We all know horse owners are a different breed from dog and cat owners. Understanding those differences helps you respond to their unique needs better.
Karen E. Felsted
For example, horse owners usually make a bigger financial investment in their animals than dog and cat owners do, paying more for basics like shelter, food, training, and veterinary care. Many equine owners also expect more from their animals. Mild lameness in a dog may not be an issue, but an injury like that could be the end of a horse's performance or working career—and it could dash the owner's hopes and dreams.
Most equine clients fall into one of two categories. The first is the longtime horse owner, who's very involved with his or her animal and may be very knowledgeable about equine injuries and illnesses.
The second group isn't as familiar with the horse world; they may be first-time owners who aren't as savvy about their animal's medical needs. Working with these clients is sometimes similar to working with small animal owners.
Tired of "know-it-all" clients?
While it can be a pleasure to work with a client who's knowledgeable and concerned, it's also sometimes difficult and frustrating. Why? Horse owners often seek opinions about their medical problems from many sources.
James E. Guenther
For example, if it's a lameness issue they may seek treatment advice from farriers, trainers, saddlery consultant, and barn acquaintances. And horse owners sometimes trust these opinions more than their veterinarian's advice because these individuals have a high level of expertise in areas veterinarians may know little about. The good news: More effective communication can tip the balance in your favor, helping you win clients' trust and compliance. Try these communication strategies to improve your relationships with clients:
Acknowledge the client's expertise and involvement. Horse owners will flinch and run if they sense you're being condescending.
Show your respect for the other caretakers of the horse. Understand the benefits that the farrier, the trainer, and the saddlery consultant can offer your clients and join forces with them to treat the horse's problem effectively.
Be patient with clients. Answer that extra question or spend a little extra time during the exam to provide education about the horse's illness and explain your diagnostic and treatment recommendations. Keep in mind that every client communicates differently, so you'll need to adapt to the individual, providing more information for some clients and less for others.
When the cat's away
Often, communication between equine veterinarians and clients breaks down before the appointment, when clients are worried and have questions about their horses' health. If you aren't readily available—which isn't unusual when you spend your days out on calls and in surgery—clients naturally seek easy-to-reach nonveterinarian colleagues with whom they can discuss their horses' medical problems. To stay in the loop, it's a good idea to use a cell phone or pager and return calls promptly. If they can reach you easily, clients will be more likely to involve you early in the disease process.