Learn About Being an Equine Veterinarian
Get Career Info on Duties, Salary, and More
Equine veterinarians are large animal practitioners that specialize in health management of horses.
Equine veterinarians are licensed animal health professionals who are qualified to diagnose and treat horses involved in competition and production. An equine vet can work many environments, but they generally work closely with both equine patients and their human owners.
The typical routine for an equine vet includes performing basic exams, giving routine vaccinations, drawing blood, prescribing medications, evaluating and suturing wounds, performing surgeries, and giving post-surgical exams.
Other duties may include performing pre-purchase exams, monitoring the reproductive health of breeding stallions and broodmares, assisting with foalings, and taking x-rays or ultrasounds. Equine veterinarians may work in conjunction with a farrier to correct angular limb deformities, solve lameness issues, and ensure that the foot is properly balanced.
It is common for equine veterinarians to work a five to six day week with additional “on call” emergency hours as needed. Work may occur outdoors in varying temperatures and weather conditions. Veterinarians, especially those working with large animals, should always follow proper safety precautions to minimize the risk of injury while working with their patients.
According to statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), more than 75% of vets work in private practice. Equine veterinarians in private practice may either work from their vehicle (making farm visits) or in an equine veterinary clinic. Many equine vets offer a combination of both clinic-based and mobile services.
It is not uncommon for equine veterinarians to have a large animal mixed practice which includes other livestock species such as cattle, sheep, or goats. Others choose to offer a mixed practice serving both small and large animal patients.
According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), nearly half of equine veterinarians are involved with performance horses (44.8%). Other major areas of service include pleasure/farm work (17.2%), racing work (13.7%), and reproductive work (13.2%). The AVMA’s most recent employment survey of 2015 indicated that there were 3,874 veterinarians in exclusively equine practice, with an additional 4,177 involved in mixed practice.
Outside of private practice, vets also find work as college professors or educators, pharmaceutical sales representatives, military personnel, government inspectors, and researchers.
Education and Training
All equine veterinarians graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, the culmination of a rigorous course of study involving both small and large animal species. There are 30 accredited colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States that offer the DVM degree.
Upon graduation, vets must also successfully complete the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE). Approximately 3,000 vets pass this exam and enter the field each year. At the end of 2015, the most recent AVMA employment survey available, there were 105,358 practicing U.S. veterinarians.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) boasts 10,000 member veterinarians from 67 countries, making it the world’s largest equine veterinary organization. The AAEP puts on a major convention each year with over 100 hours of lectures and demonstrations available to equine veterinarians.
The median wage for veterinarians is around $87,590 according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics survey conducted in 2014. Earnings for veterinarians ranged from less than $52,530 to more than $157,390.
According to the AVMA, the median professional income for equine veterinarians (before taxes) was $85,000 in 2009.
Veterinarians who are board certified in a particular specialty area (ophthalmology, oncology, surgery, etc) generally earn significantly higher salaries as a result of their advanced education and experience. As of 2015, AVMA data indicated there was 107 board certified equine diplomats and 307 board certified large animal surgeons.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the veterinary profession will expand at a faster rate than average—about 9% from 2014 to 2024. The limited number of graduates from vet programs will translate to excellent job prospects in the field.
The AAEP reports that their highest numbers of U.S. equine vets are located in California, Texas, and Florida. Outside of North America, the three countries with the highest concentrations of equine veterinarians are Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
With over nine million horses in the United States alone, demand for equine medical services should continue to increase at a healthy rate for the foreseeable future. Demand for equine specialists should continue to grow.