Martinez-based veterinarian travels to her equine patients
By Lou Fancher
Lifting the foreleg of 11-year-old Landon, equine veterinarian Jamie Textor tenderly probes the Danish Warmblood's mostly-healed limb as if handling the leg of a celebrated dancer or athlete.
And in a way, she is, because the horse owned by Heather Matrisian has won multiple prizes for his multi-tasking "dressage," a highly skilled form of competition that is an Olympic event and includes performing specialized gaits and even a pirouette.
"It's like ballet for horses," says Matrisian.
After stroking Landon's neck and whispering assurances, Textor's fingers test her patient's "splint" bone for lameness. Landon remains unperturbed, perhaps comforted by the familiarity of his "home turf hay" at North Peak Equestrian in Walnut Creek. Landon is receiving care "stall-side," the veterinarian equivalent of a country doctor's house call.
After working for a decade as a board certified large animal surgeon, veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation specialist and member of UC Davis' Equine Surgery service, Textor earned her Ph.D. in 2013.
Finding herself craving "more of what I'd been trained to do" and relief from an institution's "one-time, intense, usually by-phone interactions with horse owners," Textor launched her Total Performance Equine Sports Medicine & Surgery in 2014.
The Martinez-based one-woman operation offers services in three categories: sports medicine, surgery, and general services.
Matrisian says that what makes Textor unique are her range of skills and the equipment she provides.
"I previously had a horse that required an unbelievable amount of care," she says. "When I moved here, I tried five vets, then heard about Textor from Landon's dentist. She can ultrasound, do X-rays, all the surgeries, general checkups. And she makes house calls."
Other field vets in the East Bay -- Textor estimates there are 10 within the area she serves from Brentwood to Benicia and Castro Valley and the Tri-Valley -- provide general care, but imaging and surgery are often referred services.
"You have to schedule those things separately, which takes time," says Matrisian. A critical injury, coupled with the quarter-million value of a competition horse, waiting for X-rays can be nerve-racking.
"Horse owners have a big panic button because they're emotionally invested, let alone the monetary value," says Textor. "It's their entire recreation, their pursuit. These women -- 80 percent of my clients are women -- have whole other lives, but their horse is their private thing. What it represents is incredibly important."
Matrisian agrees. "Not only is my horse a partner who doesn't talk back to me ... there's a financial investment. Owning a horse can be a bottomless pit. It's a high-stakes game."
UC Davis emergency surgeon Dr. Isabelle Kilcoyne says that with Textor's offering radiographs and ultrasound, she's better equipped to advise owners.
"She has the skills to do her own diagnostics and treatments in the field (and) a better idea of when referral is indicated," Kilcoyne says. "As a sports medicine clinician, she has been on the forefront of new research into treatments, such as platelet-rich plasma for joint injuries, which as a field veterinarian gives her a rare insight and level of expertise in the area."
Textor's expertise recently came into play with "Valentine," a six-day-old colt pulled from a ravine Feb. 14, by Fremont police, and attracted media attention and $15,000 in crowdfunding. An ultrasound she administered detected a possible pelvic fracture, and although she had the x-ray equipment to make a diagnosis, Textor says she lacked adequate manpower.
"I decided to refer him to UC Davis to get it done safely, where there was a team, anesthesia support, etc. It's an example of when I still need to refer cases into the hospital for more involved care or diagnostics."
Textor's per-call fee is $30-$125, depending on travel distance. Procedures and medicines are additional, with a brief visit, including one vaccine running about $85 and approximately $1,200 for diagnostic imaging requiring hours and a joint injection. Surgical cases that can't be performed in the field she takes to Steinbeck Country Equine Clinic in Salinas.
"The costs are comparable," says Matrisian, about Textor's stable calls versus traveling to a clinic.
"There are places to take your horse, but that's hard on the owner. You have to clean, gas-up and park your trailer if you travel," she says.
"If you have an emergency, you could be caught in traffic with a colicky horse going downhill fast. Quite frankly, it's just simpler."
Service with the same person day or night for routine concerns and capable of providing advanced surgery or other complex care, Matrisian says, is a bonus.
If "barn calls" are easier for clients, running a sole proprietorship hasn't necessarily been easy for Textor. "It's been a steep learning curve," she admits. "Any given day, there's a greater range of what I have to know and do -- things that at the hospital were out of my wheelhouse. And general practice is an art form, it requires more client interaction. Plus, there's only my shoulders to bear the responsibility because there's no team. If it doesn't go well, no one else shares the load. I've had some sleepless nights."
But she's also had worry disappear, as it does when Landon, whose ultrasounds, poultice wraps and rest was followed by a 30-day swimming regime, smoothly circles a corral. "I'm learning all the time," Textor says, smiling.