Dr. Laura Callaghan (DVM) and her dressage horse, Llama, a percheron-thoroughbred cross gelding. (Photo: Rebecca Simonson)
Dr. Laura Callaghan (DVM) and her dressage horse, Llama, a percheron-thoroughbred cross gelding. (Photo: Rebecca Simonson)

New veterinarian’s passion for horses leads to WCVM equine internship

After years of “living and breathing horses,” Laura Callaghan is savouring her new role as an equine field service intern at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

By Lynne Gunville

Having already spent a summer as a student with the WCVM Veterinary Medical Centre’s Equine Field Service, Callaghan is enthusiastic about returning as a qualified veterinarian who can now “sign on the vet line instead of the student line.”

“I know the clinicians super well, and I know many of the clients and the horses,” said Callaghan, who will receive her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) Spring Convocation on Wednesday, June 5. “I’m also quite involved in the equestrian community, so I know quite a few people, and it’s really comfortable to come back and continue working with them.”

Callaghan completed her final year of clinical rotations in April, and throughout May she was busy with routine herd health services, soundness exams and an assortment of emergency cases.

Callaghan enjoys the variety and the chance to gain more experience under the tutelage of WCVM equine veterinarians. She also looks forward to the challenge of lameness cases—Callaghan considers them puzzles that need to be solved.

“Each one is different, and you really have to come at them from all sides. A lot of it is based on what the rider is feeling under saddle,” said Callaghan. “It’s not just the physical exam, but it’s the big picture.”

When it comes to big-picture thinking, Callaghan also relies on her own experiences as a horse owner and rider. She’s been crazy over horses for as long as she can remember but didn’t start seriously riding until she was 16—old enough to get her driver’s licence and a job to pay for riding lessons.

Fate stepped in when Callaghan’s riding lessons led to a friendship with local veterinarian Dr. Michelle Rowe (DVM)—along with a job offer at Cypress View Veterinary Clinic, a small animal clinic in Callaghan’s home community of Medicine Hat, Alta.

“I ended up working there for about six years,” said Callaghan, who was 16 when she began working with Rowe and Dr. Peggy Taylor-Mason (DVM), a 1992 WCVM alumna. “They ended up rooting for me my whole vet school life.”

Several years later, Callaghan purchased her first horse, Griz, and began competing in dressage competitions in the Medicine Hat and Calgary areas. She quickly became hooked on the discipline.

“I love how technical and consistent dressage is,” said Callaghan. “It’s just you and your horse in harmony ideally and trying to build on your scores from the last show. I really think that proper dressage training improves the fitness, the stamina and even the gait of a horse.”

Dr. Laura Callaghan (DVM) and her dressage horse, Llama, a percheron-thoroughbred cross gelding. (Photo: Rebecca Simonson)
WCVM graduate Dr. Laura Callaghan (DVM) with Llama, her dressage horse. (Photo: Submitted)

Two years later Callaghan bought Llama, a grey percheron-thoroughbred cross gelding that she brought with her to Saskatoon in 2020. Callaghan and Llama competed in numerous Equestrian Canada-sanctioned shows, and in April 2023, they made their debut in Prix St. Georges—the beginning of the international levels in dressage. Unfortunately, a severe tendon injury has recently sidelined Llama’s dressage career, and he’s on stall rest and rehabilitation.

Callaghan is optimistic that she will still ride at the Grand Prix level one day, and she’s considering the idea of bringing up a young horse and training it to the most difficult level of dressage competition.

Callaghan credits Llama with sparking another passion besides dressage. Originally named Shazam, his crazy face at mealtime reminded her of a llama—hence his new nickname and Callaghan’s keen interest in camelids.

That interest led to her adopting Marjorie, a llama-alpaca cross (known as a huarizo). Marjorie lives rent-free in return for keeping the barn cats safe from coyotes at the home of Callaghan’s mentor, Dr. Trisha Dowling (DVM), a WCVM professor and lifelong equestrian.

Callaghan’s interest in camelids also led to a fourth-year externship at a camelid practice and alpaca farm in the United Kingdom where she spent two weeks helping alpacas give birth to their crias (babies)—a process they called “unpacking alpacas.”

As Callaghan reflects on her past four years at the WCVM, she values the opportunities to enter the world of veterinary medicine—shadowing a horse veterinarian, working at the veterinary college, working in a Saskatoon-area private practice, and talking to clinicians with similar interests.

She appreciated the support of Dowling who has been a friend, a life coach and a cheerleader. Callaghan’s 2025 wedding to fiancé David Greaves will take place in the backyard at Dowling’s farm.

Once Callaghan has completed her one-year internship at the WCVM, she hopes to work as an equine veterinarian in the Saskatoon area and would especially enjoy working with performance horses.

“I think that it’s really cool to see a horse that I helped to treat out competing and doing what they love at a high level,” said Callaghan, who is also eager to develop relationships with horse owners.

“I absolutely love talking to the clients … I’m fresh and I’m excited and I like sharing what I know with people, and I like hearing about their concerns and learning about their horses.”

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