20-year UCD veterinary medicine student, Eimear Leahy, is not blind to the trials and tribulations of agriculture.
She grew up on an equine-based holding in the heart of Whitechurch, Co. Cork and set her sights on her chosen career path from a tender age.
“My father and his father before him kept horses so I’ve always had the interest in the business of it.” she explained to Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming.
“I remember pretending to be sick, so that I could stay home from school and spend the day in the yard. I used to skip school tours as well – I thought the day was much better spent with horses.”
“I have wanted to be a vet for as long as I can remember. Whenever a horse was injured or sick, the vet was called, and I was fascinated by them.”
“My earliest memory of veterinary was probably a vet turning a very messy and gory cut on a horse’s leg into a neat, clean line with tidy stitches.”
Eimear and her father, Michael, keep all traditional Irish breeds, mostly Irish Sport Horses, but also Irish Draughts, Connemaras, and cross-breds.
“We have plenty of heated discussions about potential stallions and our different opinions about the young horses.”
Their enterprise revolves around buying horses when they are one or two-years-old and breaking them before they are sold.
They also breed some mares, and then purchase some foals in the autumn to run with home-bred stock.
The aim for most of their youngsters is show-jumping or eventing, but they also have some Irish Draughts that go on as hunters or show horses.
“We mouth and long-rein the Irish Draughts when they’re 2-year-olds, and break them when they’re 3-years-old before doing some charity rides and general schooling.”
“We usually leave the sport-horses alone until they’re 3-years-old as we don’t like to start jumping them too young.”
“I love to see our youngsters growing into themselves. It is great to look at our 3 and 4-year-olds that we have had since they were foals and see them mature and going well for their new owners. It makes the long hours and hard work worth it.”
“As a girl, you do feel like you have to physically work harder on a farm to gain the same respect. Once farmers see you are a hard worker, they are delighted to have you onboard, but some more traditional farmers can be a bit suspicious.”
Eimear juggles the running of the equine enterprise with her studies at Ireland’s only veterinary medicine school.
“Several teachers and career-guidance counsellors tried to convince me to consider other courses, but they all failed.”
“I applied to a few different universities in the UK as back-ups but I’m a home-bird so UCD was my first choice and I was delighted when I received the offer.”
“This spring, I spent a fortnight lambing with a farmer in Mitchelstown, then I did a few days with the Treanlara Blackface flock in Waterford before COVID-19 struck and I returned home.”
“In our second semester this year, we got to visit UCD Lyons Research Farm and it is amazing. It is fascinating to see the most modern technology in use, they have great facilities and the equipment they have is state-of-the-art.”
Eimear admitted that it has been a challenge to adapt to college life, but she said there are supports for new entrants to veterinary medicine. “There are so many opportunities to learn, almost every evening there’s a guest lecturer giving a talk.”
“These are open to all students at all levels. We have an amazing student advisor and all new entrants are paired with a peer mentor for whom to direct our questions.”
“It’s a great atmosphere among the vet students. There are loads of social events organised and there are so many societies available for us to join.”
Advice for aspiring vet students
Eimear would recommend veterinary to any person with a “genuine” interest in animals. “There are long hours of study and you have to be willing to put in plenty of hard work, but it’s well worth it.”
“It goes without saying that it’s difficult to get into the course and it’s a heavy workload, but the challenge is what makes it interesting. Practical classes and placement help remind you why you’re doing all this work.”
“It’s daunting to apply, especially seeing we only have one university in Ireland that you can study it, but I would encourage people to explore all options and not to be afraid to repeat their Leaving Cert.”
“Get as much placement as possible, I did all my transition year work experience with vets and I spent a few weeks with vets during the summer holidays.
Students need to complete a minimum of 60 hours placement in different areas, with vets, an animal charity, or on-farm. “I tried to get a wide variety of placement, I spent time with farm vets, with the Irish Guide Dogs, and with specialist small animal surgeons.”
“This offers a snapshot into different types of veterinary and any experience gives you an advantage.”
Set to graduate in 2024, Eimear hopes to travel before entering the working world.
“I’ve always had equine practice in the back of my mind, but I’ve got a long road ahead of me before I make those decisions.”
“I’d love to travel and see practice in specialist equine hospitals in the UK and the US. The options are there for us to do further studies, but I’m not committing myself to anything yet.” she concluded.
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