Alberta Parks partners up for horse health

Horses

Horses stay at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park all year round.

Twice a year, University of Calgary veterinarians in training take a short drive from their northwest Calgary campus to Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park just outside Cochrane. There, in a historic stable and corral that overlook more than 3,000 acres of rolling grassland along the Bow River, they run the Park’s four horses through a complete checkup.

The partnership began in 2013, a week-long hands-on training rotation in equine medicine for second-year Faculty of Veterinary Science students, and a fourth-year equine dental session. It supplements regular vet appointments for all four horses on-site, and helps develop a full range of skills for students interested in careers caring for horses.

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Fourth-year veterinary science students practice equine dental care – “floating” teeth to make them more evenly worn.

You’ll find Alberta Parks horses in several locations, including Cypress Hills, Dinosaur, East Kananaskis, and in parks near Hinton and Pincher Creek. Conservation officers ride them on patrol, and they’re popular at local events such as the Calgary Stampede Parade and Spruce Meadows.

Horses make particular sense at Glenbow Ranch, which was donated to the people of Alberta by the Harvie family, who ran cattle there from 1934 until its designation as a Provincial Park in 2006. It’s the only provincial park that keeps its horses onsite year round (the others winter at Parks Canada’s Ya Ha Tinda Ranch east of Banff National Park). Huntley Johnston, conservation officer at Glenbow, built the partnership with the vet school in 2013, and hopes to expand it to include checkups for the other Alberta Parks horses.

“The horses are specially selected for parks patrol, and when we have a horse who’s working well, it’s very important to maintain their health,” Johnston says.

Assistant Professor Dr. Ashley Whitehead runs the equine medicine specialty at U of C, and she emphasizes the benefit of students learning how to practice preventative medicine for horses, in addition to acute care. Their regimen at Glenbow Ranch includes physical exams, blood testing, examining the facilities, the horses’ teeth, and their overall health. The students also do a nutritional analysis of the feed, and present the results later in the week. “We expose students to all aspects of being equine practitioners,” Dr. Whitehead says. “That includes building communication skills.”

Credit Harvey Martens

Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park was established in 2008 from a donation of land by the Harvie family, between Calgary and Cochrane. Photo: Harvey Martens.

Going into the third year of the partnership, the consistency of the program allows the students to monitor longer-term health in the Parks horses. “The students are creating a medical record,” Dr. Whitehead adds. “All the skills they’re practicing, they’ll need as veterinarians, and in return Glenbow Ranch is getting a comprehensive exam and history on each horse.”

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