The growth of Central Kentucky into the country's hub for Thoroughbred breeding is owed in no small part to the arrival 140 years ago of veterinarian Dr. Edward Thomas Hagyard.
Hagyard opened a veterinary hospital Feb. 19, 1876, along Short Street in downtown Lexington soon after he'd been called upon to treat a prized shorthorn bull on a farm near Winchester, Ky. He had been living in Canada, but the trip to Kentucky opened his eyes to new opportunities. The area was attractive and reminded him of his native Yorkshire, England, but foremost he recognized a dearth of top-notch veterinary care.
Upon his arrival Hagyard became the first licensed veterinarian to practice in Kentucky. His rounds were made with horse and buggy, often requiring trips to farms 25 miles away. It was typical for a vet to stay overnight on a farm when making rounds.
Hagyard was as much a teacher as a practitioner, having been a founding faculty member of the Toronto Veterinary College, so he was continuously investigating new methods of treatment and care. As his practice evolved, education and innovation would remain a priority.
While Hagyard got established, horse breeders in Kentucky and Tennessee had begun heavily promoting their stock, working hard to regain a reputation for quality that had been lost primarily to New York during the Civil War. Churchill Downs also had just started in 1875 a race for 3-year-olds it called the Kentucky Derby. Many of these owner/breeders turned to Hagyard and his three sons, Thomas, John, and Edward, to care for their increasingly valuable stock.
Thomas Hagyard would become the resident veterinarian for James Ben Ali Haggin, who owned Elmendorf Farm. At one point Haggin reportedly owned 20% of the country's registered Thoroughbreds. During this time, Edward Hagyard was managing Thoroughbred stock for Marcus Daly, a business associate and staunch racetrack competitor of Haggin's.
The connection between horses and the Hagyards strengthened even as horses were used less for transportation and more for sport. In the 1920s the Hagyard & Hagyard practice officially changed to specialize in horse care. Helping to direct this evolution was Dr. Charles Hagyard, a grandson of Dr. E.T. Hagyard. Known as "Doc Charlie," he would specialize in equine reproduction and continue down the path of innovation set by his grandfather. Doc Charlie was among the early practitioners to learn and teach palpation as a means for determining pregnancy, which had previously been done by external observation alone.
Doc Charlie took on two partners who would put innovation into overdrive: Dr. Arthur Davidson in 1937, and Dr. William R. McGee in 1940. Davidson would pioneer surgical techniques with the advent of effective anesthesia for horses and specialize in treating lameness. McGee did his own pioneering work with mares and foals. Working with the University of Kentucky, McGee helped identify botulism as the cause of "Shaker foal syndrome."
Dr. Edward Fallon, a nephew of Doc Charlie, became the fourth generation of Hagyard veterinarians at the practice in 1956. Fallon made his own contributions by working with McGee to implement and refine techniques for detecting ovulation by palpating the ovaries. Determining pregnancy in a maiden mare was reduced from around 40 days to around 30 days. He also developed techniques for eliminating one embryo in the case of twins and worked on artificial lighting protocols that would bring mares into season earlier in the year.
The clinic Dr. E.T. Hagyard started on Short Street 140 years ago has since grown and changed into what is now the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, a nationally renowned operation near the Kentucky Horse Park that employs more than 50 veterinarians and support staff that operate a surgical center, state-of-the-art diagnostic center, fertility center, podiatry center, a sport horse division, and more.
"What's been important about Hagyard has been that role we've played in the development of the horse industry," said Dr. Luke Fallon, a fifth-generation veterinarian and the son of Dr. Ed Fallon. "We've been here for every advancement in equine medicine, but it's also been more than our daily duties and our commitment to research. We've also been a part of the community by supporting programs like Riding for Hope and the Blue Grass Preservation Society."
Dr. E.T. Hagyard's timing was impeccable. He arrived in Central Kentucky just when his talents were needed the most, and Kentucky breeders capitalized on his skills to grow an industry they believed would thrive here. Together they attracted an unprecedented concentration of high-quality horses and veterinary talent that should keep the Bluegrass at the center of the U.S. Thoroughbred industry for years to come.