Opening the door of the Elder’s Equine Clinic, you are confronted with an extremely large stretcher — one that has extensions to accommodate the limbs of an unconscious horse.
Equine surgeon and owner of the clinic, Chris Bell shows off the clinic’s rubber room, complete with an industrial hoist, in which injured horses are tranquilized safely, then lifted onto the stretcher and moved into the operating room.
"This is the largest ventilator in the province," said Bell, as one used for humans wouldn’t be sufficient for his equine patients.
While completing his residency at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, Bell saw the need for an equine surgeon in Manitoba. Many of the injured horses from Manitoba transported to the college’s clinic didn’t survive the eight-hour drive, or were so weak that they had to be euthanized upon arrival. He flew to Winnipeg to work in the clinic with previous owner Norm Elder, then decided to buy the practice when Elder retired earlier this year.
Since he began work in March, the practice, that has an office at Assiniboia Downs and clinic in Lido Plage, has been busy with orthopedic surgery. Bell said his ability to treat horses quickly has likely saved the lives of a few. One example is a horse that had its elbow shattered after getting kicked.
"He couldn’t walk. It was big trouble," said Bell, adding that sending the badly injured horse for out-of-province surgery wouldn’t have been an option.
A show horse from the Portage la Prairie area was stricken with colic, a condition that can be fatal for horses. Michael Omichinski said Bell checked the horse, owned by his wife, and decided that surgery was necessary. The jumper has gradually recovered and is almost back to normal activity.
"If he (Bell) hadn’t been here, we would have had to pack him (the horse) up and take him to Saskatoon," said Omichinski, adding that the extremely hot weather combined with the illness would likely have caused the horse’s death before reaching the veterinary college in Saskatoon.
Bell said horses are good at hiding their pain so it’s important to have someone with experience overseeing their rehabilitation.
As the economy in Manitoba, and throughout the Prairies, improves, horse ownership is on the upswing, and Bell believes his practice will benefit.