Story by Kortny Rolston-Duce and Photography by Kort Duce, Colorado Exposure
Counties and regions across the country experiencing a shortage of veterinarians that specialize in caring for large animals such as cows or horses.
The long hours, miles of driving, lower pay and being on call for emergencies 24 hours a day, seven days a week turn many away. Most veterinary students instead choose to treat cats, dogs, and other small animals in clinics because of the regular hours and higher pay.
But for Stacy Bluhm, owner of Foothills Equine Clinic, it wasn’t a tough decision. Treating and caring for horses is her calling and why she became veterinarian in the first place.
“I love horses,” she said. “They are just really cool animals.”
A winding path
Unlike many of her colleagues, Bluhm’s journey wasn’t straightforward. She was raised around horses and always loved them. Growing up in Niwot, she was involved in 4-H and competed in dressage, hunting, and jumping.
It never occurred to her she could become a veterinarian. In her family, attending college wasn’t expected or even encouraged. Her parents pushed her to get a job out of high school and make a living at something. Bluhm didn’t even take the SAT or ACT like many of her high school classmates.
“I’m the first person in my family to go to college,” she said. “It’s just not something my family did.”
Bluhm landed a job as secretary out of high school but was restless. She enjoyed art and eventually moved to Tucson, Ariz. to attend community college. She earned an associate degree in commercial art even though her father insisted it was a waste of time and money.
Bluhm returned to Colorado and struggled to find work in her field. She started working as a technician for local veterinarians, including one who specialized in horses. It was there she found her calling.
She returned to college and at age 29, was accepted into Colorado State University’s renowned veterinary school.
“I knew before I started in vet school that I was going to specialize in horses,” she said.
A labor of love
Bluhm wakes up early to get organized for her busy days tending horses at barns throughout Boulder County, Berthoud, Lyons, Broomfield, and a few miles into Weld County.
She purposely keeps her territory small so she can get to an emergency call quickly. That’s a luxury few large-animal vets have, especially in rural areas. Many provide service to farms and ranches that span hundreds of miles.
“There are a lot of horses in this area of Colorado and also equine veterinarians so I can keep my area fairly small,” Bluhm said. “I do that so I can get to most emergencies with 90 minutes or so.”
Most days, she rotates between making regular stops at barn to provide scheduled care, responding to emergencies, or tending to unexpected injuries that come with a clientele that mostly own show horses.
Each appointment can take up to three hours depending on the number of horses at a barn and the type of care she needs to administer.
Her days are long, and she spends her weekends being on call for emergencies, but Bluhm enjoys her job. She doesn’t regret becoming a large-animal vet and realized long ago, that working in an office and seeing a patient every 20 minutes wasn’t for her.
“Part of the fun of my job is driving to people’s houses and barns and get to know them,” Bluhm said. “I have more than 20 minutes with the animals I tend. You can’t schedule just 20 minutes with a horse.”