Horse care in Aiken County revolutionizes response time

Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 5:45 PM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - We live in horse country, but when it comes to emergency equine care, some experts have left the veterinary field since the pandemic.

An office in Aiken is helping owners avoid the long drive for care.

“He completely twisted his intestines, and at that point, you have a ticking time bomb to untwist it so it doesn’t die off,” said Brooke Burgess.

It’s a reality all too familiar for horse owner Burgess.

“I had lost my Thoroughbred. He was such a good boy. But that was a long strenuous drive. It was early in the morning. My husband had to pull the trailer, which I already don’t like. But I stood in the back with him. They had put muscle sedation and IV sedation. He barely made the trip. And he didn’t,” said Burgess.

He wasn’t the only one.

Hannah Jungling, horse trainer said: “It was a problem. It was talked about a ton along the equestrian community. People had horses that instead of me being able to make the trip to UGA, they’d have to euthanize because they weren’t going to make the trip.”

The closest emergency equestrian care at the time was in Athens, at the University of Georgia, or Tyron, N.C.

Each over a two-hour drive. Emergency, intensive care for horses was not available full-time in Aiken, except for the occasional drop-in surgeon.

Dr. Stephanie Caston, vet surgeon said: “The animal that is already sick, and then you put it on a trailer, and you have to drive it, you know, you’re further stressing, and you may be losing. Your prognostic value may be going down because you’re losing time just in transport.”

Over the past year, Performance Equine Vets in Aiken added two surgeons and a specialist. Even so, during a sweeping staffing shortage, with surgeries every other day, they face a new problem.

“You also have to have the staff to be able to run it, and so we can’t do everything that we need to do, especially for elective surgeries and, you know, burn out all of our staff,” said Caston.