It was every horse owner’s nightmare: a pony suffering from a dangerous impaction colic in the wee hours of the morning. Equine-track veterinary student Victoria Simpson, who was on an external clinical rotation, quickly devised a plan to treat the pony in pain.

“I was able to talk through the steps, feeling confident that I knew what it was and how I wanted to manage it,” Simpson said. “And I knew that I would be able to do it if I were by myself.”

Once a horse-crazy kid with a collection of Breyer model horses, Simpson was recently named the valedictorian of Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2021. The achievement has also earned her the Richard B. Talbot Award, named for the college’s founding dean.

Simpson’s love for horses was encouraged by her parents when she began riding lessons at age 11. She continued to develop as a rider and showed jumpers for several years, certain that she wanted horses to be a part of her career.

A native of Freehold, New Jersey, Simpson went on to earn a B.S. in animal science from Rutgers University in 2017. She chose to attend the veterinary college at Virginia Tech because of the natural beauty of the New River Valley and the kindness of the people she met on campus.

“I also really like our program’s focus on mental health, that they’re trying to talk about it more and help us incorporate strategies to keep us in our careers and prevent burnout,” said Simpson, who thrived as a peer mentor, helping second-year students with their clinical skills lab work.

While her background more closely aligns with sports medicine, Simpson found herself enjoying courses on equine reproduction. In addition, she participated in a range of experiential learning activities, including equine podiatry and hoof health, both crucial to preventing lameness. At the college’s farrier barn, she was taught not only how to trim horses’ hooves, but also how to make horseshoes.

These hands-on experiences in external rotations bolstered her confidence, and moments like treating colic and stitching wounds in the field “definitely stand out as recognition of how much I’ve learned and accomplished,” Simpson said.

Earning a degree in veterinary medicine is demanding enough, but the pandemic added extra challenges, requiring the college and its veterinary clinics to take steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus. “Being able to balance staying safe while still providing the best care for your patients,” Simpson said, “has been hard.”

The support of her classmates has been critical to working through difficult times, and Simpson is grateful to have developed long-lasting friendships over the course of her four-year program.

“It's a group effort,” she said. “Even though I'm going to this practice and my friends are going to other practices, I'm not by myself. We can all call each other and try to work through problems collaboratively.”

Upon graduation, Simpson will begin an ambulatory internship at Old Waterloo Equine Clinic in Culpeper County, nestled in Virginia’s horse country. She will then transition into an associate veterinarian position.

“I love the dynamic nature of ambulatory general practice because you never know what you're going to find when you get on the farm. I really love adapting to the changes throughout the day. And even if I put in a 12-hour day, I come home exhausted, but still feeling fulfilled.”

— Written by Sarah Boudreau, a degree candidate in the M.F.A. program in creative writing

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