Book Review: The First Vet by Linda Chamberlain

Two hundred years ago one of the world’s first vets spoke out against animal cruelty but his work was condemned – now he’s being given a second chance to change the future for the horses he loved thanks to a page-turning new novel called The First Vet.

Bracy Clark, who joined the newly opened veterinary college near London, England, in 1792, fought against bits, spurs, heavy loads and horse shoes but was tormented by a whisper campaign against him and was refused a platform at the college that trained him.
The book’s author, Linda Chamberlain, said: ‘He was an animal rights campaigner who was ahead of his time. His work was misunderstood and suppressed but he should be heard again.

veterinary college 1792
‘The First Vet owes much of its fast pace to his battle with the head of the college, Professor Edward Coleman, who he accused of corruption. It’s made more poignant by the forbidden love between Bracy and the Professor’s fictional sister, Christina.’
In those days, the economy relied on horses. Their life was hard. They fought in the wars; they brought food into the capital and took waste out again – but very few people knew how to care for them if they were ill or injured. Bracy complained that many died by the age of ten when they might live to thirty or more.

‘Bracy gave up his surgeon’s apprenticeship to help these noble slaves by joining an unknown profession. He took a great risk as the college faced bankruptcy in its early years but he vowed to family and friends that he had little need of money. He enrolled when the college opened and led the first horse into its infirmary the following year.’

His relationship with the head of the college was difficult. Bracy wrote that Professor Coleman viewed him as a troublesome guest.

Linda explained: ‘The two men couldn’t have been more different. Bracy was a Quaker who shared his knowledge with the world and refused to profit from his discoveries. Coleman, who died a wealthy man, patented his medicines and shortened the veterinary course to three months. According to Bracy, he admitted uneducated pupils for the sake of the fee which he was pocketing.’

One of their most serious disputes was over the metal shoeing of horses. Bracy used scientific experiments to prove that horse shoes deform natural hooves. He warned the practice led to lameness and sometimes early death but he claimed the veterinary establishment condemned him, unheard.

Linda, who rides her own thoroughbred without shoes, explained: ‘They should have listened to him. Today we are rediscovering his work and many owners are finding a cure for crippling lameness by keeping their horses barefoot. My own horse was at risk of being put to sleep nearly ten years ago thanks to the condition of her feet. I gave her a home to save her from that fate and took her shoes off. She’s now 24 and still a wonderful ride. Bracy would be very pleased.

‘I spent many hours researching his books,’ Linda said. ‘He was eloquent and passionate. He went on long journeys riding barefoot horses and he rode a very lively stallion on his veterinary rounds in the city of London. It disturbed him that with shoeing he had discovered an evil for which he had no remedy.’

Linda, whose research took her to The British Library and the Royal Veterinary College, explained: ‘According to Bracy, Coleman had patented at least two of his own horse shoes which he was using at the college.

‘A greedy or corrupt professor was unlikely to lend a platform to such an honest man as Bracy Clark. He certainly wasn’t interested in hearing how his own horse shoes were doing such harm.

‘Bracy was a successful and much-loved vet but I don’t think he could fight dirty enough against Coleman.

‘Today’s vets should continue his research and help riders create a better life for the horses in our care. As Bracy wrote: ‘My book is a grateful offering to humanity in diminishing the intolerable sufferings of these abused animals. The foot moves for obvious reasons; to break all jar and concussion to the body and to save the foot from destruction. This has been overlooked in the horse. His foot is treated as a senseless block of wood rather than a living, elastic organ.’

The First Vet by Linda Chamberlain is available on Amazon.com

About the author:

linda cropped

Linda Chamberlain has been a journalist most of her working life and a horse rider for quite a bit longer. Now she’s turned to fiction and The First Vet is her debut novel. She lives in Sussex, England, with her family and two horses.

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