One of the characteristics that is repeatedly praised and recognized as one of Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s greatest strengths is the great pool of talented professionals from all specialties that make up the clinic’s large team. In 2016, Dr. Peter Heidmann, DVM, MPH, began working with PBEC for the winter season, and this year, the accomplished internal medicine specialist is returning to work with PBEC for the duration of the 2018 winter season.
Dr. Heidmann graduated from Tufts University with his veterinary degree in 2000 before beginning a one-year internship in equine medicine and surgery at Arizona Equine, followed by a one-year surgical fellowship at Oregon State University, followed by a residency for internal medicine at the University of California, Davis, which he completed from 2002 to 2005. In 2005, Dr. Heidmann joined a private equine practice in Montana, and today he is the owner and hospital director of Montana Equine.
Q: What prompted you to pursue equine veterinary medicine in particular?
I grew up on my family’s farm and orchard with draft horses, but I honestly thought that I would be a cow vet for most of vet school. Instead, I found that to be really frustrating academically and intellectually. In most dairy and beef cattle medicine, you have about eight drugs that you can use; you throw five of them at every sick animal, and they either get better or they don’t. I find a lot of reward in the process of getting to a diagnosis and treating a problem that’s more complicated and allows for more of a one-to-one relationship, rather than a herd type of relationship.
I knew I wanted to be a vet for a long time, but I didn’t know that I wanted to practice more individually focused medicine until I was going through vet school. It wasn’t until my fourth year, where you’re actually starting to work with patients, that I made that realization. I started moving in that direction, and I had some faculty that saw the same for me and encouraged me to do the horse stuff. I always loved working with horses, but up until that time, I thought my background was too agricultural to do high-end sport horse work. But their encouragement helped me realize that wasn’t true. Then, I decided as a result of that realization and thought process, that I wanted to do an internship and residency to become specialized in internal medicine.
Q: What led you to Montana, and how has your role and practice evolved from when you started there in 2015 to today where you’re now the owner and hospital director of Montana Equine?
When I finished my residency at Davis in 2005, I wanted to be in the west. I wanted to be somewhere where there was nobody with my skill set – meaning internal medicine. I wanted to be in a small mountain town basically. Somewhere that I could practice the kind of medicine that I was trained to do but not in big metropolis. So, I narrowed it down to a practice in New Mexico and a practice in Montana. I went to work for a practice in Bozeman, MT, in July of 2005 and six months later my predecessor, Dr. Dave Catlin, passed away in a car crash. It was really sad. He had three kids, left a widow, and it was his dream to start an equine only specialty vet hospital, which he had done in 1999.
When he died, the conventional wisdom around Bozeman was, ‘Well this can’t be done. Dave had a dream, and it’s not a realizable dream now. There aren’t enough people here. Montana residents won’t understand specialized medicine and they won’t pay for it.’ I was faced with this proposition of leaving the practice after just arriving there, but I knew that was where I really wanted to be. I basically picked up the pieces of Dr. Catlin’s practice and formed Montana Equine in February of 2006.
Now we have a 7,500 square foot hospital with a surgery site at Bozeman, and I have a partner there, an associate, and two interns. We have two satellite locations: an ambulatory-only satellite in Helena, MT, and have nearly completed satellite clinic building in Billings, MT, which is the largest community in Montana.
Q: You began working with PBEC during the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) season, but you’re out in Montana and have your own practice there. How did that relationship come about, and what does it look like today?
There are various aspects to that. We’re very quiet in Montana from basically Thanksgiving through March, and it’s not really my personality to sit around. That’s one aspect, and another is from a business perspective, it allows me to bring more vets on and keep them year-round. A third element is the desire to do more high-end medicine, and a fourth element that led me to Wellington, is my wife, Allison, who is a professional jumper rider. Two years ago, during the winter of 2015, Allison had a girlfriend who had just had a baby and asked Allison to run her business for her here at WEF. I thought that was an interesting idea and started talking to PBEC and found that there might be a need for a internal medicine specialist in their group. So that’s when I started coming. At that point, I was in Wellington for four or five days and then home for ten days, back and forth and back and forth. Then last year, I was more of a week here and a week at home. We had our first child, so Allison and Oliver, who was brand new then, were here straight through, but I went back home to Montana as well. The need is there and the relationship is great. So, this year, I’m in Wellington full-time for the WEF.
Q: What do you enjoy most about having the opportunity to practice with PBEC?
It’s a huge group of people, so there are a lot of personalities. When you have a lot of different personalities, you have a lot of different perspectives on treatments, and that’s interesting and fun. It means that every year when I’m here, it’s pretty dynamic. Back in Bozeman, I have a great team, but I’m the leader of the team. I’m the oldest and the most experienced. That’s good, and that’s not to say that those guys don’t definitely come with new ideas, but being here, there are so many ways of doing things that I end up picking up new tricks or new ideas even though I’ve been practicing for most of two decades. So here at PBEC, I’m picking up new strategies and new techniques separate from new stuff coming out in the world – just different ways of doing things, and different experienced veterinarians to bounce ideas off of. That’s really refreshing and stimulating.
From a vet’s perspective, with the Wellington demographic there is sometimes less of a limitation on budget and expense, so we’re really able to set that factor and worry aside and instead focus solely on what is best for the patient. The limitation isn’t financial; the limitation is just medicine and what we are able to do, which is exciting and allows us to see great results.
Q: Have you had any favorite cases or standout moments during your time with PBEC thus far?
I won’t name any in particular, but what I really enjoy are the challenging medical cases, the internal medicine cases that tend to be really sick and that you’re able to fix. The most common ones that we see are probably sickness after colic surgery, horses with really bad diarrhea, so colitis cases, followed by foals. Those cases generally all have a lot of things going on in a lot of different organ systems. So, there are a lot of factors to balance. Internal medicine people like me are kind of inherently nerdy, and we really get into what’s happening with the acid base status, and electrolytes, and blood gases, and fluid volumes, and other technical aspects of sick horse medicine.
Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
In South Florida, we’re basically working all the time this time of year, so not as much here except trying to get exercise and be fit. I like to ride a bike or go for a run. At home, the Gallatin Valley – which is where Bozeman is – is surrounded all around by mountains. The valley floor at Bozeman is at about 5,000 feet, and the peaks are at 8,500, so you can do a lot of really serious hiking. Our son is only 18 months old, but he loves it. I’ve had dogs in the past where their whole personality changes when you get out of town, and that’s what Oliver is like too. It’s almost like his whole face is a different face when he’s out there.