What Does an Equine Veterinary Technician Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Emilie Dunphy © The Balance 2019

An equine vet tech specializes in the care of horses and is basically analogous to a human nurse: He's responsible for carrying out lab tests, clinical procedures, and other tasks but can't prescribe, diagnose, interpret test results, perform surgery, or do anything else that's prohibited by the veterinary practice act in the state where he's licensed.

Approximately 106,680 veterinary technicians are employed in the United States according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics March 2019 update. These technicians usually work in animal hospitals, clinics, and labs, although an equine vet tech may work in an equine veterinarian's mobile practice, visiting barns and farms with the vet and helping with whatever the vet needs at each location.

Equine Veterinary Technician Duties & Responsibilities

The duties and responsibilities of an equine veterinary technician may include:

  • Checking a horse's vital signs, including temperature and heart rate.
  • Taking blood, stool, and other samples.
  • Restraining an animal so the vet is able to examine and treat it.
  • Administering medications, giving injections, and managing anesthesia.
  • Changing bandages.
  • Sterilizing surgical equipment and instruments.
  • Reviewing messages, returning calls, and doing paperwork.
  • Talking with the horse owner about a horse's condition and giving instructions on how to properly administer meds.
  • Responding to emergency calls.
  • Inventorying and reordering supplies.
  • Keeping the mobile unit equipped with a full complement of supplies at all times.
  • Prepping a horse for surgery.
  • Providing first aid to an injured horse.
  • Arranging a sterile area for surgery in a barn or stable.
  • Assisting with surgery and euthanasia.
  • Assisting with diagnostic tools such as X-rays.

The equine vet tech executes the various facets of his job so the vet is free to focus on diagnosing, prescribing, and performing surgery.

Equine Veterinary Technician Salary

The salary of an equine veterinary technician varies depending on education, certification and area of expertise, quantity and quality of experience, and location of the practice. Techs who hold research positions at colleges and universities usually earn more than their counterparts in private practice. Salary information for veterinary technicians and technologists, in general, is:

  • Median Annual Salary: $34,420 ($16.55/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $50,010 ($24.04/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $23,490 ($11.29/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, updated March 2019

Education, Training, & Certification

To work as an equine vet tech, you'll need to graduate from high school with solid grades in biology and other science courses, obtain a degree from an accredited postsecondary institution, and achieve a passing score on a credentialing exam.

  • Education: Following high school, you'll need at least a two-year associate degree from a veterinary technology program that's accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Specialization in Equine Practice from the Academy of Equine Veterinary Nursing Technicians is recognized by the American Board of Veterinary Specialties of the AVMA, along with 39 additional specialties as of 2019.
  • Experience: Previous experience as an equine veterinary assistant or caretaker may boost your chances of landing a particular job but isn't required in most cases.

Equine Veterinary Technician Skills & Competencies

Working as an equine veterinary technician isn't for everyone. Not only do you need an associate degree and a passing score on a certification exam to get there, but the job can also be emotionally and physically exhausting. To be successful as an equine vet tech, you need certain skills and qualities, including:

  • Communication skills: To effectively communicate with your supervisor, coworkers, and horse owners, you need good listening and comprehension skills in addition to the ability to write and speak clearly and concisely.
  • Detail orientation: You must be precise when taking notes, speaking with owners, administering meds, and performing testing.
  • Physical strength and stamina: Horses are big and powerful, and you'll sometimes have to help restrain them so the vet can complete exams and treatment.
  • Hand-eye coordination: You'll need manual dexterity and a steady hand for administering injections and anesthesia and using diagnostic and surgical tools and equipment.
  • Compassion and kindness: It's really a no-brainer, but you must always treat horses and their owners with kindness and be especially sensitive when a horse is having a rough time or an owner is distraught, anxious, or grieving.
  • Computer and software skills: You may have to use practice management or medical software, in addition to word processing, email, and spreadsheet apps.
  • Equestrian skills: You may be asked to jump in the saddle at any time, so you need to be a proficient rider and feel comfortable and confident on and around horses at various stages of training.

    Job Outlook

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for veterinary technologists and technicians, in general, is expected to increase by 20 percent between 2016 and 2026. In addition, competition for these jobs is projected to be somewhat suppressed by the educational and licensing requirements for entering the field.

    Work Environment

    Depending on the type of employer you end up with, you may work inside in a research lab or outside at the racetrack or breeding operation. At a large-animal hospital or clinic, you may be tasked with walking, grazing, or riding horses at the facility, in addition to doing typical barn chores, like feeding the horses and mucking stalls. If you work for an equine vet in private practice, you'll probably be working out of a mobile unit, so you can expect to be on the road most of the day traveling between appointments and carrying out your work in barns.

    Work Schedule

    Especially if you work in private practice for a vet who has a mobile unit, your schedule will depend on the schedule of the vet, which means you may be required to work nights, weekends, holidays, and/or extended hours at certain times such as during foaling season or when there's an emergency call late in the afternoon.

    How to Get the Job

    GO WHERE THE JOBS ARE

    Most equine vets are clustered in states with high horse populations. According to the American Horse Council, as of 2017, that's Texas with 767,100, California with 535,500, and Florida with 387,100. If you don't live in one of the top-10 horse states already, consider including one or more in your job search. Remember to regularly check the American Association of Equine Practitioners Career Center and other vet-related job-search sites for updated listings.

    COVER THE ESSENTIALS IN YOUR COVER LETTER

    Put your best self forward with an effective vet tech cover letter to go with your resume and other application materials and don't forget to proofread and proofread again before you click "send" or drop your application package in the mail.

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