by JACK BARGER ’01
photography by AMY DEPUY
When you have majors and programs as renowned and revered as University of Findlay’s, it goes without saying that there needs to be a great deal of people in all kinds of positions helping to make it all successful.
SOME OF THESE PEOPLE and positions are a well-known part of any college. UF’s professors, instructors, advisors, and others are top notch, and that certainly applies to those within the University’s Animal Science/Pre-Vet program. Some, as well, like the staff veterinarians for equestrian studies, offer a set of skills fueled by both veteran and newer perspectives that go well beyond the average college experience, focusing specifically on keeping certain animals healthy and happy.
Dr. Gregory Hass and Dr. Natalie Simmons ‘06 have a relatively new full-time professional relationship working regularly side-by-side with UF’s horse population. While Hass has been on the UF staff for 27 years, Simmons started full-time at UF in February of this year, after a veterinary career that began upon her graduation from University of Missouri’s vet school in 2013. Simmons practiced after in a few states, she said, including Ohio, where, at one point, she moved to start her own practice; but something about her UF alma mater – Simmons is an alumna of the Animal Science/Pre-Vet program, and interned with Hass in the late 2000s – kept calling her back, and it wasn’t just the work.
As a student, Simmons worked as a barn intern for the equestrian barn managers, helping them with non-medical care, Hass said. “She was always the right-hand person with evaluations and treatments and we definitely interacted daily.” This specific UF experience helped when, in 2018, Hass contacted Simmons to tell her that (now-retired) UF staff veterinarian Dr. Rick Henninger was having surgery, and to ask her if she might want to do some relief work in his stead. “I was very excited and said ‘sure thing,’ right away,” said Simmons. “I was so very grateful for the opportunity to come up here and work.” She did a few more stints of relief work for UF, including over this past summer, after which she stayed through the semester and over the break before she was offered Henninger’s full-time position.
The pair shares a responsibility mainly to the good number of horses that are in the University’s care. Both say that there is far more than just meets the eye to the job, but that the broad sense of what they do revolves around the care of sick or lame horses along with doing what is needed to try and prevent sickness in the first place. Hass equates it to a children’s daycare in terms of remedies and precautions. “We have a large young horse population,” he said, “and if there happens to be, say, a respiratory virus within it, it will spread just like it does, particularly through young children, at a school. And colic is always an issue in any population of horses, so it’s those types of things we have to take care of.” There are lameness evaluations, vaccinations, de-wormings, and everything in between. “Basically, anything that can happen to a horse happens,” Hass added.
And anything can happen with the horses’ teeth as well. While she is a veterinarian who, like Hass, can do a little bit of everything with regard to their care, Simmons’ special interest, it seems, is dentistry for the horses, which, she said, Hass installed an early love for when she was a UF student and intern. Yes, even though it’s not something that the uninitiated person might think of, horses need dentists to work on their teeth just like people do, but for some very different reasons. “At the western barn, for instance, they have a lot of youngsters in training that they break out or start for under saddle, and they sometimes have wolf teeth that need to be removed before putting the bit in so they’re more comfortable,” Simmons explained. While Simmons does new dentals on horses early in the semester, Hass said, she is always ready to tackle the next challenge. “She’s a dentist one day, and the next she’s an orthopedist; then she’s in internal medicine, and then later an anesthesiologist. She and I are, really, general practitioners.”
The partnership between the two allows for Hass’s long-time wisdom, a frame of reference that has nearly seen it all, to meet what Hass called the fresh enthusiasm and intelligence that is Simmons’. Combined, this creates a wealth of knowledge for the UF program, one that runs the gamut of veterinary issues, and which also provides a solid base from which students can reap the benefits. “It’s refreshing,” Hass said. “When you see the same things over and over like I have, it’s definitely good to have an alternative view of things.” Simmons has been a working veterinarian long enough, he continued, to collect an expertise of her own, while at the same time, “new” enough to offer a perspective that breaks from the norm.
“Practicing in different states,” Simmons said, “you find that sometimes different approaches work better for certain situations in different regions. You see different diseases and conditions and for different reasons.” And, she continued, when she is able to bring that regional knowledge to UF, it broadens the scope of care.
As a result of this breadth of understanding, the future for the horses, the students, and the program at UF looks exceptionally bright. Hass and Simmons regularly bounce ideas off of each other when looking at the bigger picture, they said, and there is a certain respect that each has for the other, helping to strengthen trust and reliability even further. That reliability and respect also extends to UF veterinary technician Heather Riddle ’99, another UF alumna, and an integral part of the team; one who most certainly, they said, needs to be noted. “She orders meds and supplies, does the record-keeping, schedules appointments, restrains horses for procedures, assists in surgery; we’d be lost without her,” Simmons said.
“It’s definitely good to have that cohesiveness and unity,” Hass explained. “It means a lot to have alumni of the program and one [in Simmons] who has been back on staff to help a few times, because of the familiarity and the individual knowledge.” In other words, Simmons came with a built-in grasp of how Findlay operates, and that, coupled with Hass’ existing reputation as a vet for UF, and Riddle’s many years with the program, makes for an exceptionally efficient working team.
“I want to make sure I’m always consulting with Dr. Hass just because he has been, and is, one of the kings of leading the UF vet services and has been for decades,” Simmons explained. “His experience with what works saves us time, money, and energy.”
Hass, in fact, was recently named president of the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association, which serves to take an even greater unity one step further. It’s a chance for him to open even more doors, coming together with like minds to expand and build upon the future of the profession. “What people should know is that we, as vets, are a community in and of itself,” he said. “We have a lot of colleagues that we both rely on and help.”
The pair plan to use the summer to regroup and prepare for the coming academic year, they said. Hass intends to stick around for several more years, and, if Simmons’ excitement for her new role is any indication, this meeting of equine-minds will continue for quite a long time.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I wake up every day, and I’m not even kidding, I feel like the luckiest person on earth,” she said. “I had zero clue when I was in vet school that my path would lead back to UF, but I am so grateful to be here. And I couldn’t ask for a better person to lead us through the pandemic and everything that comes after than Dr. Hass. He is, and was, exactly what we need during all of it.”