It’s very humbling to have been appointed BEVA president for the next 12 months, yet it’s daunting having such big shoes to fill. The list of past presidents that hangs in Mulberry House highlights the eclectic mix of talents we have within the profession: internationally renowned academics and clinicians, and great examples of general equine practitioners – some studious, others flamboyant and some personalities that wouldn’t fit in any pigeon-hole.
With the changing of the presidential guard, we lose Lucy Grieve, and are joined by Bruce Bladon as junior vice president. I am fortunate to lead such a talented team, but it is an uncomfortable truth that the vast majority of BEVA’s presidential tree are white males in their forties or fifties. We do not represent the diversity within the profession, and the profession does not represent the diversity within society. Why is this?
Our profession is a snapshot of the wider equine industry we serve, and the whole equestrian sector faces similar challenges with diversity. BEVA is a democratic organisation with council members and officers elected by the membership. It is hopefully a testament to the strength of BEVA as an organisation that council elections have been hotly contested in recent years, with far more candidates than there are seats on the council.
We do not represent the diversity within the profession, and the profession does not represent the diversity within society. Why is this?
This year, we are delighted to welcome Sophie Eaden onto the council. Sophie graduated in 2013 and has worked in equine practice in Devon since 2015. She recently accepted a teaching position at the University of Surrey, so her experience of and insight into education and career development is particularly welcome. However, of the 20 BEVA council members, 9 are female, 11 are male and only 6 of the 20 members are in ambulatory equine practice. Only Sophie graduated within the last 10 years.
Is it appropriate that we have 13 specialists representing a membership that is predominantly generalist and ambulatory, not specialist and hospital-based?
It is a source of frustration to me personally that those elected to council tend to be more senior and have a higher profile in the profession – we therefore end up with a bias towards specialists and academics. Working with such an eminent group of individuals is the best part of the job, and you can’t help but be inspired. But is it appropriate that we have 13 specialists representing a membership that is predominantly generalist and ambulatory, not specialist and hospital-based? Perhaps those with specialist qualifications are more motivated? Perhaps they have a greater craving for recognition? Perhaps they have the life skills to make time to devote to council? Perhaps their clinical roles, senior positions in practices or personal circumstances allow them the time and flexibility?
With the council’s current composition, I fear we miss out on talented individuals from “proper” equine practice and the perspectives of those who have recently joined the profession, and run the risk of not representing our membership appropriately. Should we look at positive discrimination or quotas for representatives of different sectors of our membership? For the year ahead we are appealing for a new graduate representative, undergraduate representative as well as representatives from Northern Ireland and Wales to try and get view-points that we might otherwise miss out on.
When council elections come around after another annual cycle, please vote, and don’t just vote for the names you recognise. Instead, vote to ensure we have a council that truly represents our profession
We, as a council, have plenty of questions to grapple with, but the membership can certainly help by making their views known at the ballot box. Our elections are as well supported as those of other similar organisations, yet typically only around 30 percent of the membership vote. When council elections come around after another annual cycle, please vote, and don’t just vote for the names you recognise. Instead, vote to ensure we have a council that truly represents our profession. If you don’t think you are represented appropriately, then why not go a step further and stand yourself?
I am not oblivious to the fact that I am part of the problem I have just described: I am a specialist, I do very little clinical work, and none of it is in first opinion ambulatory practice. I do not typify an equine vet, but I will do my best to champion the whole profession. “Proper” practice is hard – it was too hard for me. Specialism seemed a lot easier than trying to keep across everything – and there was also the fact I couldn’t spot a lame horse unless its leg was hanging off. And there was the attraction of being able to hide in a hospital with a team of highly capable people and considerably less client contact. It has also become increasingly challenging to stay up to date with internal medicine, let alone all aspects of equine practice.
I have the utmost respect for the generalist and can understand why we are facing the challenges with retention that are now extending into issues of recruitment. As explored in the recent recruitment and retention survey presented at BEVA Congress, Huw Griffiths has built on work initiated by Renate Weller. He will continue to work on recruitment and retention in the equine profession with the support of the careers committee, now chaired by Phil Cramp (another white male 40-something year old!).
It is likely issues around social licence and the welfare of horses in sport will continue to require consideration and comment throughout the year
As Lucy leaves the council, Imogen Burrows becomes chair of the ethics and welfare committee, where she will continue to focus on work to reduce the prevalence of obesity and laminitis in equids. It is likely issues around social licence and the welfare of horses in sport will continue to require consideration and comment throughout the year. These and other issues will continue to be discussed by the equestrian sports committee, with its co-opted veterinary representatives from the major equestrian sporting bodies. We are fortunate to have excellent relationships and opportunities for collaboration with the British Horseracing Authority, British Equestrian Federation and others. With his appointment to the board, Bruce will chair the clinical practice committee that will continue to wrestle with the clinical challenges faced in equine practice and develop policy and position statements on the issues that affect us all.
I will continue to chair the health and medicines committee as we move forward with collaborative initiatives on anthelmintic stewardship with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and antimicrobial stewardship with RCVS Knowledge. We are also collaborating with RUMA on antimicrobial stewardship, the British Horse Society on their revised deworming guidelines and the major corporate groups on a survey of current deworming practices. The health and medicines committee will also respond to issues as they arise, and arise they continually do.
I am confident most of us would be keen to do more to facilitate the provision of veterinary care to working equids if we only knew how we could help
When reviewing BEVA’s activities we often overlook the activities of the BEVA Trust. Through the next year, I am keen to highlight their work and expand the opportunities for volunteering in equine welfare projects in the UK and overseas. I am particularly motivated to work with the major NGOs to further support the equine vets caring for working equids. I would like BEVA to use existing educational resources (and to develop new ones) to support equine vets in lower-income countries and to leverage the talent and enthusiasm we have in our membership to expand sustainable development projects. I am confident most of us would be keen to do more to facilitate the provision of veterinary care to working equids if we only knew how we could help.