Dr. Doug Thal and his father, Dr. Alan Thal, out for a ride on the family ranch.
My father was a scientist, a surgeon, an inventor and accomplished horseman. As a first generation immigrant from South Africa, he took hold of the American dream with a mixture of sheer force and rare creativity. He was always game for a new idea.
My father spent his childhood summers on his uncle’s sheep and horse farm, where he fell in love with the ranching lifestyle. Later he became an accomplished polo and steeplechase rider. The day after he graduated medical school my father married my mother, and the next day they sailed to America. The year was 1949.
Here in the States, my father was an academic thoracic surgeon. He was on the team of doctors that performed the first open heart surgery – a truly extraordinary moment in medical history. A passionate experimentalist, my father authored over 160 scientific papers in the fields of thoracic surgery and shock. My father also developed multiple surgical procedures and invented innovative pieces of surgical equipment, some of which I use in my equine veterinary practice today.
After practicing academic surgery for years, my father tired of the politics and decided to go back to his roots. He bought our family cattle ranch near Mora, New Mexico and continued in private surgical practice in the little town of Las Vegas for over 20 years until his retirement. He rode horses until his mid-80’s. Today, you can still find dad out on his 4-wheeler on the ranch, with his troop of loyal dogs.
I grew up on the family ranch working cattle, riding and training horses, building fences, corrals, ditches and dams, planting trees, putting up hay, working the land, and watching wildlife. Dad did almost all of the vet work on the ranch for 25 years. My job was restraining cattle for him so he could do what he needed to do.
On the ranch, we were always driven by my dad’s constant quest to solve a problem in a better way. Whether it was the way we grazed our grass or the genetics of our cow herd, we were discouraged (prohibited in fact) from saying that something could not be done or that there was not a better way. Dad would just shake his head and say: “Try the Experiment.” Don’t tell me why it can’t be done, don’t listen to the armchair skeptics, just do it and see what happens.
And that is what I did when I created Horse Side Vet Guide.
– Doug Thal
Dr. Alan Thal rode steeplechase in South Africa before immigrating to the United States in 1949. Alan Thal is pictured in the color image above at the age of 82 and in these other two black and white images at the age of 19, at the Cape Hunt Polo Club Race in Durbanville South Africa (1944).
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