By Katie Navarra
A sick kitten was Grace Buchanan’s first patient. At 4 years old, Grace was committed to saving the kitten. She dialed a long-distance call to her grandfather, a veterinarian, to ask for advice.
“My mom was amazed because she didn’t even think I knew how to make a long-distance call at that age,” Grace, now a Tyron, North Carolina veterinarian, said.
She closely followed her grandfather’s advice and nursed the kitten back to health.
Her next patient arrived a few years later. At the age of 7, she bandaged the broken leg of a baby bird, improving its chances of survival. From that point on, any stray kitten or puppy was fair game for rescuing. “I drove my parents crazy bringing home stray animals from the side of the road, parking lots or anywhere else I found them,” she laughed.
Both of Grace’s grandfathers nurtured her early interest in tending to sick animals.
“My dad’s father, Dr. William Burns, Jr., was also a veterinarian. We shared a special bond because I was the first in the family to follow in his footsteps,” she said.
He often shared his experiences as a student in vet school and later the details of cases he encountered in his practice and overseas. Dr. Burns volunteered his time and expertise to provide a better life for animals in third world countries. During several mission trips to Haiti, he taught local farmers how to provide better care for their animals.
On the other side of the family, her mother’s father, Otto Florshutz, Jr., equally encouraged her passion for animals. Florschutz was a wildlife biologist. He led many conservation efforts including the repopulation of the red wolf in North Carolina.
“I remember helping him catch and tag geese as part of his research project. He also raised and trained Labrador retrievers and I’m a dog lover, too,” she said.
Surrounded by family committed to caring for animals, it came as no surprise that Grace would become a veterinarian.
“There never was another option for me. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life,” she said.
After completing her undergraduate degree at Liberty University in Virginia in 2006, but before beginning veterinarian school at Louisiana State University (LSU) in 2007, Grace stumbled upon a job opportunity at Delaware Park Racetrack. Teigland, Franklin and Brokken DVMS (TFB) hired her as a veterinary assistant.
“I took a leap and moved up to Newark, Delaware, after a phone interview. I didn’t know a single person, but it was the best decision I ever made,” she said.
Working alongside skilled veterinarians, she had the opportunity to make lifelong professional connections and get a leg up on the skills she’d be learning the next four years in school. She completed her first two years at LSU and transferred to North Carolina State University to finish her degree. TFB welcomed Grace back during every extended break and had a position waiting for her after graduation in 2011.
In April 2015, TFB offered her an opportunity to move back home to North Carolina. She opened Buchanan Mobile Veterinary Services, a satellite of TFB, to service the Tryon horse country in North and South Carolina.
The area is a hotbed for horsemen and -women of all disciplines and levels of riding. A vast trail system, the climate and proximity to schooling, pleasure and international-level competitions make it popular among horse owners and trainers. The variety of clientele and horses keeps Grace busy and provides the opportunity to work with riders and their horses from diverse backgrounds.
“My bosses at TFB have enough faith in me to give me the amazing opportunity to build a practice here in my home state. I couldn’t be happier to be back and building a life in such a beautiful area,” she said.
Buchanan Mobile Veterinary Services offers a broad range of services focused on general medicine and preventive care, but Grace can’t help but be drawn to horses that need a little TLC.
“I love lameness exams and making our equine athletes as comfortable as possible to excel at their jobs,” she said.
An internship at a podiatry clinic in college sparked her interest in whole horse medicine. She specializes in sports medicine and also offers acupuncture and chiropractic. The clinic specialized in treating horses for founder and laminitis. Corrective shoeing was the method of treatment. Seeing horses wearing shoes with sharp angles and large wedges, she wondered how the shoes were affecting the rest of the horse’s body.
“One filly had a large wedge shoe on one hoof. While I understood how it was helping that foot, it got me wondering how that wedge was affecting other parts of her body when she walked,” she explained.
Around the same time, she experienced the benefits of acupuncture and chiropractic care. While trying to sell her childhood mare, the horse was “off.” The mare wasn’t lame, but she wasn’t quite right, either. Grace’s trainer suggested a visit with the local veterinarian who also offered acupuncture and chiropractic care.
“It was like magic. Dee had three days off after treatment and when I rode her she was a totally different horse. It was amazing,” she said.
Today, Grace offers acupuncture and chiropractic care as part of her practice.
“I am really excited about what a difference chiropractic care and acupuncture can make to a horse’s overall comfort and performance as well as helping to prevent injury,” she said.
Like most horse people, Grace has a passion for horses that can’t be explained to people who don’t share it.
“Horses and the passion for equestrian sport is definitely in my blood: my mother was a horse trainer and dressage competitor and both of my sisters are still horse trainers, one here in North Carolina and the other in Arizona,” she said.
Like most trainers’ children, Grace started riding before she could walk. Her mother’s facility, a six-stall barn in Washington, North Carolina, regularly welcomed new horses for training. Grace’s first ponies were hand-me-downs from her older sisters and she had plenty of opportunities to catch-ride in her mom’s business.
A large pony named Miss Periwinkle, a free lease, was Grace’s first official training experience. The nervous, high-headed pony had a bad habit of rushing fences. Under her mother’s guidance, she learned how to soften the mare’s jaw and teach her to relax and drop her head. She even taught the mare to quietly and happily jump a full course. From that time forward, she only rode green and “problem” horses, enjoying the gratification of teaching a horse.
At age 15, it was time for Grace to get a horse of her own. She envisioned a big gelding with a good personality. Instead, Free By Design, “Dee”, captured her attention. The dark bay then-2-year-old appendix mare was full of personality. The petite, feminine horse was the complete opposite of what Grace set out to buy. Although she was expected to mature to 16 hands, she never quite made it.
“She was extremely opinionated and dramatic. She threw me more times than I can count, but she taught me to ride better than all the other horses I’ve ever ridden combined,” she recounted.
Dee taught Grace the value of patience, perseverance and partnership. Over the years together, the road to success was filled with trials, tribulations and self-doubt. The hard work was rewarded seeing Dee transition from a wild filly into a “made” hunter horse.
“I’ll never forget all the lessons she taught me and most importantly the accomplishment I felt when seeing the wild, unbroken little filly that turned in to a made hunter. I’ll never forget my proud mom moment when I watched her carry a 12-year-old short-stirrup kid around like a complete pro,” she remembered.
Grace’s time on the track and experiences riding Dee have solidified her love for the Thoroughbred. “I’m pretty sure I’ll never own anything but off-the-track Thoroughbreds from here on out. They’re such amazing athletes and have so much heart! They all deserve a second career,” she concluded.
About the writer: Katie Navarra has worked as a freelance writer since 2001. She’s been a lifelong horse lover and competes in ranch horse events with her dun Quarter Horse mare.