It was one of those eureka moments.
In early1992, veterinarian Kathleen Anderson drove through the front gates and down the dirt and gravel, rutted road at the Fair Hill Training Center. Sixteen years ago the barns were in tatters. Top-flight horses non-existent. The facility was on the brink of bankruptcy-- for a second time.
"I remember looking around and saying, 'this will be my home,'" said Anderson, the attending veterinarian to Barbaro. "The rolling countryside was striking. What a place to work with racehorses. There probably wasn't enough business for most vets and there were major problems, but I saw Fair Hill as a huge opportunity."
As part of the national equine veterinarian release program, which places vets to fill in temporarily for those on vacations or short leaves, Anderson turned up at Fair Hill. She filled in for Fritz Oppenlander, VMD for a few weeks while he was away. When the veterinarian returned, Anderson offered to purchase his practice.
"When I invested my stash of cash, I needed to make my practice and the training center work," she said. "There were barn owners and trainers in the same boat so we formed a management team. We operated it as if we owned it."
Fair Hill benefited from the introduction of slots at nearby Delaware Park in 1995. Purses began to climb, and when the Stanton, DE track added Arabian racing, owners and trainers turned to Fair Hill to lease stalls. Anderson and other board members pushed to tighten Fair Hill's business practices.
"As Delaware Park's racing kept improving, demand for our stalls went up," explained the Fair Hill Training Center founder and owner John R. S. Fischer. "We hit that critical mass of horses and that made us economically viable."
Within a year, as more successful trainers set up shop and wealthy owners bought serious racehorses, they went from red ink to black. Anderson has been the president of the Fair Hill Condo Association for 11 years.
"Once we got out of debt we began putting money back into it," Anderson recalled. "We got better horses. John Kimmel came in '95 with a barn of 40 horses. That was just huge for us. From there it snowballed with Graham Motion, Michael Matz, Barclay Tagg, and Steve Klesaris all setting up operations and purchasing barns. They became stakeholders in the facility."
Today, Fair Hill is considered the most innovative thoroughbred training center in America. Situated on 350 acres of rolling hills on the border of Chester County, Pa. and northern Maryland, It adjoins the 5,600-acre Fair Hill Nature Preserve, where each fall the world-class Fair Hill International Three-Day event is staged. There is a mile dirt track that has 10 percent banked turns, a 7/8-mile Tapeta synthetic surface track and across the road a lovely turf course. The property also boasts more than 2,000 acres of cross-country trails and several turn-out paddocks at each barn.
"Kathy is exceptionally organized and diligent," said trainer Bruce Jackson. "She has a well-rounded approach that looks at the big picture, taking in the points of views of our owners and trainers without sacrificing the well-being of the horses."
Over the years Anderson has worked with plenty of top-flight horses. Among her favorite patients over the years are Breeders' Cup winner Da Hoss, A Heuvo, and Master of Disaster. Still, none can match Barbaro's magic.
"People ask me what one word describe him, and that would be heart," Anderson related. "He was beautiful and kind with great composure, desire and competitiveness. He epitomized a champion."
She also labels Barbaro as one of the smartest horses she has treated.
"At New Bolton he did everything he could to survive," related Anderson, her eyes glistening. "He was a very cooperative patient, but he still retained a toughness to the very end. When that went away, it was time. I think he knew he was done.
"We all feel a deep sense of loss; that won't go away. Still, for all those that Barbaro touched, he occupies a piece of everyone's heart."
Growing up in Merritt, British Columbia, Anderson was a typical horse-crazy girl. She rode western, later competing at the rodeo and three-day eventing. Anderson galloped horses in the morning at Marquis Downs and ponyed them at the afternoon races.
Landing a spot as a groom with the Canadian Equestrian Team, Anderson got an inside peek at the equine veterinarian world. While earning a degree in veterinary medicine from University of Saskatchewan, she met Dr. Martin Simensen, VMD, at the 1982 World Championships.
"I groomed and took care of a lot of ground work at the world championships in Germany," Anderson recalled. "It was one phenomenal experience."
A top U. S. Equestrian Team vet for more than two decades, Simensen offered Anderson an externship, then launched her practice in 1986 under his watchful eye in South Hamilton, Mass.
"I was impressed by his caring and passion for both horses and people," Anderson said. "He was a big contributor to the industry with his expertise on medications. He served as a wonderful role model."
When Suffolk Downs hit hard times in 1990, Anderson migrated south with stints at New Jersey tracks and Philadelphia Park. After the birth of her son John, Anderson settled in at Fair Hill.
Today, Anderson's Equine Veterinary Care works with a large number of the nearly 500 horses stabled in 17 barns at Fair Hill. The clinic offers a wide variety of diagnostic tools for performances issues that include digital radiography and ultrasound, gastroscopy, video and fiberoptic endoscopy. Its treatments include shock wave therapy, IRAP therapy, hospitalized medical colic treatment, acupuncture and massage.
This summer Charles C.M. Arensberg, VMD bought into Anderson's Equine Veterinary Care, located next to Matz's barn. The two vets, along with trainer Bruce Jackson and Buddy Jones, are partners in the Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Chamber (HBOT) that opened in mid-June at Jackson's Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center adjacent to his barn.
Inside the hyperbaric chamber-- a spacious, stall-like area with padded walls and rubber mats on the floor-- pressure slowly builds, forcing pure oxygen into the room where it is absorbed by the animal through both skin and lungs. The $500,000 machine provides hyper oxygenation that reduces swelling and enhances oxygen delivery to injured tissues where circulation is impaired.
It comes down to this: oxygenated cells heal faster. With increased oxygen, the tissues heal faster, thereby allowing the re-growth to occur more quickly, which in turn reduces the amount of adhesions, swelling and scarring.
Since the facility opened its doors they've treated more than 1,400 horses— primarily racehorses with a smattering of top-level dressage and event horses, and even pleasure horses. Thoroughbreds range from maiden winners to a half-dozen multiple stakes winners.
"It helps with muscle metabolism and revitalizing the lung tissue after an intense racing program," said Anderson. "For us as veterinarians, it's an additional solid tool in our medicine box."
Anderson is a board member of the AAEP and mentors aspiring veterinarian students. She also donates her spare time to a number of equine causes like Greener Pastures Equine Sanctuary that teams retired horse care with abused children or those with psychiatric problems.
"I was so well mentored by Dr. Simensen and Dr. Roxy Bell," she observed. "I work with young people that have an interest in coming into the equine veterinary field. It's important to me to continue that mentoring circle."
Anderson lives a few furlongs from the training center in Lewisburg, Pa. in an 18th century stone farmhouse with John, 16 and daughter Quinn, 10. She regularly rides her horse through the gorgeous vistas of Fair Hill.
"I'm incredibly fortunate to be living and working here," said Anderson with a broad smile. "Going to work here very day in this wonderful environment that offers all these terrific amenities. I'm able to work with top-notch horses that continually demonstrate their excellence."
To contact horseracing writer Terry Conway, email Conway@dol.net