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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 Internal Medicine Specialist Dr. Peter Heidmann

Dr. Peter Heidmann Palm Beach Equine Clinic Veterinarian

One of the repeatedly praised and recognized characteristics of Palm Beach Equine Clinic is the great pool of talented professionals from all specialties that make up the large team. In 2016, Dr. Peter Heidmann, DVM, MPH, began working with Palm Beach Equine Clinic for the winter season, and this year, the accomplished internal medicine specialist is returning to work with Palm Beach Equine Clinic 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?

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.

Dr. Peter Heidmann, DVM, MPH Palm Beach Equine Clinic
Dr. Heidmann participated as one of the founding veterinarians in Montana State University’s bioregions program to Mongolia in 2014.

Q: You began working with Palm Beach Equine Clinic 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 Palm Beach Equine Clinic and found that there might be a need for an 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 Palm Beach Equine Clinic?

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 Palm Beach Equine Clinic, 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 Palm Beach Equine Clinic 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, electrolytes, blood gases, fluid volumes, and other technical aspects of horse medicine.

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

While in South Florida, we’re basically working all the time, 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.

Meet PBEC Veterinarian Dr. Natalia Novoa

Dr. Natalia Navoa
Palm Beach Equine Clinic Veterinarian Dr. Natalia Navoa

Dr. Natalia Novoa was born in Nashville, TN, and raised in Colombia, where she graduated from the University of La SalleUpon returning to the United States, Novoa validated her degree in both the U.S. and Canada and received her chiropractic adjustments qualifications in Kansas and studied acupuncture in Florida. Novoa joined the Palm Beach Equine Clinic (PBEC) team for a short period in 2000, before spending several years following the hunter/jumper horse show circuit in Canada, Colorado, and Ocala, FL. She then re-joined the PBEC staff in 2011, and, with her veterinary license in Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Canada, Novoa has been a valued member of their team ever since.

Q: How did you decide that you wanted to pursue veterinary medicine?

I have enjoyed having animals in my life since I was very young, but what was key to me deciding to pursue veterinary medicine was having a farm where I was able to gain skills and real-world experience that would prove handy down the road. I was able to practice with real medical cases and acquire knowledge in operational management, and it was an introduction to the lifestyle because it requires patience, hard work, commitment, determination, and accountability. It was a valuable opportunity to work hands-on in the environment with the veterinarian of my farm, absorbing, assimilating, and getting familiarized with the vet skills that were the building blocks for my future. He made me realize that veterinary medicine would fit me perfectly. That helped me set the foundation for my career, and since then, I didn’t have to look any further!

Q: What led you to PBEC?

I think of it like this: if I want to become the best at what I do then I have to work with the best, and I picked PBEC. They say, “Leadership is not about a title or designation. It’s about impact, influences, and inspiration.” Palm Beach Equine assumes the leadership role, chases the latest trends, and evolves continuously. In addition, we have a great team of skilled vets and staff who try to expand their vision and abilities to achieve success. 

I have to say I have had seven great horse show seasons with Palm Beach Equine, and I’m looking forward to an eighth one. When you are doing what you love and you are working with great horses, time flies.

Q: What is your primary area of focus?

I focus on sports medicine and lameness, combining conventional medicine with alternative medicine; this includes chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, and herbal therapy. To me those are great alternative tools for diagnosis and treatment. I have to say, they help you to look at a horse or a dog in a different way, and you have more tools and options. Regardless of the case – lameness, pain management, internal medicine, etc. – I have different choices to achieve results in those situations.

I perform chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture therapy, and laser treatments to small animals as well. Most horse people have dogs, so I’m able to take care of their companions too.

Q: What is a typical day like for you at PBEC?

It’s a busy agenda every day with continuous juggling. I’m usually dealing with lameness (involving diagnosis and treatment), doing pre-purchase exams, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture therapies on horses and dogs, performing laser treatments, and at the end of the day, doing paperwork. Depending on the day, I could be doing FEI treatments, vet shift at the horse show, donating vet work at Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center, or dealing with an emergency. We’re a very mobile practice able to go from farm to farm and horse show to horse show (Kentucky; Tryon, NC; Ocala, FL), so I’m moving around a lot.

Q: What is your favorite part of the job?

There are so many aspects that I enjoy: working outdoors, closely with animals on a daily basis, and diagnosing and dealing with different issues to overcome problems; the privilege of working as a team with the clients and trainers and creating a great, close relationship with them; the connection with the animals and how they show you how grateful they are, and being able to see the improved outcome. There’s great satisfaction in successfully applying my knowledge and skills to a make a difference in someone’s life.

Palm-Beach-Equine-Clinic-Acupuncture-Alternative-Medicine-Therapy-Natalia-Novoa-1

Q: Have you had any standout, favorite moments since beginning to work at PBEC?

When I had double success treating a ‘mystery’ case of a horse in which the owner was losing hope because other treatments were not showing good outcomes, and also treating her dog that was crying and unable to get in the car. The animals and owners were both happy and thankful. “For it is in giving that we receive” – having a positive impact on someone is correlated with high levels of overall job satisfaction.

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I enjoy traveling with my daughter, Lola, and visiting my parents and siblings that live in different countries. I also love dancing to Latin music, running, playing tennis and squash. I’m a pretty competitive squash player, so I welcome any challengers!

Learn More About Surgeon Dr. Weston Davis

Palm Beach Equine Clinic Veterinarian Weston Davis

Dr. Weston Davis is a second-generation veterinarian from South Florida. His father is recently retired from veterinary medicine and his family raises beef cattle in Clewiston, FL. Dr. Davis graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Florida College Of Veterinary Medicine in 2008. He was awarded the Barbaro Gulfstream Scholarship (a veterinary scholarship named in honor of the amazing Barbaro), the Calder Race Course Scholarship, and the Student Award for Excellence in Large Animal Surgery.

After graduation, Dr. Davis completed his internship in Sports Medicine and Surgery at Oakridge Equine Hospital, followed by a residency in Equine Surgery at North Carolina State University. In 2012, he became board certified in Large Animal Surgery by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. Before joining Palm Beach Equine Clinic, Dr. Davis spent 1.5 years as a staff surgeon at a private practice referral center in Texas.  He has authored and co-authored publications on topics ranging from colic surgery to advanced imaging and novel surgical techniques. In 2014, he was awarded the BEVA Trust Peter Rossdale EVJ Open Award for a research publication on return to performance following colic surgery.  He has spoken at several national and state meetings.

Dr. Davis is an avid sportsman himself, and his hobbies include fishing, hunting, waterskiing and almost any outdoor activity.

Tell us more about your background with horses growing up?

I started riding horses when I was so young I can’t remember.  We had some amazingly kind horses that packed us around and took care of us (and a couple that didn’t). Riding as a child was mostly business – for the purpose of working cows. Somewhere around 14, I began team roping for pleasure and competition. I roped throughout college, but lost the required free time when I began practicing veterinary medicine. I’ll probably get after it again when I am retired and much too old to be doing that sort of thing!

When and why did you decide to become a veterinarian and why did you choose to pursue a career in surgery?

I decided to be a veterinarian very early in life.I had a father and uncle who were both successful and happy veterinarians whom I looked up to, so it was a logical path to follow.  The surgical interests started as a kid watching my father do surgery, something I always thought was amazing and he was very skilled at. My decision to pursue the surgical avenue came during vet school when I realized that I wanted to specialize and knew surgery was my passion.  

What is the best advice that your father has given you as a veterinarian?

My father is a man of few words. However, by watching him, I learned one of the biggest life lessons, which is to be calm and content with your career and your life.

What do you enjoy about speaking publicly and sharing your knowledge?

I think mentoring, sharing knowledge and teaching the hands-on skills to the next generation of veterinarians is one of the most fun and rewarding parts of my job.  Observing a student as content and excelling in their career with a skill set that you contributed to, even in a small way, is a beautiful thing.

What is the most interesting or rewarding surgical case you have worked on? 

Although minimally invasive arthroscopic type surgeries are my favorite to perform, I think colic surgeries are one of the most rewarding.  They are often difficult surgeries and inevitably in the middle of the night, but you take a horse who would most certainly die without you, and save a life.  Helping a horse who was in excruciating pain or has a life-threatening devitalized piece of intestine recover back to feeling comfortable and eating in their stall the next day is about as good as it gets.  

What are your goals for your career now?

My goal is to expand the surgical and outpatient sports medicine referrals at PBEC. I am currently the coordinator for the intern and resident program. I plan to expand and improve on the quality of these mentoring programs within the industry.  I am also working on the development and description of some novel minimally invasive surgical techniques.  I aim to continue authoring 1-2 publications annually in the refereed equine literature.

When not roping, fishing, hunting or water-skiing, what other things do you do with your free time? 

Most of my non-equine time lately has been devoted to some real-estate interests and house renovations.  I am also a big reader.

Meet Dr. Janet Greenfield-Davis

Palm Beach Equine Clinic Veterinarian Dr. Janet Greenfield-Davis
Palm Beach Equine Clinic Veterinarian Dr. Janet Greenfield-Davis

Dr. Janet Greenfield-Davis knew she wanted to be a veterinarian since elementary school. She grew up riding and competing on the hunter/jumper circuit in California before attending California Polytechnic State University and graduating from the University of Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine in Glasgow, Scotland. Working alongside her husband Tyler Davis, Janet joined the Palm Beach Equine team as an intern before accepting a full-time position in 2010.

What inspired you to be a veterinarian?

I started riding at eight years old in a little field at the end of my street. As I started to grow up, my dad got me taking lessons and competing. He asked me one day when I was 11, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up’? I told him that I wanted to be a veterinarian and work on horses. He never let me forget that, so I grew up and became a veterinarian.

What is it like to work with your husband every day?

It’s wonderful. How many people can say that they get to see their significant other throughout the day, work on cases together, and bounce ideas off each other? We have worked together since the day we met. We went to school together, sat together in class and now we work together. I absolutely love it.

Have your children inherited the animal-lover gene?

Oh yes! We have two girls – Zella is two and Maisie is five months. Zella comes on calls with me regularly. She has her own toy stethoscope in my truck.

What is your specialty? 

Equine Acupuncture by Palm Beach Equine Clinic Dr. Janet Greenfield-Davis

I specialize in acupuncture and herbal medicine. Both piqued my interest in vet school, and when I came to Palm Beach Equine, there was an opening for an acupuncturist. I really love having a way to treat animals without using drugs or steroids. It’s one more method to help equine athletes reach peak performance and is gaining more and more popularity. When I first started, people didn’t embrace it as much, but now even more doctors are starting to turn to it for cases they are not sure how to diagnose. With all the strict rules in FEI, it is a way to make a horse feel better without using drugs.

When you are not working, where can we find you?

Hanging out with my kids and my husband. We try to do family things as often as we can.

What advice would you give to someone considering vet school?

It’s a long, hard road but if you love it, it is so worth it.

What do you like about being on the Palm Beach Equine team?

We have all the diagnostic equipment we could ever need, and I love the quality of practitioners that we have at our practice. We always work as a team – everyone’s number-one goal is the best care for horses and animals in general.

Name one thing most people don’t know about you?

I used to swing dance. I taught lessons and performed for a long time.

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