A specialist in equine reproduction, Dr. Modesty Burleson, V’07, is COO of Spy Coast Farm. Her career path, she said, has been like a fairy tale.
A horse girl from a very young age, Burleson was six when she started riding horses and nine when she got her first pony, named Dawn Treader. He was waiting in her front yard on Christmas morning, red bow and all.
“I was obsessed. He boarded at Woodberry Farm, with trainer Chris Gemmill, and I was there every weekend, after school, and all summer,” said Burleson.
There, Burleson had a fateful encounter with Dr. William Solomon, V'68, owner of Pin Oak Lane Farm, a full-service farm and equine veterinary clinic in York County, Pennsylvania.
“He was checking on Dawn Treader,” she said. “Watching Dr. Solomon work was an aha moment for me: I would be a veterinarian. I never once wavered in that decision.”
Years later, Burleson worked for Solomon at Pin Oak Lane during her summers as a Virginia Tech undergrad. She helped Solomon breed and care for Thoroughbred and Standardbred mares and stallions, narrowing her veterinary career goals into the area of equine reproduction.
“I am who I am today in part because of Dr. Solomon,” she said. “I loved helping him with the breeding work and became fascinated with everything related to breeding horses. He helped me choose Penn Vet — all the veterinarians I knew went to the School — where I then found a new community of mentors.”
Burleson named Dr. Patricia Sertich, associate professor-clinician educator, Large Animal Reproduction at New Bolton Center, and her fellow students as inspirations. “Penn Vet was a foundational experience,” she said. “I took advantage of everything available at New Bolton Center and had amazing mentors and friends, many of whom I’m still in touch with today.”
A Dream Comes True
Burleson’s plan after graduation was to work for Solomon, but a detour through Kentucky, the horse capital of the world, changed everything.
“Kentucky is rich with opportunities to practice equine medicine,” she said. “I went for a yearlong ambulatory internship with Dr. Riddle at Rood and Riddle Hospital and expected I’d return to Pennsylvania when it was over.”
But, after a year, Burleson extended her stay in Lexington. “Then, I met my husband Lyn Burleson and landed my dream job,” she said, “I fell in love with Kentucky, and I’m still here today.”
While working as an associate for Rood and Riddle, Burleson was called to examine a colicky mare at Spy Coast Farm, a small new enterprise in town with roughly 20 sport horses and a handful of employees.
After this, Spy Coast's manager contacted her for a few other cases. One visit turned into something more, when owner Lisa Lourie asked Burleson to join the staff as resident vet.
“This was the fairy tale offer,” Burleson said.
The Fairest Farm in the Land
That was 2010. Thirteen years later, Spy Coast has expanded to 800 acres, 75 employees, and more than 300 horses. It’s the largest of three farms, the other two are in Florida and North Carolina.
Burleson has been instrumental in the expansion, working as the right hand to Lourie, for the past two years in the official role as COO. “I’m proud of what Lisa and I have built — we call it Disneyland for horses,” she said. “Lisa is so forward thinking. When she has an idea, she runs with it and trusts me to as well.”
The duo’s vision and doggedness are evident in Spy Coast’s evolution. The farm started as a breeding business and expanded to include equine rehabilitation and fitness, young horse development and training, and contagious equine metritis quarantine.
Education has also become a core part of Lourie and Burleson’s mission for the farm. Most recently, Spy Coast opened an Equine Education Center with an event space, indoor arena, and lecture hall.
“It’s really state-of-the-art and features everything anyone interested in or involved with horses would want in a conference or event facility. Lisa designed it with all needs in mind,” Burleson said.
Beyond the teaching and learning facility, the farm offers programs for high school, college, and vet school students, as well as ‘second chance’ employment through local programs.
Perhaps because she gained so much from her own mentors, or maybe because she’s a natural teacher, Burleson loves working with students, whether they identify as future veterinarians or not. “If I can help change somebody's career path or lead them in the right direction if they need help, then that’s really a special part of my day,” she said.
She’s looking forward to this summer and welcoming Miranda Starr, V'23, as Spy Coast’s first veterinary intern from Penn Vet.
“I am over the moon and can’t wait for Miranda to arrive and see everything,” said Burleson. “She's very interested in pathology. When she came to visit, I took her straight over to University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (UKVDL) to visit the necropsy floor. It blew her away that I took time to connect her to the people at UKVDL. But Penn Vet gave me the opportunity to meet so many people and build networks that it’s natural for me to want to do the same for veterinarians just starting out.”
Happily Ever After
Of course, Burleson can’t predict the future. For now, she’s living her dream in Kentucky. She has a job she loves and a family farm as a second job. With Lyn, she owns and runs a commercial family Thoroughbred breeding and sales operation in Midway, Kentucky called Burleson Farms. They foal 60 and breed more than 100 Thoroughbred mares a year. She’s also mom to two young sons, Levi and Tucker.
“Of everything I’ve done and worked for, I’m most proud of the work/life balance I’ve created,” she reflected. “I’ve helped build an amazing place at Spy Coast. I’m the world’s most devoted baseball mom. And sometimes I even find time to sit on my porch with a glass of wine and watch my chickens in our yard.”
While Burleson may liken it to a fairy tale, her career is really a story of working hard, taking chances and embracing change. She's always open to new opportunities and nurtures a close community of supporters, who recognize an excellent, ambitious veterinarian and inventive businessperson when they meet her.