By Lynne Gunville
When Dr. Pat Hough (WCVM ’82) had the chance to visit the Lipizzaner stud farm near Vienna, Austria, the Winnipeg veterinarian never dreamed that one day she would be a key player in a mission to preserve the famous horses’ Croatian kin during the conflict in the Balkans.
The story began in 1991 when a number of Lipizzaner horses were injured or killed during intense bombing at the breed’s historic stud farm near Lipik, Croatia. In an effort to save the remaining horses, the farm’s keepers moved the animals and kept them hidden. However, the horses eventually ended up in poor health and in urgent need of medical treatment.
During negotiating talks with the locals in 1993, the plight of the Lipizzaner horses came to the attention of Canadian peacekeeper Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Calvin, commanding officer of the Second Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. That’s when he decided to enlist the help of Haugh, one of his friends back in Winnipeg.
Haugh clearly remembers the call for help. “Jim told me the horses were dying because of lack of veterinary care, and he basically said, ‘What can you do for me? Is there any way you can find some help for these horses?’”
At first, Haugh seemed an unlikely choice for the mission: since her practice focused on cats, the small animal practitioner didn’t have much contact with horses. Undeterred, Haugh started making calls. With the input of local veterinarians and equine specialists, she compiled a list of items that would be useful for treating the horses. She then contacted several drug companies and asked for their help in gathering the badly needed medical supplies.
Since public knowledge of Canadian assistance could have caused problems for the peacekeepers, Haugh had to advise the companies that there could be no publicity regarding their donations. “The companies were incredible,” she recalls. “They were willing to give without any expectation that they’d be acknowledged. None of them turned me down, and many gave me a lot of supplies.”
Over $5,000 worth of supplies including vaccines, antibiotics, syringes and bandaging materials began arriving at Haugh’s clinic and eventually spilled over into her home. Haugh prepared the products for shipping by labelling them and purchasing refrigerator packs for perishable items such as vaccines.
With Air Canada providing free shipping, the Canadian embassy in Vienna accepted and stored the medical supplies until they could be delivered. In June of 1993, a member of the Canadian peacekeeping forces transported the goods to the horses which, by that time, were located behind Serbian lines.
In 2007, after years of advocating for their return, the residents of Lipik and Croatia tearfully welcomed 66 Lipizzaners back to their stables. Only eight of those horses were from the original herd; the rest of the horses were descendants of the mares and stallions spirited away in 1991.
Now retired, Haugh is still amazed at all the people who were willing to step forward and help with the effort to save the animals. “I think it was the fact that this was the stud farm for an entire breed of horses; it was the knowledge that the very basis of the breed was threatened here.”
She also thinks back to her visit to the Viennese stables many years before: “In my mind, this was who I was helping — these fabulous animals that I had seen both in a show and at the stud farm. They were spectacular.”
EQUINE VETS WITH HEART: Do you know a veterinarian in Western Canada who has gone beyond the call of duty to help a horse in medical distress? Send more details to email@example.com or call 306-225-4479 and your story may become a feature in a future issue of Horse Health Lines.
Reprinted with permission of Horse Health Lines, news publication for the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Equine Health Research Fund. Visit www.ehrf.usask.ca to sign up for Horse Health Lines’ e-newsletter.
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