Site icon Horse Network

The Sneaky Instructor

©Psstockfoto |

The following is an excerpt from Never Trust a Sneaky Pony, and Other Things They Did Not Teach Me in Vet School, by Dr. Madison Seamans, DVM.

College for most people is about four years. While most veterinarians finish the entire curriculum 
in about eight years, I artfully squeezed mine into twelve. I wanted to specialize, so I took a little extra. The truth is they can’t teach you how to be a veterinarian in just eight years. All they can do in that short amount of time is teach you how to pass the board exams so you can be real dangerous for about twenty years trying to learn how to be a veterinarian. Mom always told me I was special.  That’s why it took me twelve—twelve of the most difficult, challenging, maddening, delightful years of my life. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. This will give you a taste of why.

Most of my teachers in vet school were very good, and a few were simply outstanding.

One I still remember as exceptional, although not in a positive sense. He had a DVM and two PhDs. From a book-knowledge standpoint, he was brilliant, and he really wanted to be a good instructor, but he never actually practiced veterinary medicine for a single day.

This teacher’s philosophy was that things are not always as they seem. He wanted his students to learn to cut through the confusing, sometimes distracting details of diagnostic challenges. This was ironic, since, as mentioned, he never practiced, he never had a diagnostic challenge, and the courses he taught were basic, not “clinical.”

This fellow’s approach to teaching was in the use of word problems. The real challenge to these word problems could be found in the details. It was the ability to discern the relevant from non-relevant details that would make us great diagnosticians—or so he thought. This puzzle included spelling. For example, he would give us a true/false question regarding the importance of the “juguler” vein. Since there is no “juguler” vein, only a “jugular” vein, any part of the question, however you answered it, would be false.

Multiple-choice questions were formulated the same way. If one of the choices had a misspelled word, even an adjective, it was disqualified—or maybe not, depending upon the level of double negatives. The same “logic” was employed in relation to questions concerning the potential complications of surgical repair of the “equine gall bladder.”  Since a horse does not have a gall bladder, there are no surgeries for the structure.

This process of examination was completely baffling. After a few such questions, I could see many potential answers—depending on spelling and punctuation.

Midway through the semester, I was in serious danger of failing this professor’s class. I knew the material; I just couldn’t beat my way through his #$%&*! exams. I went to him for some help, but he was about as helpful as his exams were. The prospect of failing his course was unsettling; the thought of having to suffer through another year with him was unpleasant. In those days at Texas A&M University, if you failed one course, you had to repeat the entire year! Since this course was only offered in the spring, a failing grade would land me repeating the whole year, starting the next fall.

The day of the final exam found me in near panic. I had done the math, and I needed to score sixty-five percent to pass the course and move on to the next year with my class. The exam consisted of fifty multiple-choice questions, each with five parts. This basically came down to two hundred and fifty true/false questions due to the added complications inherent in the spelling.

And it only got better:  On the chalkboard at the head of Room 5, our teacher had listed seventeen typographical errors his secretary made before the exam was printed. These needed to be corrected before we started the two-hour exam!

The scores were posted later that afternoon. As I walked away from learning how I did, the professor saw me in the hall.

“Well, are you happy? I saw you earned a passing grade,” he said with what appeared to be genuine concern.

I usually try to be polite, but with this gentleman, I just couldn’t help myself. “No, I’m pretty upset,” I replied.

“Why? You passed, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, but I scored a sixty-seven. All I needed was a sixty-five, so I figure I wasted time somewhere!”

Cover art: Madison Seamans, DVM

This excerpt from Never Trust a Sneaky Pony is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books. To order a copy in print or audiobook, go to

Exit mobile version