Clydesdale cops Spartan and Julio help keep the peace in northern Delaware, so the horses’ massive bodies must always be up to the task. With their human riders, the equine officers police parks, neighborhoods, and community events as members of the New Castle County (NCC) Mounted Patrol Unit. When recent eye issues bothered both horses, their sergeant called New Bolton Center’s Equine Field Service.
“Penn Vet is on call for us for emergencies and regular care,” said Sergeant James Henasey, who leads the unit. “We’ve worked with the Equine Field Service for a long time – their veterinarians are on our speed dial. They get to know all of our horses really well.”
New Bolton Center’s fully-equipped ambulatory practice make house — or “farm” — calls across the region, taking primary and emergency clinical care to horses where the animals live or work. Services offered include vaccinations, diagnostics like radiography, dynamic endoscopy, and ultrasound, lameness evaluations, preventative medicine check-ups, dental care, and routine surgery.
“Where people bring dogs and cats to a facility for care, in the horse world that care often takes place on the farm,” said Dr. Meagan Smith, Assistant Professor of Clinical Equine Field Service and Chief of Equine Service. “It’s easier for owners and animals to have us go to them than it is to transport the animal to us. Generally, people travel to New Bolton Center for more specialized care, specific equipment, or more complicated surgery.”
Spartan and Julio are perfect examples of how the field service staff responds to a call. Both horses recently developed eye inflammation. Smith evaluated the horses at their stable and diagnosed uveitis, a condition that can cause blindness if left untreated.
“It’s a little unusual for two horses on the same farm to develop the condition, especially in a breed that’s not typically predisposed to it,” she explained. “We know a portion of uveitis cases are related to the infection leptospirosis. But both horses tested negative for the bacteria. The cause for the uveitis, as it often can be, remains elusive. We did successfully treat the symptoms.”
Smith also consulted with Penn Vet Ophthalmologist Dr. Nicole Scherrer, one of the many New Bolton Center equine specialists Field Service staff can bring in on cases. Scherrer helped rule out a leptospirosis infection.
Today, Spartan and Julio are fully recovered — though Spartan wears a new accessory. The horse’s uniform now includes a sun visor to protect his eyes from recurring inflammation.
Beyond providing patient consultations for individual horses and in-real-time education to Penn Vet students, the Field Service’s four veterinarians — Dr. Smith, Dr. Liz Arbittier, Dr. Ashley Boyle, and Dr. Jenn Linton — have become a vital resource in other ways for the NCC Mounted Patrol.
“Our police aren’t usually horse people when they start on the unit, and they have a lot to learn about the animals before going out on patrol with them,” Henasey said about his six-person and 11-horses strong department. “I’ve gone up to New Bolton Center for free seminars about horse behavior and health. And when Dr. Smith and Dr. Boyle come down, they’ll help new officers understand horses and how to administer medications and provide basic care. They’re always available for questions and have really become an extension of our unit.”
Although horses from other mounted police units travel to New Bolton Center for specialized care, the NCC Mounted Patrol were the Field Service’s first law enforcement client. Just this year, the service welcomed its second: the Philadelphia Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit. Twice a year, Field Service veterinarians will travel to Philadelphia to provide wellness care for the equine members of Philly’s finest.
“Working with horses in different disciplines is really interesting, and police horses are a special group!,” said Smith. “It’s great to be able to work with the officers who care so much about the health of their horse partners. These animals do an important community service, and we are proud to keep them healthy, well, and ready to serve.”