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Equine-only: ND couple rides hard in veterinary-farrier business

DAWSON, N.D. — A young couple from central North Dakota has turned their love of horses and rodeo into a rare service: an equine-only veterinary-farrier practice that is one-of-a-kind in this region.

Dr. Lindsey Horner, a 33-year-old veterinarian, and her husband, Nate, 35, are partners in Horner Equine Inc. The business, started in 2012 and is a side enterprise to the Horner family's 440-head commercial cow-calf operation near Dawson in central North Dakota.

Lindsey started the veterinary clinic in May 2012 and it has grown every year since. They built a home and adjoining vet clinic in 2016 and moved in 2017. The facility Includes a lab, surgery room and intensive care unit. "We're able to do what we love, which is work on horses, close to family," Lindsey says.

Rodeo passion

The Horner Equine, Inc. facilities include training barn and a home and clinic combination.Nate grew up on a Dawson ranch, about 11 miles north of Napoleon on N.D. Highway 3. He went to North Dakota State University where he graduated in 2006 with degrees in agricultural economics and ag finance, intending to come back to his parents' cattle ranch or go into banking.

Lindsey grew up not far away at Steele, N.D. The oldest of four siblings, she competed in high school rodeo and hung out in the mixed veterinary practice owned by her father, Dr. Arlyn Scherbenske, who recently retired. They'd known each other since they were kids.

After graduating from Steele-Dawson High School in 2004, Lindsey went on to NDSU, where she continued with rodeo and met Nate.

In the summers, Lindsey worked with equine-only veterinarians elsewhere in the country. A key mentor was Dr. John Beug, at Red Lodge, Mont., in a practice that focuses on equine sports medicine and surgery with an emphasis on podiatry health.

She grew in her vision of becoming a performance horse veterinarian.

Nate was back at the ranch, working on his own career, trying to make a living with cattle and horses. With university degrees, Nate envisioned side income might be in ag finance. (His father ranches and is a loan officer with Choice Financial bank in Medina.) Also, Nate had been training horses and starting colts since he was in junior high. In 2008, he had built a heated barn with a round pen that allowed him to ride colts in the winter.

One day, Lindsey looked up into Nate's eyes and suggested she could make a better living as a horse veterinarian if she had a farrier partner "on-staff or close by."

Would Nate consider going to farrier school?

"I told her it's the LAST thing I'd ever want to do," Nate recalls, shaking his head. At 6-foot-4, he couldn't feature himself leaning over horse hooves as a career. No.

Six months later—surprise. "There I was, in shoeing school," he says.

He completed a six-week farrier course at Oklahoma State Horseshoeing School in Ardmore, Okla., and that helped shape their future prospects.

A shoe-in

Lindsey enrolled in veterinary school at Kansas State University. After her second year of vet school, the couple married.

She graduated in 2011 and took a one-year internship at the Reata Equine Hospital, at Weatherford, Texas, west of Fort Worth. He joined her there and hung out at the clinic to pick up tips from sophisticated farrier professionals. He achieved American Farriers Association certification and learned more about how farriers did shoeing based on X-rays, learning how to fix problems that arrive with competitive horses.

Out of school, Lindsey figured she'd find a job at some equine-only clinic somewhere between the Rockies and the Mississippi River. When a job didn't materialize immediately, they turned homeward.

"I didn't want to come back here at first, because I wasn't sure there would be enough horse work at first, but it's all kind of worked out," Lindsey says. It only took six months for them to determine the business was viable.

As the business blossomed, they built the home and veterinary clinic, including special stocks and handling equipment that Nathan has built. Lindsey has been able to gain confidence in diagnosis by using technology to consult with equine-only veterinarians across the country. "The competition is so high at certain levels that it takes a veterinarian and a farrier to keep the horses sound," Nate says. "There's a lot of money in it."

Holds its own

Nate says today's horses are largely in two categories— pets or a business asset in the performance world—shows, rodeos and other events.

Lindsey says she was pleasantly surprised that clients would travel significant distances for horse care. Her average client is an hour-and-a-half away, and some clients are three to four hours away. Nate takes only farrier jobs that travel to the clinic.

"Horse people in North Dakota are kind of used to traveling because you have to travel to go to any show or any horse event, so it's usually not a huge deal to travel to the vet," Lindsey says.

The vet business is slow between Thanksgiving and mid-January, but in April, clients are getting ready for rodeo season from May through October.

Besides dealing with lameness diagnosis and treatment, Lindsey does a lot of dental treatment.

Horses have hypsodont ("high tooth") that "erupt" slowly through the life of the animal up to one-tenth of an inch per year to compensate for the constant grinding.

"They grow, and the way the jaw is set they get sharp points on the top on the outside and on the bottom on the inside," Lindsey says. She uses type of file called a "float," to rasp or file the chewing surfaces relatively flat or smooth. That's $85, without the sedative.

During the rodeo season, Lindsey competes in barrel racing and Nate is in team roping rodeo events across the country. The Horners compete for recreation but also to serve clients. "It's a four to five month process—a harvest time. I call it that because we'll go non-stop."

Growing together

Turns out, Nate's education has been critical to the business deal. Lindsey and Nate often lean on their families for professional advice.

Nate has become intrigued with the creativity in corrective farrier work, in concert with the vet work. "I always say trim for soundness, shoe for enhancement," Nate says. "Every six weeks, we put them a rotation, bring them back in and pull the old shoes off, trim the foot, and either reset the old shoes or put a new one on.

"It's another sideline job that helps supplement the ranch income," Nate says.

A year-and-a-half ago, they had a daughter, Karsyn Rose. Nate's parents, Gerald and Mary Horner, continue to farm and Mary does a lot of the child care day-to-day, and they get help from her parents, too.

Lindsey was right about how a horse veterinarian could work with a farrier "close by," Nate admits. "The fortunate thing for Lindsey is that I'm not going anywhere," he says, with a smile. "I'm here, so that's where it works out well for us."