Thursday, October 09, 2014

Required Reading: Dr. John Steele's 68th Year in Equine Practice Profiled in Chronicle of the Horse This Week

If you were the gambling kind, you might have been able to make some money at the World Equestrian Games in France last month.

What if, when Team USA's Beezie Maddie and Cortes C came oh-so-close to the gold medal in show jumping, you had wagered with that Irishman sitting next to you about the veterinarian responsible for that high jumping superstar horse--and all the Madden showjumpers?

What if you turned to him in the bar and said, "Yeah, and did you know that horse's vet is 89 years old?"

He wouldn't believe you. Put money on it. The average age of FEI treating vets these days seems to be getting younger and younger. 

But many of the USA's top jumpers still have their lameness problems evaluated, untangled, and resolved by a veterinarian so far behind the scenes that you almost have to be a horse industry insider to even have heard his name. 

Sometimes people's voices drop to a whisper when they mention him: "Yes, Dr. Steele is looking at his hock tomorrow..."

That's why you should look in your unread mail pile, head to a tack shop, phone a friend or find some other way to get your hands on a copy of this week's Chronicle of the Horse. It's their annual horse care issue, and the magazine has an old-fashioned long-form article about Dr. John Steele of New York and Florida stretched across nine pages.

(The article is not available online at present, it is only in the print edition of the magazine.)

Update: The article is on the online edition of the Chronicle on Uberflip and you can download the whole magazine or just the pages with Dr. Steele's article, but I think a subscription is needed to access it. I have a subscription so I can't tell if non-subscribers can see it:

If you're in the hunter/jumper side of the horse business, you know Dr. Steele's name and your path and his have probably crossed. Lucky are those among us who have worked with him on horses and learned not just from his knowledge but from his ways of working with horses--and people.

Track down the September 29/October 6
double "horse care" issue of
The Chronicle, Vol 77 No 30.
Yes, Dr. John Steele is still practicing veterinary medicine at the age of 89, and still tending to the horses of Olympics riders like Beezie Madden. The Chronicle's Jennifer Calder told Dr. Steele's story by interviewing those who have spent decades with him, from grooms and riders to fellow veterinarians like Drs. Tim Ober and Brendan Furlong all the way to that other legend himself, hunt seat authority George Morris.

Don't look for him on the speaker roster at conferences, other than an occasional panel discussion. You won't find a book by him, even on the sagging shelves of the Hoofcare + Lameness library. Yet Cornell University has an endowment in his name that offers vet school scholarships only to students who have authentic farm backgrounds and an interest in equine medicine

He's in the Show Jumping Hall of Fame.

When the Wellington, Florida show season was paralyzed by an Equine Herpes Virus outbreak in 2007, Dr. Steele was one of the key people in the community who helped keep riders and trainers calm by bringing everyone together for weekly update meetings, when chaos could easily have erupted.

But the best parts of this story may have nothing to do with sport horses or Olympic riders. The article stresses again and again how Dr. Steele approaches both horses and his knowledge of them--or his ongoing pursuit of that knowledge. 

And it's been 68 years since Dr. Steele graduated from Cornell Vet School.

Dr. Steele assures his interviewer that the secret to his success has not been his knowledge of the horse, even if many horsemen would argue that point. In his mind, it's been his character, although he didn't call it that. He described it this way: "Perseverance. Being prompt. Being available. Being able to talk to the powers that be, whoever you have to talk to. And then knowing something about the horse. The easiest part is the horse."

The meat of the article is Dr. Steele's discussion of where ego fits in when you're trying to help a horse. Most of the stars described him as someone who questions everything all the time, and never thinks he has all the answers. Steele in turn said that there is a place for ego, but that you have to know where and when that is.

Why didn't he burn out, why has he outlasted everyone else on the circuit, even people half his age? 

To last successfully and with satisfaction in the horse world, take a spoonful of advice from each page of this article about Dr. Steele's approach to life and if your path ever even comes close to crossing his, be sure not to miss a chance to look this legend in the eye. 

Just for a second, though--he's a busy man.

Have you worked on a horse with Dr. Steele? Tell us a story! Scroll down to the "Post a Comment" link, click on it, and type in the box. Don't forget to enter your name. You can also email to and I'll post it for you.

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