It’s a long way from country New South Wales to the Middle East, but Sarah Johnson is used to a lot of different environments. Growing up on a small property in Oakdale, an hour from Sydney, and learning to ride on her grandfather’s 10,000-acre Lightning Ridge cattle farm, she has channelled a lifelong love of animals into a fantastically varied career that has taken her around the world.
From working as a veterinary nurse for a renowned small animal hospital in Sydney’s exclusive suburb of Mosman, she has gone on to research whales and dolphins in Hawaii and instruct veterinary medicine students at the University of Queensland.
ADVANCING HORSE HEALTHCARE
However, her latest role may just be the best yet – being part of the international team at a new world-class equine hospital, which aims to be at the forefront of the latest research in horse healthcare and science. Based in the tiny but fabulously wealthy Middle Eastern country of Qatar, the Equine Veterinary Medical Center, part of education and research organisation Qatar Foundation, reflects the historic and cultural role of horses in this part of the world, the birthplace of the legendary Arabian.
It’s been a big learning curve for Sarah, whose role involves ensuring all of the research is in line with relevant laws and regulations. On any given day, she will be reviewing projects ranging from stem-cell to fertility research to the physiological response of horses when swimming (there’s an indoor, air-conditioned lap pool nearby exclusively for the four-footed).
Sarah says she is enjoying the challenge and the opportunity to work with a diverse team representing more than 30 nationalities – a sort of United Nations of equine research and care. “Previously my research experience was focused on conservation, but my role at EVMC has introduced me to many new clinical research studies and I find them all very interesting,” she says. “Although I have been around horses for most of my life, it has never been in a clinical setting.
“Admittedly, their size was a little overwhelming at first in the hospital, but they are much better behaved than a feisty cat! I have met many horses here and they have such a loving and gentle nature – I have become very fond of them.”
The facilities at Sarah’s workplace really have to be seen to be believed. There are MRI and CT scanners purpose-built for horses – when we visited, a grey racehorse was being examined for suspected stomach ulcers – as well as pristine, air-conditioned ICU stables, and a suite of high-tech laboratories for microbiology, DNA testing, biochemistry and more. Specialised services include surgery, internal medicine, rehabilitation, dentistry, diagnostic imaging, and pain management, as well as a round-the-clock emergency service.