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Meet PBEC Veterinarian Dr. Marilyn Connor

Palm Beach Equine Clinic Veterinarian Dr. Marilyn Connor
Dr. Marilyn Connor. Photo by Erin Gilmore

For some, becoming an equine veterinarian was always their calling. But, for Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s own Dr. Marilyn Connor, a diverse education and a healthy serving of life experience gave her options. Originally hailing from just north of Dallas, TX, Dr. Connor grew up around horses, but initially set her sights on going to medical school to study human medicine. Her undergraduate studies started at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, before she transferred back to her home state of Texas to graduate in 2006 with honors from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical science and minors in chemistry and business.

After conducting a Master’s level research project on the effects of social stress on an animal model of multiple sclerosis, Dr. Connor broadened her horizons and moved to New York. While in New York, Dr. Connor spent three years as a research analyst and junior stock trader at a New York-based hedge fund.  On her weekends, Dr. Connor volunteered at a therapeutic riding program in Brooklyn, NY, where she taught riding lessons to children, adults, and veterans.  It was during her time volunteering at the therapeutic riding program, that Dr. Connor realized she wanted a career where she was able to help both people and animals. Ultimately, this passion lead her back to Texas where she attended four years of veterinary school at Texas A&M University.

Here’s the rest of Dr. Connor’s story

What led you to an internship at PBEC?

In veterinary medicine, unlike human medicine, it is optional to complete an internship after graduation before going into practice. It’s estimated that by completing an equine internship, because of the high caseload and number of hours worked, you gain anywhere from three to five years of experience.  Because I was a non-traditional vet student, with a career before I started vet school, I really wanted to jumpstart my career so I could become an experienced veterinarian quickly.  I felt that completing an internship was a good investment of my time, so I could get those additional hours of mentorship and become a excellent veterinarian. I considered many of the best practices in the country, mostly in California and Colorado, when searching for an internship.  I met Dr. Swerdlin at an American Association of Equine Practitioners conference in Las Vegas two years ago and he invited me to come to Palm Beach Equine Clinic for a visit. I fell in love with the practice and the people, and felt the internship offered a good balance of autonomy to act as a doctor while still providing mentorship for a young veterinarian. One thing that’s unique about PBEC is that we have a full staff of technicians day and night so I knew, as an intern, I would be able to rest in the evenings so I could focus my time on learning and becoming a good veterinarian.  In some practices, interns are expected to act as a doctor during the day, but at night they are required to come to the hospital to feed horses, cleaning stalls, or administer simple medications which could be done by a technician. Another big motivation for me was that we have so many doctors to collaborate with. During the peak of season, there are roughly 40 doctors here to learn and gain experience from. I was also impressed with the very diverse case load that comes into PBEC. Those are some of the reasons I joined PBEC as an intern in July 2017.

Dr. Marilyn Connor speaking at a Lunch & Learn during the 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival. Photo by Jump Media
Dr. Marilyn Connor speaking at a Lunch & Learn during the 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival. Photo by Jump Media.

What is your experience with horses outside of being a veterinarian?

I like to say that I was riding horses since before I was born. My mom had horses and she rode while she was pregnant with me. When I was eight I got my first horse and rode western; mostly trails, pleasure, and a little bit of barrels, until I was twelve. Then I switched over to English riding and showed in both the Hunter and Jumper divisions until I was 18 and left for college. I didn’t have the means to bring a horse with me to school, so there was a period of about two years when I was only riding when I would come home.

During my sophomore year of college, I got a job at a barn exercising and training first and second-level dressage horses.  Later in college, I had a friend who did competitive endurance racing and she had some spare horses that she needed ridden in competition so I did that and it’s something that I stayed with until today. As you can see, I have just about done it all when it comes to riding.  I also have trained young horses and taught riding lessons since I was about 15 years old.  After college, I spent some time teaching at a therapeutic riding center and this was one of the things that ultimately made me realize I wanted to be an equine veterinarian so that I could help both horses and the people that love them.

What is your typical day like at PBEC?

One of the things I love about being a veterinarian, is that no two days are the same! Most days, I come into the hospital first thing in the morning to, physical examinations and treatments on my hospitalized patients that are staying at PBEC.  On some days, I manage anesthesia for the surgeries taking place at the clinic, so I must make sure the patient is physically healthy enough to handle anesthesia and undergo surgery.  I then administer a combination of medications to induce and maintain them under general anesthesia for the surgery. I monitor them throughout the procedure and stay with them until they have fully recovered after surgery and are able to stand up and walk back to their stall.  I am happy to report I will be staying on at Palm Beach Equine as an associate, so I am working on developing my client base within the clinic.  now I make farm calls to see my patients and I also seeing many of the call-in appointments for routine veterinary care as well as daytime emergencies such as when people discover their horse has an injury or is sick. I have taken continuing education courses that are specific on dentistry, so I also see patients that require dental care such as having their teeth floated.  I am also certified in veterinary chiropractic, so that’s another service that I bring to the clinic.

What’s your favorite kind of case to work on?

I like so many things about my job, but I really like helping my clients to maximize the health of their horses through nutrition, wellness care, and preventative medicine.  I also like working with lameness in horses; diagnosing orthopedic conditions and treating them with a combination of traditional joint injections, regenerative medicine, rehabilitation, and alternative medicine. It’s very rewarding to help my equine patients to be able to do their job at a high level and stay sound.  I also enjoy working with clients to understand things they can do to prevent their horse from needing those kind of interventions later on in life.

I do a lot of the veterinary care for the Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center, which PBEC supports.  It is very rewarding to be able to give back to a cause that is important to me, but now in a different capacity as a veterinarian.

What do you enjoy most about working for PBEC?

One thing I enjoy about working at PBEC is that we are well-equipped with the most advanced technology and equipment rarely offered outside of a university setting.  We have an amazing hospital facility, top quality surgeons, the latest in regenerative medicine, and the most advanced diagnostic tools including radiography, MRI, nuclear scintigraphy and our new Computed Tomography (CT) machine, which very few practices have.  As a doctor, it is amazing to have every tool at my disposal, so I can provide the best quality veterinary care for my patients.  But I think my favorite thing about working at PBEC and what really makes us unique as a practice is that we have an exceptional team of doctors with different backgrounds and slightly different skill sets.  While every doctor essentially operates autonomously within the practice, it is still one big team. I have so many doctors I can call day or night if I am stumped on a case or need assurance that the treatment plan is appropriate. At PBEC we always collaborate to provide the best quality care for our patients.

Meet PBEC Nuclear Scintigraphy Department Manager Brittany Cain

Originally hailing from Chicago, Illinois, Brittany Cain attended Southern Illinois University before moving to Florida and joining the staff of Palm Beach Equine Clinic as the manager of the Nuclear Scintigraphy department.

What is your background with horses?

Growing up, my parents actually had nothing to do with horses; we’re from the city of Chicago, so they were not horse people at all. I was just always the horse obsessed little girl – you know, the one horse girl in the class! When I was about 13, I started volunteering at a therapeutic riding center, so I got a lot of hands on experience there. I learned to ride a little bit and worked with the special needs kids. That was great.

When I was 18 years old and had my first paying job, I was able to afford actual riding lessons and it just went from there!

I did a lot of work on Standardbred breeding farms up in Illinois. I foaled out a lot of babies and trained a lot of weanlings. Many of those yearlings went on to be race horses. I did that for three years during college, and that was a really neat experience.

What led you to pursue a career as veterinary technician?

Throughout high school, I was always obsessed with horses. I volunteered all of my free time to be at the barn. I knew I wanted to do something that I loved, so I found Southern Illinois University, and they had a bachelor’s degree in equine science. I applied to one school, got in, and it was perfect. I didn’t have to find a bunch of schools; I just went to the one that I wanted right away, and I knew what I wanted to do!

What led to your focus on the Nuclear Scintigraphy Department in particular?

I’ve always had a strong interest in the anatomy of horses. I knew a lot of equine anatomy from college where I took many courses that covered the musculature anatomy as well as skeletal. In addition, working with all of the Standardbred yearlings was great experience for working with the two and three-year-old racehorse patients that see here at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.

nuclear scintigraphy bone scan palm beach equine clinic diagnostic medical imaging services

What is your typical day like at Palm Beach Equine Clinic?

As the manager of the Nuclear Scintigraphy Department, I have the patients in the scanning area for bone scans. Myself and technicians will bring the horse into the area, I will take their temperature, pulse, and respiration checks, and then I will place a catheter and inject the radioactive isotopes.

It takes two hours for the isotope to settle into the bones, and then I can begin the bone scan. I usually inject the isotope, and then I do a lot of paperwork in between the two hours since there’s a lot of tracking and recording for dealing with radioactive materials. Then the scan begins. The horse comes into the room; they’re lightly sedated. The scans usually take from one to two hours or, for a full body scan, anywhere from two to four hours. It’s a lot of keeping the horse comfortable, getting all of the images that are needed, and making sure that the images are high quality. Usually during the busy winter season, we have anywhere from two to three horses a day so it keeps me very busy.

What do you enjoy most about working at Palm Beach Equine Clinic?

I love the variety of patients that we see. We get cases of racehorses, polo ponies, barrel racers, top show jumpers, hunters and dressage. It’s really neat seeing all of these talented and often very expensive horses.

Have you had any standout or favorite moments since you joined the Palm Beach Equine Clinic team in 2015?

We went down to Miami for the Longines Global Champions Tour to assist in taking the arriving horses off the airplanes. I helped by taking temperatures, pulse, and respiration checks on all of the competition horses. It was really cool seeing the caravan from the airport to the show grounds and just how it’s set up on Miami Beach.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

My fiancé and I go fishing a lot usually at the beach or off a pier; we definitely enjoy spending our free time fishing.

Meet Palm Beach Equine Clinic Veterinary Technician Cassidy Hoff

Cassidy Hoff is a veterinary technician and assistant to Dr. Richard Wheeler of Palm Beach Equine Clinic. Originally from Middletown, CT, Cassidy joined the team at Palm Beach Equine Clinic in April of 2015.

What is your background with horses?

I started riding and taking lessons when I was seven years old. I always had a passion for it. I went to Centenary College (now University) in Hackettstown, NJ, and rode competitively as a student. I graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Equine Studies with concentrations in Riding Instruction and Therapeutic Riding Instruction, receiving an additional PATH certification (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International).

How did you start at PBEC?

I moved down to Florida directly after graduating college in 2012 and landed my first college graduate employment as the head instructor with a local therapeutic riding center. I worked there for about three years. Through that experience, I realized that I really liked the veterinary side of the equine industry. Dr. Greenfield was the primary veterinarian for the riding center and she was really easy to work with which piqued my interest in veterinary care. I decided to try something new and I applied for a job at Palm Beach Equine Clinic. As a result, the timing was perfect to work for Dr. Wheeler.

What is your typical day like?

We usually work six days a week, but during the busy winter season, seven days a week is more likely. Typically, our hours begin around 8 or 8:30 in the morning until whenever we are finished with our client calls. I am responsible for keeping the truck stocked and organized, replacing the medications that we use throughout the day, and keeping the syringes and the needles stocked. Dr. Wheeler performs many lameness cases, and I assist by scrubbing many joints for injections. We complete many pre-purchase exams that I help with jogging horses and holding plates for radiographs, as well as final pre-purchase exam documents with the findings. We send out reports with discharge instructions and aftercare at the end of every call for our clients. I am responsible for typing up all of the necessary paperwork and billing.

What do you like most about your job?

I love being able to see the horses in the barn and watch their progress from a veterinary and competitive standpoint. It is cool to take care of the horses in the barn and then go watch them perform at the horse shows once they have improved. Some of the horses are showing in the Saturday Night Lights Grand Prix classes at the Winter Equestrian Festival. You get to watch the tough competition in those big classes which adds to the excitement because you know the horse and their whole team. I feel lucky to be working with Dr. Wheeler and horses at the top level of the sport. We are lucky that all the riders, owners, trainers and managers are all amazing to work with. It takes a village to get a horse to the ring and it is really exciting to be a part of that.

What do you do when you are not working?

I still try to find time to ride, which will always be a passion of mine. It is a little bit easier when it’s off-season/summer months. I also like going to the beach, hanging out with friends, and reading for pleasure.

Palm Beach Equine Clinic Offers Advanced Laboratory Facilities to South Florida and Beyond

Palm Beach Equine Clinic, based in Wellington, FL, boasts one of the most advanced laboratory facilities in the country with onsite equipment capable of performing internal hematology, chemistry, and microbiology testing, as well as many regenerative therapies. The facilities provide a plethora of services that are not only useful to Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarians, but also the many veterinarians who visit South Florida during the winter show jumping, dressage, and polo seasons.

Functions of the Palm Beach Equine Clinic Laboratory

Coupled with technologically advanced imaging services, state-of-the-art surgical capabilities, and care from renowned veterinarians, Palm Beach Equine Clinic takes pride in their onsite laboratory, which offers vital services to a range of clients providing rapid results.

Palm Beach Equine Clinic Laboratory
Palm Beach Equine Clinic Laboratory

Most commonly used, hematology is the study of blood, its chemistry, and components. A complete blood count or CBC determines the number and type of white and red blood cells circulating through the bloodstream. This can be quickly and easily performed in Palm Beach Equine Clinic onsite laboratory. Changes in these blood cells can indicate inflammation, infection, or disease. Quick diagnosis leads to more proactive and efficient treatment plans.

A clinical chemistry is the study of the chemical composition of a sample. Typically, the liquid portion of blood (either serum or plasma) is used for testing components such as electrolytes, kidney enzymes, and muscle enzymes. The serum or plasma is evaluated to determine the efficiency and health of specific organs.

Finally, microbiology is the study of small organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other single-celled life forms. Hundreds of microbiology tests can be performed at Palm Beach Equine Clinic to look for signs of infection. The cultures are used to identify a specific bacteria or fungus present and sensitivity tests are used to determine which treatment, such as an antibiotic, will most effectively treat the infection.

For Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarian Dr. Samantha Miles, having an on-site laboratory with many different services enables her to provide faster and more affordable results to her clients and the horses in her care.

“We tend to get results so much faster in our own lab,” said Dr. Miles. “Also, an in-house culture is much less expensive than sending the sample away. It takes 24 hours to run a culture and 24 hours after that for the sensitivity. So usually it takes 48 hours to get a full culture and sensitivity, whereas to send that away you’re looking at least at 72 hours minimum and sometimes it’s a couple days longer than that.”

While laboratory technologies are common in determining a diagnosis and identifying different infections and viruses; they can also be used to more effectively and quickly treat common equine problems such as colic.

“There has been a lot of research lately comparing blood lactate to the abdominal fluid lactate, and the difference being a good indicator of whether a colic is surgical versus medically managed,” said Dr. Miles. “Sometimes it’s obvious, but not always so it is really helpful to have that capability. What we do is test a blood lactate sample using a lactometer, which takes about a minute. If a horse is dehydrated and has a higher lactate in the abdomen, we will rehydrate the horse and take it again. If the lactate value doesn’t decrease after rehydration we have a good indication that it is a real number and there is a surgical problem.”

Regenerative Therapies

According to Dr. Miles, some of the most impressive functions of the Palm Beach Equine Clinic laboratory include its regenerative therapy capabilities such as:

  • Stem Cells
  • Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP)
  • Interleukin-1 Receptor Antagonist Protein (IRAP)
  • Pro-Stride Autologous Protein Solution (APS)

These can be applied to previously difficult to manage joint diseases and injuries using natural-occurring proteins, cells, and other natural processes originated from within the body of the horse. Essentially, these treatments use the horse’s own biological mechanisms to stimulate healing without the use of steroids or other drugs.

The high-speed centrifuge that concentrates the platelets of a horse's blood on-site at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.
The high-speed centrifuge that concentrates the platelets of a horse’s blood on-site at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.

Stem cells are commonly derived from bone marrow which are cultured and multiplied into millions of stem cells. The cultured stem cells are injected into the affected tendon, ligament, or joint to encourage healing. PRP is another byproduct that is internally sourced from blood platelets in a matter of minutes. The platelets are combined with numerous growth factors that are released upon activation and can enhance healthy inflammatory cells in areas of tissue injury, form new blood vessels, new connective tissue, and aid in the regeneration of skin when injected.

IRAP, stands for Interleukin-1 Receptor Antagonist Protein, is used to treat equine athletes that are susceptible to musculoskeletal injuries and osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. Joint trauma results in the release of inflammatory mediators such as Interleukin-1 (IL-1). IRAP uses a horse’s own anti-inflammatory protein found within the blood to counteract the destructive effects of IL-1 to slow the process of osteoarthritis. The process works by binding to the IL-1 receptors in the joint and blocking the continuation of damage and inflammation.

“We often see joint damage in sport horses because of the nature of their work, but we try to avoid overuse of steroids in joints because steroids can have long term effects on cartilage,” said Dr. Miles. “This is a way we can manage joint disease and stop inflammation without having to consistently use steroids every time. Some of our clients will maintain their horses on IRAP alone for joint injections.”

Most recently, Palm Beach Equine Clinic has added a Pro-Stride Autologous Protein Solution (APS) Device, which is a new up and coming treatment that combines PRP and IRAP treatments but provides faster results.

Pro-Stride APS will reduce pain associated with arthritis and deliver anti-inflammatory proteins capable of slowing cartilage damage and improving mobility through the Interleukin-1 Receptor Antagonist Protein. The process can provide pain relief for up to one year following a single injection, which includes 20 minutes of blood processing in the Palm Beach Equine Clinic laboratory with no incubation period.

“I believe we are learning more about these technologies with more advanced science behind what they do and how they do it, “ said Dr. Miles. “These treatments are natural, drug-free, competition safe and necessity drives the need for regenerative therapies in the sport horse world.

“It’s all these new regenerative therapies that I think make our lab more state-of-the-art,” continued Dr. Miles. “They set us apart and are also tools that referring vets can make use of. The bottom line is that we have the ability to get horses back significantly faster after injury by using these therapies.”

An Expert Team

The laboratory at Palm Beach Equine Clinic offers 24-hour service with quick and efficient processing of blood work and test results. While veterinarians, or interns under the supervision of a veterinarian, are involved in a lot of the laboratory processing, the Palm Beach Equine Clinic laboratory is also staffed by 24-hour technicians. As a result, test results are returned to veterinarians and subsequently horse owners as fast as possible.

“We are lucky enough to have access to the technologies found in the Palm Beach Equine Clinic laboratory and work with people who have the experience, knowledge, and training to run such an advanced facility,” said Dr. Miles. “We always look forward to welcoming new and returning referring vets to the equipment, technology, and innovation that we have available at Palm Beach Equine Clinic. We take pride in our symbiotic relationship with veterinarians visiting Florida from around the country and the world.”

The Importance of Correct Farriery During the Intense Show Season Explained by Dr. Stephen O’Grady

Palm Beach Equine Clinic of Wellington, FL, proudly offers advanced services to referring veterinarians and clients in equine podiatry with the expertise of Dr. Stephen O’Grady. As the show season continues on, some horses may be experiencing foot soreness or new lameness that could be related to their farriery.

The importance of high quality hoof care in the competition horse can’t be denied. The equine hoof is unique, as it is comprised of a group of biological structures that follow the laws of biomechanics (Figure 1). The farrier is a major asset during the show season as he or she can be proactive in maintaining the health of your horse’s feet and thus preventing lameness.

There are three very important aspects of farriery science that the farrier will use to keep your horse sound, which are trimming the foot in conjunction with the size and placement of the horseshoe. Typically, a farriery session will begin with an evaluation of the conformation of each hoof from the front, side, and behind to observe the height of the heels. Next, the farrier should observe the horse in motion to see whether the horse’s foot lands heel first, flat or toe first. All this information is considered and evaluated before the farrier begins shoeing.

Trim

Regarding the trim, many farriers no longer use the term ‘balance the foot’ – which has no meaning – and have begun to use guidelines or landmarks when approaching the trim. The guidelines used are trimming to achieve a straight hoof-pastern axis, using the widest part of the foot which correlates to the center of rotation, and trimming the palmar foot (heels) to the base of the frog or to the same plane as the frog (Figure 2, 3).

A closer look at these three guidelines, which are all interrelated, will help to show their importance. If the dorsal (front) surface of the pastern and the dorsal surface of the hoof are parallel or form a straight line, then the bones of the digit (P1, P2, P3) are in a straight line, and the force from the weight of the horse will go through the middle of the joint. Furthermore, and equally important, if the hoof-pastern axis is straight, the weight will be distributed evenly on the bottom of the foot.

The second guideline is the center of rotation (COR), and as the COR is located a few millimeters behind the widest part of each foot, it allows the farrier to apply appropriate biomechanics to each foot. The foot is trimmed in approximate proportions on either side of the widest part of the foot, which provides biomechanical efficiency.

Heels

Lastly, one should trim the palmar section of the foot to the base of the frog or trim such that the heels of the hoof capsule and the frog are on the same plane. Adherence to this guideline keeps the soft tissue structures (frog, digital cushion, ungula cartilages) within the hoof capsule, which are necessary to absorb concussion and dissipate the energy of impact.

We must remember that heels do not grow tall, they grow forward. If we allow the heels to migrate forward, the soft tissue structures will be forced backward out of the hoof capsule. Furthermore, as the heels migrate forward, the weight is placed on the bone and lamellae, thus bypassing the soft tissue structures of the foot. Allowing the heels to migrate forward also decreases the ground surface of the foot. An example of this guideline is shown in Figures 4A & 4B, where the palmar foot was trimmed appropriately and a size larger shoe was applied to properly distribute the weight.

Correct Farriery Palm Beach Equine Clinic
Correct Farriery Palm Beach Equine Clinic
Foot shows the three guidelines applied to the foot. Note the proportions on either side of the widest part (black line) of the foot. Right: Shows the length of the shoe and the wide expanse of the shoe creating a platform under the foot.

These three guidelines can be applied to any foot and they serve as a basis for maintaining a healthy foot and a basic starting point for applying farriery to a horse with poor foot conformation or one with a distorted hoof capsule. Figures 5A & 5B will illustrate a hoof where all three of these guidelines have been applied.

Farriery and Horse Showing

Many horses are given a rest from competition, which includes their feet, following a heavy competition load such as Wellington’s Winter Equestrian Festival and Adequan Global Dressage Festival. Many horses arrive with very reasonable foot conformation, but upon arrival the farriery can change and many horses are shod with various specialty shoes, wedges, pads, pour-ins, etc. as a means of protection, and perhaps, to enhance their performance.

Dr. Stephen O'Grady Palm Beach Equine Clinic Veterinarian
Dr. Stephen O’Grady

As the season progresses and the workload increases, the sole thickness starts to decrease and the feet become softer from multiple baths; now the farriery that was applied for protection may be causing pressure on the thinner, softer structures of the foot, thus becoming somewhat detrimental. Furthermore, the horses continue to be trimmed and shod on a monthly basis and the change in the integrity of the hoof structures without investigating can cause horses to be over-trimmed. Additionally, as the season starts into March, the structures of the foot deteriorate further as a result of the workload, and many horses become foot sore. At this point, the farrier options are limited because they may have been used at the beginning of the season.

Luckily, Palm Beach Equine Clinic offers a farriery consultation service by Dr. Stephen O’Grady to both veterinarians and farriers. This unique service provides a second opinion or ‘another set of eyes’ to both professions when treating difficult farriery cases for ideas on other options to help these foot sore horses.

Palm Beach Equine Clinic provides experience, knowledge, availability, and the very best care for its clients. To find out more, please visit www.equineclinic.com or call 561-793-1599.

Dr. Scott Swerdlin, President of Palm Beach Equine Clinic, Judges Pony Halloween Costume Contest

Dr. Scott Swerdlin, President of Palm Beach Equine Clinic was asked to judge trainer, Charlie Moorcroft’s annual Halloween Pony Parade and Costume Contest on Sunday afternoon, October 27th. Each contest won a prize for various categories. The final prize given was two $50 gift certificates to Palm Beach Equine Clinic for the Best of Show awards. The winners were Sophie Studd and Eliza Guero. Congratulations kids and have a Happy Halloween!!!

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