Day At The Track

For whom the bell tolls - Patty Hogan

06:21 PM 11 May 2008 NZST
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i1210530608.jpg Performing surgery at the Hogan Clinic Dr. Patty Hogan wrapping a horse’s leg
Performing surgery at the Hogan Clinic
Photo courtesy of Hogan Equine Clinic
Dr. Patty Hogan wrapping a horse’s leg
Photo courtesy of Hogan Equine Clinic

These nice early spring days, when Patty Hogan strolls across Red Valley Road, which separates her home from Fair Winds Farm, she is accompanied by a pair of dogs, a giant black Lab named Harley and a golden retriever named Rock.

When she arrives at the Hogan Equine Clinic LLC, which sits on the grounds of Fair Winds, awaiting her are the large and small surgical needs of the horses that ply their trade at racetracks in the region.

When they need Hogan’s care, they make their way to the central New Jersey farming community of Cream Ridge in Upper Freehold Township.

Some of the patients are in for minor matters but others are brought in with injuries that require the deft touch of one of the premier equine surgeons on the East Coast.

So when Patricia M. Hogan, VMD, ACVS, watched the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May this year and saw the runner-up, Eight Belles, suffer catastrophic injuries that claimed the filly’s life, she knew all too well what was transpiring.

But like the rest of the world watching in horror, Hogan cannot explain what happened.

“I was watching the race as a fan,” she said. “As a veterinarian I guess I have a more accepting and deeper understanding of what probably happened there. It’s a terrible tragedy that we need to understand better. The racing industry and the veterinarian industry both have been woken up a little bit by the public’s reaction, and I think some good will come out of that. We need to be more aggressive about finding out why these [injuries] happen, how we can prevent them and not accept them.”

Hogan, who earned her veterinarian degree from the University of Pennsylvania, interned at the famed Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, KY before her surgical residency at Texas A&M. She is board-certified with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

A Jersey girl who grew up in Edison, Hogan returned to the Garden State to put her surgical skills to work. After 11 years, she left the New Jersey Equine Clinic in Clarksburg and three weeks ago opened the Hogan Equine Clinic which occupies an 8,800 square foot building on the grounds of Fair Winds Farm, a standardbred nursery.

So far, her 25-stall facility has been filled to capacity every day.

Her patients tend to be evenly split between standardbreds and thoroughbreds. While she achieved considerable fame for her connection to the treatment and recovery of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones in 2004, these last few days her thoughts have turned to the 2008 edition of the first leg of the thoroughbred Triple Crown.

“That’s the shocking thing about it [happening after the race],” she noted. “I’ve seen horses break both ankles, in fact I repaired one this past week that came to me with a fracture in one hind leg, and I repaired it. When he got up, the other leg was broken. He was a thoroughbred with bilateral injuries, similar to hers, but not so severe. But that’s so rare.

“For it to occur at the end of the race is very unusual,” she added. “She [Eight Belles] must have had enormous fatigue, and that’s just puzzling. I know she was very well taken care of. I don’t think there was any smoke and mirrors there. That trainer [Larry Jones] is very honest. I don’t think the jock [Gabriel Saez] deserves the criticism he’s received at all.”

Hogan, who testified before a congressional subcommittee in 2006 in support of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, is concerned with the thoroughbred industry’s practice of using stallions for their bloodlines even if they have not raced or had only a few starts before they were injured.

“I’m sure genetics has played a role because [catastrophic injury] has increased in recent years,” she said. “There’s an argument out there that we’ve bred for a lot of speed. A lot of horses that have retired to be bred are not necessarily the most durable horses. They’ve hurt themselves after one or two races, and then they are sent to be bred. I think that is some component.”

She contrasts this with the sturdier standardbred.

“There has been some subtle change in their build,” she said of the trotters and pacers. “They’ve gotten more streamline. They’re not as bulky as they used to be. But catastrophic injuries are so rare. They are being bred for speed and they’re getting sore, but they don’t kill themselves.

“The horses that end up going to the breeding shed, at least with the stallions, they’re the ones that have performed incredibly well and raced well,” she added.

Hogan, who was honored earlier this year with the Spirit of the Horse Award from the Equine Science Center at Rutgers University, has found that treating thoroughbreds and standardbreds present different outcomes.

“The injuries are similar but the prognosis is always different,” she explained. “The prognosis is always better for standardbreds than it is for thoroughbreds. They always come back from everything. They’re different types of horses. Their gait is different; what’s demanded of them is different.

“I just think they’re the most amazing equine athlete,” she said of standardbreds.

“I find them to be the most remarkable and versatile horses, incredibly durable,” she observed. “Their gait is easier for them in some regards than the thoroughbred gait but on the other sign of the coin, they race every week. They train harder than any other breed that I know of. But they can do it. And they can do anything else. They can race 300 starts and then go jump some fences.

“I definitely have a different set of prognoses that I can give for a standardbred vs. a thoroughbred even if it is exactly the same injury,” she reiterated. “It’s rare for a standardbred to founder or have laminitis as a result of having an injury in the other leg. With a thoroughbred it’s a huge priority.”

Still, her operating theatre is filled five days a week with both breeds of racehorses.

“Horses are coming up from Florida this, and it’s a busy this time of the year,” she said. “May through September is my busiest time. I’m seeing two-year-olds with stress fractures, starting to get chips [to remove], lot of throat surgeries, and lots of orthopedics right now.”

As busy as she is, Hogan could not be happier.

“I get my cup of tea in the morning and walk across the street,” noted Hogan who shares a split-level home that sits on 38 acres with her husband of seven years, standardbred horseman Ed Lohmeyer. “It’s idyllic. It’s a beautiful road. I love the close proximity [to the clinic]. I came back over last night to treat a horse, just walked over with my dogs. It’s great, I’m so happy. It turned out so nice.”

The clinic was carved out of the breeding barns at the 600-acre Fair Winds and includes eight oversized stalls that once housed stallions plus another barn for a total of 25 stalls.

It has been non-stop work for Hogan, five technicians and a secretary since the facility began handling patients on April 15. An open house on April 21 drew more than 200 attendees.

The Fair Winds ownership of Ed Mullen and his son, Mark Mullen, took Hogan’s design and arranged for the renovations to build the clinic and then leased the facility to the veterinarian.

“[Ed Mullen] had the vision and Mark made it happen,” she said. “They’ve been excellent to me. I couldn’t ask for better partners. We’ve known each other for 10 years. I’ve done their [vet] work for 10 years. It worked out great for them, too. They had this building sitting here. They’re farmland preserved so they’re limited as to what they can build.”

The clinic features one surgery room and two recovery stalls.

“It was the breeding shed so I kept the hay loft upstairs and redid that,” she explained. “It’s a huge observation room that looks over the surgery room with a big screen television up there which coordinates with my scope towers so the client can see what I’m doing.

“I’m really grateful,” she added. “I left another practice. I couldn’t advertise at all. I had to go through an eight month period when I didn’t have my own place and was a nomad, working at someone else’s place three days a week. People went out of their way to find me and send me cases. It’s really nice. I’m so fortunate.”

For the summer, Hogan will be enjoying the short commute and the busy routine at Hogan Equine Clinic, but in September she will start splitting her schedule. She will be spending three days a week in New Jersey and three days a week working at a new facility being built near Belmont Park on Long Island, the 27,000 square foot, $17 million Ruffian Equine Medical Center.

“It is really an exciting opportunity in New York,” she explained. “Half my caseload is from Belmont Park. I’m excited to be part of it.”

There is, however, the matter of the 85-mile commute to the Ruffian Equine Medical Center that might seem a bit daunting but Hogan’s husband found a solution.

“Eddie’s got a license to fly a helicopter, and he’s going next week to pick one up,” she said, laughing. “We bought one in Florida. He thinks he’s going to fly me to Belmont.”

That remains to be seen, but Hogan is looking forward to the challenge.

“It’s a dream come true,” she said of the opportunities ahead. “When I left [New Jersey Equine] I didn’t know what I was going to do. I worried about it. It turned out to be the best thing in the world.”

At the Rail for May 11, 2008

arol Hodes

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