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Racetrack vet and the rookie

Pin Firing: Fact or Fiction?

One of the advantages of working at a racetrack was the diversity of the learning experience. My “job”, as you might want to call it in the morning was a hot walker. I shouldn’t call it a job, for it was more for the experience as I was going to college to be a vet tech. I didn’t get paid. Gerry Cheervers whose horses I hot walked, insisted that he get me something at the end of the summer. Of course I kindly declined. But he insisted, so my request was my first cooking utensils, an olive green combination electric frying pan/crock
pot. A great gift for someone bound to college.


Once the morning workouts of the horses were finished, I’d then tag along with the track vet. Now we get into the nitty gritty of horseracing. My most important role was the timing of the “drugs/enhancers” we gave to the horses. It was my responsible to know when the horses were racing, in order to give them their “boost”, so they wouldn’t pee any of it out after the race if they won and were checked. People were astonished when I’d interrupt the vet talking to a trainer or owner, saying, “Excuse me, but we have to get to barn C by noon”. To have a vet listen to a little “intern”, met the world to me, but he knew what was at stake. I remember thinking when all the hoopla was going on about poor Ben Johnson in 1988, Canada’s Olympic Gold Medalist Sprinter who was stripped of his medals cause of “doping”, just because someone in his camp didn’t do the math properly. At the time I didn’t know enough about whether Bute, Lasix, or jugs of electrolytes was legal/ ethical or whatever, all I knew was this was my responsibility and that’s what I
did. You look back on things like this when you’re older and say to yourself, you were part of the problem., but when you’re young you

go with the flow.

Another treatment that we did was called Pin Firing. The theory was to induce a counter-irritation to the horses’ legs to speed up and/or improve healing, and when it heals the legs are stronger. I asked the vet if this was true, he just shrugged and in a bitter voice just said, “it’s an excuse the trainers give the owners to give the horse a rest from racing”. I figured we never did it to any of Gerry’s horses cause he listened to his trainer which I respected.

I also learned what a nervous sweat was. The vet was grumbling about having to geld a 4-year stallion. What it was doing at the track I have no idea. We got to his box stall and I could hear him blowing, snorting, and kicking the walls. The vet handed me a twitch, again, something that you look back on and say, this tool to control a horse is just not right. I took it, and immediately started to drip buckets of sweat; this horse was going to kill me if I went into its stall. I started to make my way in, and the vet and groom both started to laugh. They took the twitch from me and in they went. I witnessed my first gelding of a horse. I nearly fainted, and the piece de resistance is when he took the sweet breads and threw them on the hot tin roof of the barn for the crows to eat.


As I look back at all that I did on the track it makes me realize that when you are young, naïve, and unworldly, things don’t bother you as much. You’re not as judgemental, and adapt more readily to the situations you are put in. It’s not til you get older, that you say to yourself, I can’t believe I did that. One could say, where were your parents in all this, what did they think? But as with most kids, when asked how your day was, I just mumbled “Just fine”, and my parents, as I am with my kid, we are completely happy with that response. Ignorance is bliss in so many ways.

EPILOGUE: I am sure a lot of track vets are torn in finding the balance between their job description  & love of horses. For a good read on this subject, click here: