Meet racetrack veterinarian - Dr Simone Johnally

Dr Simone Johnally preparing a horse for Lasix.
Dr Simone Johnally preparing a horse for Lasix.

KINGSTON, Jamaica - Racetrack veterinarians are tasked with ensuring that all horses at racetracks are healthy for competition.

Newly appointed Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC) vet Dr Simone Johnally takes pride in her chosen field.

Dr Johnally, who began working with the JRC in January of this year, did her studies at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus, Trinidad and Tobago.

Dr Johnally said she was inspired to go into the veterinary sciences because of her innate love for animals.

“It initially started as an interest in animal welfare. I grew up in Kingston and I saw a lot of cats and dogs that had died on our roads. I realised that being involved in the veterinarian field would be a good way to find a solution to the problem, plus I naturally had a love for animals.

“Going through high school [Ardenne] and university, I got to know more about the different species and I found out that I can work with more than just cats and dogs.

“I fell in love with horses after gaining experience and working with other vets at the racetrack here, and that is what assisted in developing my career path of working with horses and small animals through the eyes of animal welfare,” Dr Johnally said.

Dr Johnally said so far, her experience working at the racetrack has been good.

“I am enjoying my work as I am in a space where there is always something new and exciting to learn, new animals to meet, and new conditions to observe. It is a different experience for me, knowing that I worked before in the clinical aspect in terms of understanding why horses get sick and how we treat them whereas here, this is more about the regulation of the welfare of the horses to make sure that they are suitable for racing and to ensure that when they have completed a race, they are not injured in any way that would prevent them from continuing to race,” she said.

On a typical race day, track veterinarians observe horses during morning workouts, inspect entries in the paddock before each race, and closely monitor the starting gate area as horses are loaded. They remain on call to attend to any injuries, emergencies, or late scratches. They also notify the stewards of horses that are not in proper condition for competition by placing them on the “vet’s list”.

Track vets oversee the collection of blood and urine samples used for random pre-race and post-race drug analysis. They also observe horses after each race for signs of lameness and nasal bleeding.

“My race day starts long before racing begins because of the Lasix programme.

“Lasix has to be administered about four to five hours before a horse races for the medication to have its desired effect of preventing excessive bleeding.

“That’s part of the welfare as we are trying to ensure that they (horses) are not hurting themselves while racing, and we are trying to ensure that they still have the opportunity to race while being safe.

“Once I give the last injection for the day, which will be four/five hours prior to the last race usually at about 1:00 pm, I take up duties in the saddling ring and at the testing barn,” Dr Johnally informed.

The new race track vet continued: “The saddling ring is where all the horses preparing to race go, and we will observe them to see that their equipment is placed correctly and that they are wearing the specified equipment. We ensure that they are walking soundly, that they don’t have any abnormal swellings, and that their behaviour is normal. Then we observe the horses when they return from a race to see how well they are doing to make sure that they are sound. If they are not sound, we put those horses on our list and we observe them afterwards declare them fit to race again when they are sound.”

Dr Johnally then explained her role in the testing barn.

“I work with senior vet, Dr Sophia Ramlal in this area.

“As vets, we take urine and blood samples, usually after allowing the horses to cool down after running.

“All samples are taken then go to the lab, so we are there to observe/participate in this process making sure that all the protocols are observed.

“Simply put, every aspect of a vet’s job on a race day is to ensure the safety of horses,” Dr Johnally said.

Dr Johnally is a member of the Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association in the capacity of the public relations chairperson. She also chairs the Animal Welfare Committee of the association and said while she has goals within the work environment, she also has personal goals that she wants to achieve.

“I have big dreams about improving the welfare of animals in Jamaica and I think a lot of it starts with our legislation and our education of our owners and just average citizens,” she said.

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