OFF THE BEATEN PATH

by Jane K. Dove

“After looking down some different avenues, I am now very comfortable having found my niche as a primary care practitioner for horses,” said Dr. Christine Koch of North Salem.
“I know many of my patients from birth and enjoy keeping them happy and healthy for life. Horses have a good, long life span, so many of their owners become my good friends over the years. I am one of those lucky people that truly loves doing what they do.”

Koch (pronounced Cook) grew up in Clarendon Hills, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

“I was always animal crazy and especially horse crazy. By the time I was in sixth grade I knew I wanted to be a vet. Horses fascinated me and I took riding lessons as a kid, strictly pleasure-riding, no shows.”

When it came time to go to college, Koch enrolled in a pre-vet program at the University of Illinois, which she completed ahead of time, and went on to get her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, College of Veterinary Medicine in 1976.

“I took every elective I could in subjects having to do with horses. Starting the summer of my junior year in college, I got a job working for a vet at Arlington Park racetrack outside of Chicago. This was a real immersion and eye-opener in equine medicine.”

While still in vet school, she met and married a classmate, Douglas Koch, who was also focused on equine medicine.

“We both applied to and got accepted into an internship in large animal medicine and surgery at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton facility. We were both then accepted for an additional two-year surgical residency.”

The New Bolton Center is world-famous and best known recently for attempting to save Triple Crown contender Barbaro after a disastrous racing accident in 2006.

“If you want to specialize in horses, it doesn’t get any better than New Bolton,” Koch said. “There is so much knowledge available there and you just absorb everything.”

Her time at New Bolton was irreplaceable.

“Everyone was really, really into it. You could go into the facility at 9 p.m. at night and it would be filled with people. It was a great group. We lived together, socialized together and learned together.”

After New Bolton, the couple was appointed to positions on the surgical staff at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Cornell attracted cases from near and far, many from the lower Hudson Valley and Connecticut.

“We had several cases from around here and through networking got to know more and more people in Westchester and Fairfield. In 1980, we decided to go into practice, living in Bedford Hills for a number of years.”

At this point, the couple started to go in different directions, ultimately divorcing.

“Doug decided he wanted to specialize in racetrack veterinary medicine, with clients at Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga,” she said.

“I decided to stay with the horse farm practice, doing medicine and surgery for farms like Sunnyfield in Bedford and Run Free Farm in Brewster as well as individual clients in the area. A lot of my clients have their horses in barns on their own property. Others may board them out. I like the personal relationships and the ‘talk-time.’”

Despite the different directions they took, the Koches have maintained a connection over the years.

“Douglas eventually started a Thoroughbred breeding operation called Berkshire Stud on 500 acres in Pine Plains in Dutchess County,” she said. “He has been quite successful, breeding many winners.”

A nice pace

Her interest in equine medicine has always been more “low-key.”

“I love the pace of my life treating local horses. I make my farm and private calls from early in the morning until early evening. Day to day, I truly enjoy what I do. I love being outdoors and have developed a roster of clients I share the same values with. We look at the welfare of the horse rather than the gratification of the owner. Competing is not what we are all about.”

Koch said she takes a straightforward approach in her treatment.

“I like to keep it simple, if at all possible. I will make a likely diagnosis then come up with a sound and practical treatment plan. I try the basics first before going onto things that are more highly specialized.”

She does simple surgeries right on site.

“As long as everything is sterile, I find this works out best for horse and owner. Everyone is less stressed, which hastens recovery.”

Koch enjoys riding horses as much as caring for them.

“I have my own horse, Sherpa Guide, stabled at Run Free Farm,” she said. “He is a 14-year-old bay gelding and I got him from my husband after he had amassed $400,000 in earnings in races and was retired. I worked with him to make him into an excellent trail horse, and we also do some local hunter paces and eventing. But no competitive stadium showing.”

She is happy with the path her life has taken.

“At this point, everything works perfectly. My clients and their horses form the basis of my social network and the time I spend with them is very meaningful. Things are good.”

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