Veterinarian Ted Vlahos maneuvered the advanced digital radiography machine close to a Swedish warmblood’s leg at his new equine clinic on the Billings West End. Computerized pictures of her legs showed no sign of lameness.
“She’s sound,” Vlahos said, after a pre-purchase checkup of the pregnant mare from Idaho, an exam ordered by a prospective buyer in Billings.
In January, Vlahos opened the Rocky Mountain Equine Clinic at the White Aspen horse facility at King Avenue West and South 56th Street West. Vlahos and with his wife and office manager, Cathy Vlahos, also own two Wyoming large-animal clinics: the Sheridan Equine Hospital and Cody Equine Hospital.
Opening another operation in Billings makes economic sense, Vlahos said, because the recently depressed equine market is changing, at least for higher-performing horses.
“Billings is booming,” he said. “And the horse population has recovered very well from the recession, so we decided to open a clinic.”
Vlahos also brings special skills for advance horse care to Montana and Wyoming, including the ability to amputate a leg and replace it with a
prosthetic limb, a skill only a few U.S. surgeons have.
Advanced radiography captures digital images that can be enlarged by computer, which allows veterinarians to see small problems not visible with traditional X-ray equipment.
The equine machines aren’t new to the Billings area, but the technology has advanced significantly in the past decade. Bridger Veterinary Clinic has had the imaging technology for about a decade.
Like digital cameras, the capabilities and costs of an equine radiography machine can vary widely between $20,000 to $150,000. Lockwood Veterinary Services just purchased a mid-priced unit.
“The technology allows me to see things that we’ve never been able to see before, including soft-tissue details,” said Lockwood veterinarian Jody Anderson.
Red Lodge Veterinary Clinic & Performance Equine Specialists, owned by veterinarian and surgeon John Beug, has added another equine surgeon, Ellis Farsveitd, who is board certified. The 42-year-old clinic also added some state-of-the-art tools and techniques.
“We have digital X-rays, digital ultrasound, shock-wave therapy, laser therapy, regenerative therapies including enriched plasma and in-house stem-cell therapy,” Beug said.
At his Billings clinic, Vlahos wants to add a mobile MRI machine with a table big enough to hold a horse, all housed in a 40-foot trailer.
“There’s nothing like that in surrounding states. There’s nothing between Billings and Washington State,” Vlahos said.
But Rocky Mountain Equine’s operations will be done in Wyoming.
“Right now, it doesn’t make sense to build a surgery center here to compete with Sheridan, until this clinic grows substantially,” Vlahos said.
By summer, two veterinarians, one educated in Edinburgh, U.K., and another from Ireland, will staff the Billings clinic. Vlahos will travel between his three clinics, concentrating on surgeries and reproduction work.
He has been treating horses, cows and llamas for a quarter century since earning a veterinary medicine degree at Ohio State University. In 1998, Vlahos and his family moved to northern Wyoming and purchased the Sheridan clinic. The Billings clinic will handle the normal mix of about 25 percent surgery, 25 percent reproduction services and 50 percent lameness and routine health checks.
The location of Billings and the fact that this area has been underserved for advanced equine procedures spurred the decision to open a third clinic, Vlahos said.
“Billings is right on the intersection of two interstates. It’s the stop for injured rodeo horses,” he said.