No Horsing Around

by Henry Blanchette, Freelance Editor
photo contributed by Kathryn Rhatigan

Senior Kathryn Rhatigan had wanted to go to the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, Florida, for over four years. This year when she was offered a position as a veterinary technician-in-training at a farm close to the site of the festival, she made her dream a reality.

Rhatigan has been horseback riding since she was eight years old. She even bought her own horse to become more involved in equine life.

“In sophomore year, after I had saved enough money, my parents relented and bought me a horse,” she said.

Prepared with her own horse in Florida, Rhatigan worked alongside an equine sports veterinarian to create treatments and training programs to help horses recover from an illness or injury.

“It can be really hard to get hands-on experience with a veterinarian, so I was really glad to get this chance,” she said.

Missing a term of school was substantial, but Rhatigan did what she could to stay on top of her work.

“I was very busy, so I definitely got behind,” she said. “I only needed to turn things in for English and biology, as they’re graduation requirements.”

In Florida, Rhatigan said she learned through experience.

“I was a vet tech in training and didn’t receive any of that training before I started, so there was a lot of learning on the job,” she said. 

 Her proximity to the WEF, which was near her work, allowed Rhatigan to achieve her goal of competing at the festival.

Roughly 6,000 horses compete across all four divisions (children, junior, adult amateur and professional) each year in the WEF. Since this was Rhatigan’s first time competing in the show, she was up against more experienced equestrians. 

“WEF is the largest and longest-running [horse] show in the world, so I had a bit of a learning curve, especially as many of the people in my class have multiple horses and have been showing at WEF since they were tots,” she said.

Rhatigan faced unfamiliar and strong competition at the show; nevertheless, she saw success.

“I won a class out of 70 entries my last weekend and finished the weekend reserve championship second in my division of classes,” she said.

Beyond riding, Rhatigan’s internship reinforced her aspiration to enter the equine veterinary field professionally. 

“I helped the veterinarian perform lameness evaluations, set up machines and sterile surgical scrubs,” she said. “I did all the care for my own horse, something I’m not [always] able to do simply because I can’t drive half an hour each way to the barn before school.”

Rhatigan’s internship, along with the WEF, were both canceled due to COVID-19.

“I did have to leave early. The last two weeks of the horse show were canceled,” she said. “I was going to stay, but my trainer didn’t want to be responsible for me during the outbreak.

Now home, Rhatigan is preparing for the next steps toward becoming an equine veterinarian.

“I plan on taking a gap year to be a working student in a show barn somewhere,” she said. 

Rhatigan then hopes to attend college and veterinary school to pursue her goal.

“I plan to spend the rest of my life around horses. I am going to be an equine veterinarian and devote myself to their health,” she said. “I hope to be involved in research in some capacity so that I can better the lives of the animals who have bettered mine.”