Leader of the pack

Blea passionate about racetrack ethics, policy issues
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At a time when the American Association of Equine Practitioners is involved in big changes in the horse-racing industry, the association has installed racetrack practitioner Dr. Jeff Blea as its 2014 president.

Dr. Blea, a partner in VonBluecher, Blea, Hunkin Inc. Equine Medicine and Surgery, in Sierra Madre, Calif., has considerable expertise in ethical and policy issues affecting racetrack veterinarians. He is also a strong advocate for improving the racing model for both the horse and the practitioner through adoption of uniform rules among racing jurisdictions (see article).

“This is probably the closest we’ve been to having (uniform rules) in racing. What we’re hoping to accomplish is to improve the integrity of the sport and give somewhat of a jump-start to this effort so the public has confidence in it. Uniform rules will benefit the health and welfare of racehorse,” Dr. Blea told JAVMA News during the AAEP Annual Convention, held Dec. 7-11, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn.

A passion for the racetrack

Dr. Blea was exposed to horses at a young age. At 8, he moved with his family from Santa Fe, N.M., to New Orleans, where his father trained Thoroughbred racehorses.

“I used to go to the track on the weekend, my brother and I. We had the time of our lives. We’d walk hots, clean stalls, and everything. We thought it was the place to be when you’re an 8-year-old. It didn’t go well with our teachers, but we became quite proficient at math,” he said, smiling.

Dr. Blea learned how to ride and gallop, and when he was 16, got his jockey license. During his senior year of high school, he won his first race aboard Miss Ethel at the New Orleans Fair Grounds on Feb. 13, 1983. Five months later, however, a training accident at Jefferson Downs Racetrack, outside New Orleans, rendered his left arm and hand paralyzed and abruptly ended his riding career.

Dr. Blea continued to work around the racetrack and train horses, but an old trainer urged him to continue his schooling. So, he went to a community college in New Mexico, then enrolled at Colorado State University, where he obtained his bachelor’s in 1989 and his DVM degree in 1993.

At veterinary college, he also met his wife, Annie, who was a classmate and “the smart one” of the two, he says.

Dr. Jeff Blea, incoming AAEP president, beside his veterinary truck (Photos courtesy of AAEP)

After graduation, Dr. Blea was hired as an associate with Robert Story Equine in New Mexico, where he cared for racing Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds at Sunland Park and Ruidoso Downs. The following year, Dr. Helmuth VonBluecher brought Dr. Blea into his Southern California racetrack practice, where he became a partner in 1998. The five-veterinarian practice serves Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar, and Pomona racetracks. Dr. Blea concentrates his practice on musculoskeletal issues and lameness diagnostics.

An important focus

Dr. Blea has been involved with the AAEP since joining the organization’s student chapter at CSU, later becoming its president. When he moved to California, he became friends with Dr. Rick M. Arthur, a former AAEP president, who encouraged him to get involved in an AAEP committee.

Since then, Dr. Blea has served on the Equine Welfare, Membership, Nominating, Professional Conduct and Ethics, Public Policy, Racing, and Student Relations committees. Currently, he chairs the On Call Task Force and is a member of the AAEP Finance and Audit Committee.

Dr. Blea likes the group impact of organized veterinary medicine. He said, “I like the fact that people would put their agendas aside and focus on a mission. You get people from all types of practices, backgrounds, and life experiences. I like the change you can effect from that perspective.”

The 2014 AAEP officers: Drs. James P. Morehead, treasurer; Ann E. Dwyer, immediate past president; Jeff Blea, president; Kathleen Anderson, vice president; and G. Kent Carter, president-elect.

As president-elect this past year, Dr. Blea was designated program chair of the conference. He, along with AAEP staff and the 46 members of the Education Programs Committee, put together a conference focused on practical and applicable scientific sessions as well as on the areas of communication, business skills, and ethics.

Regarding ethics, Dr. Blea said, “If we look at all self-serving, we don’t need to be in this business. Top to bottom—ethics are talked about every day. We need to let the industry, profession, and society know that ethics means something to us, and that’s why we offer this continuing education at meetings.”

New board members

The 2014 AAEP officers and new members of the board of directors took office Dec. 10. New members of the board are Drs. Mark Baus of Bridgewater, Conn., and Stuart Brown II of Lexington, Ky.