, will you?” I said.
The lad bent down and seized the foot, but Beamish broke in. “Don’t bother, Harry, there’s no need for that. He’s quiet as a sheep.”
I shrugged, lifted the tail and pushed the thermometer into the rectum.
The two hind feet hit me almost simultaneously, and I sailed backwards through the door. Stretched on the concrete of the yard, I gasped and groaned in a frantic search for breath, Through the open door I could see Harry hanging on to the horse’s head and staring at me with frightened eyes. Mr Beamish, on the other hand, showed no interest in my plight; he was examining the horse’s hind feet, obviously worried lest they may have sustained some damage by coming into contact with my nasty hard ribs.
Slowly I got up and drew some long breaths. I was shaken but not really hurt. My only emotion as I went back in was cold rage. “Lift that bloody foot like I told you!” I shouted at the unfortunate Harry.
“Right, sir ! Sorry, sir !” He bent, lifted the foot and held it cupped firmly in his hands.
I turned to Beamish to see if he had any observation to make, but the trainer was silent. This time I took the temperature without incident. It was 38.5 degrees C 101 F . “He’s got a bit of a cold,” I said. “I’ll give him an injection and leave you some sulphonamide—that’s what Mr Farnon uses in these cases.” If my final sentence reassured him in any way, he gave no sign, watching dead-faced as I injected 10 cc of Prontosil.