Achieving horse health and happiness

A healthy horse is a happy horse, and Dr Luke Campbell is a familiar figure around the stables of Flemington making sure this is true.

When equine vet Dr Luke Campbell gets called out to see a horse that is not a racehorse, he usually attends to a sick horse by himself. When he tends to a racehorse, however, it is a real team effort. “When I deal with the health of racehorses I like to work hand-in-hand with their trainers and I also communicate with the stable staff as they have usually spotted little signs of what we need to focus on. This will determine whether we need to act on the horse’s problem or back up.”

An equine vet for 22 years, Dr Campbell can be quickly identified when visiting stables as his three-year-old Belgian Shepherd dog Ned has been by his side since he was just eight weeks old.

Dr Campbell treats all types of horses, with racehorses usually presenting with more challenging cases. “When a 500kg horse is moving at 60km per hour, it generates more than five tonnes of pressure which goes to a little tendon strain. Any other issue magnifies that much in a horse.”

He believes that tendons are the most challenging injury that a horse can have, and they need time to be brought back to full performance levels.

“I actually get a great thrill by trying to manage the injury. Almandin [2016 Melbourne Cup winner] had a much-publicised injury, but we ended up getting him back to win the Cup,” he said.

Dr Campbell said the favourite part of his job is to see how much owners appreciate watching their horse compete on race day. He also loves dealing with these elite equine athletes and the teams that work so hard to have their horses in peak condition.

Studying horses for more than two decades gave Dr Campbell all he has wished for in his veterinary job. He worked for 17 years with Lloyd Williams’ stables and was often called in to give advice to other trainers, including Danny O’Brien, Chris Waller, John Sadler, and Mark and Levi Kavanagh.

But he looked on with some amazement when Rogan Josh was given a testing track gallop the day after winning the Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington. He could not stop himself asking the trainer (the late Bart Cummings) why he trialled his horse over 2000 metres only two days before he contested the 1999 Melbourne Cup.

Bart replied: “I can tell he is too keen. I need to get him settled for the Cup.” Rogan Josh was then a seven-year-old and won the Melbourne Cup two days later from barrier 21.

In recent years Dr Campbell, who is a part of the Sydney-based Centennial Park Veterinary Practice but based at the satellite office in Flemington, continues to service Melbourne and Sydney trainers.

He says the most common ailment to affect horses is a respiratory problem that would negatively impact the performance of any horse. It is therefore important that horses avoid coughs and colds.

He also said it was important to pick up “the little signs” and advises stables that they needed to keep a close watch for small issues that can be detected and addressed before they become a more serious issue for the horse.

Like most veterinary surgeons in racing, Dr Campbell has a couple of old favourites. Zipping made the top of his list (just ahead of Reset). He liked Zipping for his toughness, and how he tried his hardest to win every time he raced.

Away from the excitement of race day, Dr Campbell loves nothing more than being in a stable. “There is nothing better than seeing horses who are warm and well cared for. After all, they give us so much,” he said.




Did you know?

According to Dr Campbell, the respiratory system within horses has evolved to allow them to breathe as an athlete. The lung capacity is a very critical respiratory system that has helped horses to become super athletes.

Humans can transfer up to only 0.4 litres a second while horses can transfer 70-80 litres a second. Horses also can increase an oxygen uptake from rest to exercise by a factor of 40.