A life with horses

Dr. Kate Robinson and Ben Lobb

Dr. Kate Robinson helps fourth-year veterinary student Ben Lobb complete paperwork during an equine field service visit. Photo: Christina Weese.

It takes a special kind of person to love large animal field service duty — a job that’s notorious for difficult patients, all-night hours, and physical exhaustion.

But for Dr. Kate Robinson, it’s all in a day’s work.

She recently completed a three-year residency in equine field service at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Medical Centre. During that time, horses and owners alike have come to appreciate Robinson’s calm, compassionate stall-side manner at the WCVM.

Her determination to be around horses, even if it meant hard work, began when she was eight years old.

“I was one of those kids who never had her own horse, so I mucked stalls for extra rides,” says Robinson. “I developed a really good relationship with a coach in my hometown. We had some good adventures with horses that he pulled off the meat truck to turn into jumpers — I’m sure my parents cringed every time he called with a new ‘project’!”

Robinson’s interest in horses naturally led to an interest in veterinary school. Being from Ontario, she first looked to the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC). But fate had other plans.

Thanks to publicly-posted scores for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) — a requirement for admission at the OVC — Robinson was contacted by St. George’s University with the offer of a scholarship.

The only problem was that the scholarship was to study human medicine. “I just wasn’t interested in that,” says Robinson, laughing.

Dr. Kate Robinson

On August 2, Dr. Kate Robinson becomes an assistant professor in the WCVM’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. Photo: Michael Raine.

But a Google search confirmed that St. George’s, a private university on the tiny island of Grenada in the West Indies, also had a veterinary school. The school was relatively new at that point, but St. George’s medical college was a highly respected, long-running program. So when OVC turned down her first application in 2004, Robinson accepted a scholarship from St. George’s — this time, for veterinary school.

“It was phenomenal,” she says. “The best three years of my life. I highly recommend living in the Caribbean to anyone who gets the chance. As a developing country it was a fabulous veterinary education and an incomparable life experience. For unexpected class cancellations, we would grab our gear and go snorkeling.”

In their fourth and final year, St. George’s veterinary students are sent to partnership universities around the globe. Robinson, wanting to head back to Canada, chose the University of Saskatchewan.

But her plans to complete her fourth year in Saskatoon then head home to mixed animal practice in Ontario all changed after spending a summer in field service at the WCVM.

“I decided that working with horses was maybe more important than heading home at that point,” Robinson says, who immediately began a 16-month clinical internship in field service at the WCVM in 2009 after graduating.

Her internship led directly to her combined three-year Master of Veterinary Science degree-residency program.

“We were impressed by her work ethic, background knowledge and real desire to learn and improve her clinical skills,” notes Dr. Steve Manning, Robinson’s supervisor at the WCVM.

“She worked very hard, saw as many cases as she could, appeared to read about all of them based on the questions she would ask her senior clinicians — most of which we couldn’t answer — and did it all with humour and enthusiasm.”

Robinson says she can’t even begin to qualify how the past few years have helped her develop professionally.

“I’ve learned so much from working with Dr. Manning and Dr. Sue Ashburner. And [former WCVM equine field service resident] Dr. Natalie Tokateloff was instrumental in pushing the boundaries regarding what we can do as field work.”

Manning adds that he and his WCVM colleagues have watched Robinson work incredibly hard in clinical practice as well as in her graduate program. From his perspective, she’s made the transition from promising young clinician to promising young clinician-teacher-scholar.

“She’s now ready to enter the next phase of her career in advanced clinical practice, research and teaching.”

In August, Robinson begins her new role as an assistant professor in the WCVM Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. Her current area of interest is community-based research — investigations of current health issues in the equine population that involve local horses and their owners in the research process.

For instance, Robinson is interested in starting a metabolic syndrome database for the horse population in the Saskatoon area. She has also initiated an investigation of the baseline level of sand found in local horses’ feces. The latter question was prompted by a recent increase in sand colic cases at the WCVM’s Veterinary Medical Centre and was turned into a formal study that Manning is now leading.

“I think using our community is really important,” explains Robinson. “What questions does the local horse community have? Are they feasible as far as research projects? What kind of information are we going to gain, and can we then give back and really improve the health of the local horse community?”

Robinson is now a horse owner herself for the first time in her life: her Paint gelding named “Sneakers” was a surprise Christmas present from WCVM veterinarian Dr. Sue Ashburner.

Horse ownership has seen Robinson’s life-long passion come full circle from riding to clinical work, to research and partnership with the equine community, and back to the animal that’s made it all possible — the horse.


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