Happy New year Everyone! I cannot believe we are already in 2022. I thought I would share one of my favorite personal and professional experiences from last year. Like most other professions, veterinarians are required to obtain a certain amount of continuing education hours every year. We took oaths to be lifelong learners to provide the best care possible for our patients. Before the pandemic, veterinary conferences came in all shapes and sizes and were held in many different cities. It was an opportunity to learn, congregate and explore new places. As the world changed due to the pandemic, the virtual universe was the only way to safely complete continuing education requirements.

However, as the world started to open up, I was given the opportunity through Blue Heron Consulting to travel for my continuing education. What could be the safest way to get your hours in post pandemic? I’ll tell you. In a remote, mountainous ranch in Colorado with more horses and cow than there are people. Some of you wouldn’t agree, but to a veterinarian, it was paradise.

As this was an educational experience geared towards leadership, it seemed an excellent opportunity for both the young veterinarian (me) and our awesome practice manager, Brittney. We boarded a plane from Memphis bound for Denver. Once we arrived, we picked up the best rental vehicle for exploring Colorado, a Jeep Wrangler with very large tires. With some time on our hands, we explored Denver. The food was amazing, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science was the perfect place for two science nerds to kill some time.

Then the time came for us and our Jeep to head up the mountain. We were to head almost three hours Northwest to a place called Yampa, Colorado. The scenery was a sight to behold. As climbed the mountain to our destination, the roads became narrowed and windier. Instead of passing cars, you passed cattle. The change in elevation also became very evident, especially for two people who normally live close to sea level. The roads turned to gravel and finally we had reached our destination. The ranch was partly on a hill and partly in a valley. The two main farmhouses overlooked a barn with a pen full of horses and a pasture full of cows. As this was in August, the pastureland was green and beautiful. The weather couldn’t be more perfect, sunny and 75.

We met our small group that was a mix of veterinarians and practice managers. The first night was spent getting to know everyone and enjoying the cool weather around a fire pit. We also were given an idea of what the schedule would be for the next week. Each morning would be spent in the classroom. And then after lunch, the schedule would clear, and each person could choose to spend their time how they wanted. Being on a ranch, I chose to spend all my time on the back of a horse.

I’ve been fascinated by horses all my life. I started taking horse back riding lessons when I was about 9 years old. The stable taught hunter jumper lessons: so, I started jumping over little x’s and small boxes. As time went on my love for riding and horses only got stronger, my parents finally broke down and bought me my first horse. He was a challenge at first but ended up being a great teacher and a wonderful companion. I started to become an assistant with the lead trainer at the stables and spent all my summers through high school there. As I graduated high school, we sold the horse I had at the time. All my focus for the next few years and even today would be focused on the veterinary profession.

It was so good to be back in the saddle. Each afternoon after class, we would spend about 3-4 hours riding through trails. I got paired with a horse named Drifter, named for his natural tendency to drift away from the trail. The morning I met him; I was told by the wrangler that he wasn’t in a very good mood. I talked sweetly to him and gave him some good head rubs whilst reminding him I wasn’t a pushover. He tried to test my limits in the beginning by walking slowly and grabbing at grass along the trail. Again, I reminded him I wasn’t a pushover. We found our groove very soon in and I felt very at ease with Drifter.

The scenery was absolutely gorgeous. The first day we rode up the mountain with our destination being a beautiful lake. We took some pictures and admired the scenery before starting the trek back down the mountain. On the way down, we saw a moose and her calf. It was so neat being so close to nature. After settling the horses, everyone got together around a fire. The next day after our time in the classroom ended, we went on another trail. This trail led up a mountain that was even more vertical than the day before. It led to a large meadow that looked like it went on for miles. It was so peaceful and beautiful and made me think I could really live this cowgirl life. However, after two days of riding 4 hours or more, my body had different thoughts. I definitely looked forward to the campfire at the end of each day.

For the third day, we had the opportunity to go on a real deal cattle drive. The owners of the ranch asked if we could drive some of the cattle from pasture to another. We all happily obliged. That morning we started out early, foregoing out classroom time until afterwards. We moved the cattle up the same hill we had trekked the day before. Drifter and I both got a solid workout. For the group not having much experience moving cows via horseback, it was a very smooth and fun process. Once the cattle were where they needed to be, we headed back to the ranch tired but glad for an irreplaceable experience.

You do not always know what you are going to get out of continuing education and to have received, not only some great tips on how to be a better leader inside Southern Crossing but the invaluable time reconnecting with one of my favorite past times, riding horses will stay with me.