By Britney Grover
Dr. Anne Moretta, VMD, MS, stated that “horses have defined my life.” Little did she know that her early passion for horses would lead her to veterinary school and a lifetime acquiring a vast array of equestrian skills — from childhood pony rides to junior showing and having a professional career showing and training hunters, jumpers, and dressage horses. “I grew up on the back of many different horses: exercising Thoroughbreds, racing Standardbreds, preparing foxhunters for the field, training warmbloods, breeding and raising Hanoverians for the line, show, and their intended occupations for their new owners,” Dr. Moretta summarized.
Now, Dr. Moretta puts all of that skill and knowledge into her veterinary practice at Wellington Equine Sports Medicine, where she believes in a comprehensive approach to helping horses achieve their full potential: looking at the big picture, helping the whole horse, finding root causes for poor performance, and using an arsenal of remedies nearly as vast as her career experience.
Born With It
Dr. Anne Moretta is one of those “born with it” horse people. “My parents told me that before I could walk I would insist on going on every pony ride we saw,” she said. “Growing up in the Northern Virginia-Maryland-D.C. area, all of my weekends revolved around riding. I was always trying different styles of riding, different breeds of horses, and every discipline I came in contact with.”
From childhood to adulthood, Anne went to the stables every day after school or work and showed nearly every weekend in the junior and working hunters — the first in a long line of equestrian disciplines and pursuits Anne has excelled at over her lifetime. She rode as a professional through college, both in the ring and on the hunt field.
During college she worked at the racetrack exercising racehorses. “I have always had a good intuition for being able to sense what is bothering a horse, and I became very good at sensing subtle problems due to my time at the track and watching so many horses,” Anne recalled.
After graduating from college early, Anne stayed on to do masters work. She began breaking horses for cross-country, hunting, and showing for clients in Virginia. “I enjoyed the serenity of going for long cross-country rides across the scenic Virginia countryside or outing with the hunt clubs,” she remembered.
It was also during that period that Anne began working with an equine vet on Long Island. “I loved going on calls and helping these amazing athletes, especially to prevent problems with preventative training and rehabilitation strategies,” she said. “He suggested I make my avocation my vocation and go to vet school.”
Anne headed to the University of Pennsylvania for veterinary school, where she bought and sold horses for extra income. “I also continued to ride, train, break horses, and to ride as often as I could with Radnor Hunt and Keswick Hunt.” She helped friends in Virginia train their horses when there was time, though vet school occupied the majority of it for Anne. “Many Saturdays and Sundays were dedicated to a horse show or hunting, with long weekends and holidays in Virginia.”
Anne bred her own horses, too, even showing her youngsters in hand at a few inspections and at the Devon Horse Show. At one point, Anne bought the Radnor Hunt Master’s horse, Cyrano. “Anne, I have the horse for you,” he had said. He trotted the horse one circle and jumped him over a five-foot gate. Anne pointed to her trailer and took Cyrano home. “I could never replace that wonderful horse,” she said. “He taught me to truly listen with all my senses.”
Into the Fire
“I stayed in Pennsylvania after vet school for one year to work with an equine practice which was part Thoroughbred high-end claimers, part reproduction, and part Amish work. It was an amazing range of practice. What my veterinary school teachers told me I would never see in practice anymore, I saw in that first year of real practice. It was a great first professional adventure! Every day was different.”
Dr. Moretta’s skills were put to the test right out of veterinary school when her boss became unable to work half way into her first year with him, leaving her to run a practice meant for at least two veterinarians all on her own. “I basically just graduated vet school and was now doing all of the high-end work alone. I was so fortunate that my veterinary school community was so supportive,” she said. “Several of my veterinary instructors at University of Pennsylvania Vet School would come out on weekends to the practice. They would help me do lameness checks, surgical procedures, injections, reproductive work, etc. to further my education and support my solo work in the practice until my employer was able to work again. They were pillars of selfless giving.”
After her first year, Anne knew she wanted to open her own practice, and saw a need for an equine practitioner in the next county. “My new practice grew rapidly and gave me experience in so many areas — Thoroughbred and Standardbred breeding and lameness, yearling and racehorse sales, a consulting business — I was traveling all over the world.”
During her travels, Anne was introduced to equine acupuncture and chiropractic work. “I really found my niche when I was traveling abroad and learned how well eastern medicine complemented what I was already doing in the U.S.,” she recalled. She started Maroche Equine Sports Medicine, which has since been integrated into Wellington Equine Sports Medicine.
A Comprehensive Practice
Dr. Moretta found that her niche fit nicely into the Wellington, Florida, equestrian scene, where she regularly collaborated with Dr. Suzan Oakley, DVM, DACVSMR, DABVP (Equine), and Dr. Sheila Schils, PhD, MS. “We had spent a lot of time doing educational programs together for the Florida Association of Equine Practitioners (FAEP). Dr. Oakley, Dr. Schils and I would help organize the rehabilitation program for our annual veterinary symposium. We all have different approaches that work really well together, and we all bring different types of education to our clients that complement each other.”
And so Wellington Equine Sports Medicine came into being. “It happened pretty organically, as we would often consult for each other on more difficult cases. We really enjoy working with other vets and creating a team-oriented environment, where we can all collaborate. The three of us each have really unique backgrounds, so working together we are able to provide truly comprehensive strategies for high-level performance horses.”
At Wellington Equine Sports Medicine, Dr. Moretta and her fellow practitioners bring their unique and vast experiences together for the common goal of helping the whole horse and resolving underlying issues to keep equestrians athletes happy, healthy, and performing their best. WESM continues to grow, specializing in high-end performance horses of various disciplines and seeking to help any horse they can. “We love collaboration with other veterinarians in the area, and are often called in as a referral for difficult cases, especially for very subtle lameness issues,” Anne said.
Most of her time is spent helping horses that belong to others, but Anne still has horses of her own. She is still raising a few Hanoverians, and raises miniature spotted donkeys. “I have a bombproof cross-country horse named Leroy,” she said. “I can pull him out of the field and go anywhere, anytime!” Even then, most of her riding happens when she is working with a client’s horse and gets on to demonstrate a rehab technique or feel what the rider is feeling to help diagnose a problem.
“I enjoy merging my traditional practice with an Eastern approach using acupuncture and spinal manipulation for both diagnostic and treatment techniques, especially when standard approaches are not effective,” said Dr. Moretta. “Clients cannot believe how well the horses respond. So many of the horses will ‘say’ thank you to me after an acupuncture or spinal manipulation session, in many different ways. Just to see a horse be able to reach back to scratch a hind leg or just turn their head from side to side when they were so stiff and painful prior to treatment is very gratifying.”
“I believe in many ways we go beyond the standard practice with an innovative combination of diagnostic and treatment protocols,” Dr. Moretta concluded. “I believe, to paraphrase Astrid Ernst, that we need to see and not just look, we need to hear and not just listen, and we need to feel and not just touch. This makes the difference. I think we all need a synergistic approach to life and our daily work.”
For more information, visit WellingtonEquineSportsMedicine.com.
Photos courtesy of Dr. Anne Moretta