Taking down her shingle

Few believed horse vet Elizabeth Woolsey Herbert when, a year ago, she announced she would retire in 12 months’ time, for her 70th birthday.

With that significant birthday coming soon, Elizabeth is indeed “taking down her shingle” on December 18, when her veterinary practice will close permanently.

The “shingle” marking her home and veterinary practice is “Hughesy”, a plastic horse that has for some years stood beside the Two Wells to Gawler Road bearing messages, part educational, often amusing, and always timely, to all who pass by.

Born and bred in San Francisco, Elizabeth moved to South Australia in 1991 with her former husband and their daughter.

After buying her current property, a former glider factory, they converted sheds into a home, clinic, office, storage, and Elizabeth started to build her practice.

Most horse owners then expected horse veterinarians to be big, strong blokes with a mixture of strength and skill, height and knowledge.

Into the fray stepped petite 157cm, 50kg Elizabeth Herbert, declaring herself as a horse vet in a district where small, female veterinarians were expected to treat dogs and cats.

Elizabeth soon dispelled any misconceptions about her ability, swiftly developing a loyal clientele.

She knows where, when and how to act, with the confidence of 45 years’ practice, as well as a good dose of commonsense.

She also knows how to communicate, and is not afraid to comfort a grieving client.

It was her commonsense that brought international acknowledgment for the way she treated horses burnt in the devastating Pinery bushfire of November 25, 2015.

As terrible news began to unfold, Elizabeth’s Adelaide Plains Equine Clinic was hearing horror stories of horses and ponies injured, or burnt to death; of hoofs burnt, skin sloughing away, eyes scorched and muzzles peeling, or lacerated by fences.

Fourteen horses were admitted to the clinic that first night, and some were soon returned to their owners.

However, eight remained for longer-term and, remarkably, all were saved, despite dreadful injuries.

Elizabeth and her staff kept treatment records from which Elizabeth had an article published in the Equine Veterinary Education journal: “Findings and strategies for treating horses injured in open range fires” was the second-most read article in that journal in 2018.

Typical of Elizabeth’s generosity, the article is freely available internationally, enabling prompt, simple, and cost-effective treatment of burnt horses.

“I have friends all over the world who can’t believe how lucky I am to have such interesting cases and experiences,” she said.

“A good part of the reason is because the clients are such practical people who let me do a bit of ‘MacGyvering’ on their horses. It was never boring.”

Elizabeth has many post-retirement plans.

She may move back to the USA, and dreams of trout-fishing in beautiful streams, and of writing.

As of next week, don’t expect to find “Hughesy” guarding over weekly wisdom on the Two Wells-Gawler Road.

If there is a sign outside the former clinic, it may well say, “Gone fishin’.”

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