After graduating from the Ontario Veterinary College in 1952, Dr. Lloyd McKibbin took over a practice in Wheatley, Ontario, where he was eventually introduced to racehorses by the father of Doug and Bob McIntosh. A man well ahead of his time, his work in areas like equine cryosurgery and support of swimming horses for exercise, are just a few ways that he’s left a major impact on horse welfare to this day. By Chris Lomon.
Throughout his distinguished and decorated career, Dr. Lloyd Salem McKibbin worked diligently to make sure things went ‘swimmingly’, and on some occasions, literally, whenever he treated his equine patients.
His impact on Standardbred racing doesn’t show up on any stat sheets or record books, but the man known as “Doc” played an integral role in ensuring horses under his care, whether lower-level claimers or stakes winners, or even horses outside of the racing realm, were afforded the utmost care and compassion.
Hailed as a pioneer in the advancement of equine veterinary medicine, Dr. McKibbin graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in 1952.
“My father Jack and him were best friends,” said highly-respected Standardbred horseman, the now-retired Doug McIntosh, whose brother, trainer Bob McIntosh, continues to be a major force in the sport. “My father was the one who eventually got him [Dr. McKibbin] to work on horses. When he came to town [Wheatley, Ontario] as a young vet, he was working for Dr. Wilson, and he ended up taking over his practice. At first he was doing farm calls, coming out to look at pigs, cows, and other farm animals, but not racehorses. One day my dad called him over to look at his racehorses. There weren’t a lot of racehorses in our area back then, but one thing led to another, and when racing developed and Windsor Raceway got going, eventually there were a lot more horses.”
With the larger equine influx into the area came opportunity, and Dr. McKibbin answered the call.
His focus eventually centered on equine care, specifically, on lameness, treating those he cared for with acupuncture, cryosurgery (a procedure in which an extremely cold liquid or instrument called a cryoprobe is used to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue) and laser therapy.
Dr. McKibbin was also one of the first in his field to champion swimming as a therapeutic exercise for horses.
Some of those methods were looked upon with a raised eyebrow by some during his early years in the field. But any skepticism soon turned into unwavering belief.
“He was a brilliant man,” praised McIntosh. “He was 50 years ahead of his time, always reaching out to find new ideas. He was the first to introduce so many things that went into the care of horses. But he also had a practical side to him, which is why he could relate to both horses and people.”
Dr. McKibbin’s approach to equine care eventually became so popular, in fact, that his services were soon in demand from both and near far.
The clinic he ran in Wheatley, Ontario, a community about 12 kilometres east of Leamington, was a respected and trusted haven for horses and horsepeople alike.
A measure of the sterling reputation he earned came in the form of his worldly clientele, a list that included royalty and rulers.
On occasion, Dr. McKibbin would fly to England to diagnose the Queen Mum’s Thoroughbreds. He was also asked to work on former Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s polo horses.
“One year, Castro’s polo horses all turned up at our place,” remembered Lloyd’s son Terry, a Standardbred trainer himself, with 126 career training wins and just shy of $900,000 in purses.
“Dad did some surgeries on the horses that needed it, worked on their knees, we swam them, and then eventually they went back to Cuba. He’d also go over to the Queen Mother and look at her Thoroughbreds, and he went to see the King of Spain to work on their Lipizzaner horses. He’d go there once in a while and go through the whole herd for them.”
Whether it was a simple procedure or the need for longer term care, whether it was time spent in Europe with a high-profile client, or near home with a blue-collar one, Dr. McKibbin treated every horse and each person with the same attentiveness and first-rate service.
“One of the things he always said to someone after he treated their horse was, ‘How are your mom and dad doing?’” recalled his son, Terry. “He was interested in you and your family. That’s just who he was. And he really did love the horses.”
Rambling Willie was one of the horses he worked with.
His relationship with the connections of the horse that was foaled in northeast Indiana, and his affection for the son of Rambling Fury, helped play a pivotal role in the success story of the double-millionaire who overcame several physical ailments to become a three-time winner of the Canadian Pacing Derby.
But Dr. McKibbin’s contributions to the industry went well beyond diagnosing and treating horses. He was also a mentor to countless other veterinarians, several of whom went on to have their own successful careers.
The books he wrote, Horse Owners Handbook and Cryoanalgesia for Horses, continue to be used as must-read reference manuals.
“He was a great teacher,” said McIntosh. “He helped so many young veterinarians. Dr. Ruch, Dr. Armstrong… there are so many more who went on to have great careers.”
And, as Terry McKibbin recently found out, his father’s far-reaching legacy continues to live on.
“This winter, when I was in North Carolina working with the Hochstetler Stable - I drive for them over the winter - a vet walked up to me one day. He gave me the year, I can’t quite recall what year it was, and he said that he had just gotten out of college and spent a week at our place, where my dad taught him a lot of things that he hadn’t learned when he was at Cornell [University]. My dad wanted to teach everybody, and he wanted to help everyone. Wherever and whomever he got a call from, he was happy to help in any way he could.”
In recognition of his work, Dr. McKibbin was inducted into the Chatham-Kent Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1989. Now, some 34 years later, he’ll join an equally impressive list of contemporaries in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
“I’m so happy that he’s in there,” said McIntosh. “I can honestly say that throughout my career I used a lot of his practices, as well as my dad’s too. Those men provided the basis for what I did. Dr. McKibbin was a very integral part of horse racing when he was practicing. He was a great man and a great vet.”
A sentiment echoed by his son.
“He was a teacher to many, and someone who deeply cared about the horses and the people. He was way ahead of his time, and he was always looking for new ways to treat lameness in the horses. We’re all thrilled to see him finally get into the hall of fame. It’s great because he was one of the true experts in the business.”
This feature originally appeared in the June issue of TROT Magazine. Subscribe to TROT today by clicking the banner below.