Sunday

Debut novel by Sussex writer, Linda Chamberlain THE FIRST VET

The First Vet by Linda Chamberlain, about Bracy Clark
~ Detail from Eclipse by George Stubbs -
Bracy Clark was at the horse's post mortem before enrolling at the college ~
Sometimes a story can get lost to history, a struggle for a better future overcome by greater forces. In 1792 a man who believed passionately in the welfare of horses was fighting to be heard. His work was ridiculed and his ideas for improving the treatment of horses he loved discredited.

Bracy Clark, joined the newly opened veterinary college near London, where he fought against bits, spurs, heavy loads and horse shoes only to be tormented by a whisper campaign and refused a platform at the college that trained him.

He believed that the horses’ hoof was being treated as if it was a block of wood rather than a living, elastic organ. As a result of his observations, he had made a connection between nailing immovable shoes to hooves and serious health problems affecting horses as well as, in many cases an early death.

The book’s author, Linda Chamberlain, from Forest Row, said: ‘He is an unusual but ideal candidate for the hero of a novel. He was a campaigner who was ahead of his time. He talked about the rights of these animals and complained that so many died young. His work was ridiculed and suppressed but I knew it was time he was heard again.

‘The First Vet owes much of its fast pace to his battle with the head of the college, Professor Edward Coleman. It’s made more poignant by the forbidden love between Bracy and the Professor’s fictional sister, Christina.’

In those days, horses had a lot of work to do and Bracy complained that many died by the age of ten when they might live to thirty or more. 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.

The First Vet by Linda Chamberlain, cover
~ The First Vet by Linda Chamberlain ~
‘Bracy gave up his surgeon’s apprenticeship to help these noble slaves by joining a profession no one had heard of. 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 in the heart of the countryside, in Camden, 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 and complained that one of us must quit the college.

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 buried his work.

Linda, who rides her own thoroughbred horse without shoes, explained: ‘They should have listened to him. Today we are discovering that he was right. More and more 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.’

The author and journalist has spent the last few years writing and researching her debut novel which is published as a paperback and ebook on Amazon. She discovered Bracy’s work on a number of websites about bitless bridles and barefoot trimming. She vowed to find out more and her research took her to the Royal Veterinary College and The British Library.
~ The veterinary college - architect's drawing 1792 ~
‘I spent many hours reading Bracy’s books,’ Linda said. ‘He was eloquent and passionate. He went on long journeys riding barefoot horses to see how they would manage and he rode a very lively stallion on his veterinary rounds in the city of London. He was a learned scientist who investigated so many diseases as well as the cause of cholera in humans. He even invented a wood burning stove. It disturbed him that with shoeing he had discovered an evil for which he had no remedy.

So why was he condemned by the veterinary profession without being heard. Linda determined to find out.

‘The answer wasn’t obvious but I think it was greed,’ she said. ‘Bracy withstood the whisper campaign against him in silence for 20 years but eventually he hit back. He accused Professor Coleman of corruption, said he had an open palm and was pocketing the student fees.

‘Bracy said 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 enormous harm.

‘Bracy was a successful and much-loved vet but I don’t think he could fight dirty enough against Coleman,’ Linda explained. ‘He suffered in silence too long. His later books talk of Coleman’s open palm and his greedy charm. He spared no ink in revealing the nature of his adversary and the harm his regime was causing the profession but by then Coleman was secure and entrenched. It might have been too late. It’s great that many of today’s barefoot trimmers recognise Bracy’s pioneering research. Owners of barefoot horses often battle against hostility from other riders but they are finding cures that sometimes elude the professionals. So many lame horses are surviving against the odds once they are free of their metal shoes.
The First Vet by Linda Chamberlain, author
~ Author, Linda Chamberlain ~
‘Today’s vets should take a look at Bracy’s work. They should continue his research and help barefoot riders create a better life for the horses in our care. As the hero of The First Vet once 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 published as a paperback and on Kindle through Amazon -

Blog: www.nakedhorse.org.uk

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