Renowned and respected equine veterinarian and competitor Van Snow died in an April 8 plane crash. Van and his Santa Lucia Farm in Santa Ynez, Calif., were recognized as the best of the best in the horse industry, and there is just really no replacing a guy like him.
Van, who was 58, was a unique horse doctor. He had a very special ability to keep performance horses productive. To do that, he had to first diagnose the problem. From there, he figured out the best treatment for that problem. He took on each case as a personal challenge, and had a passion for getting horses back in the game.
Van grew up on a California ranch, where he learned to communicate with horses and livestock. He could read horses and cattle, and really appreciated a good dog. In fact, he competed at a dog trial not long before his untimely death. That Dr. Doolittle quality about him was the first step in Van’s ability to evaluate horses.
We all loved visiting with Van and hearing his stories. When he got out of vet school at Davis, he set out to expand his education by working with well-known equine veterinarians across the country. He worked for vets in Kentucky and Florida, then came back to California and worked at Alamo Pintado for several years.
Van created his own specialty graduate program. He interned and worked for people who were considered experts in their field of lameness evaluation and treatment. All of his extra efforts in seeking out more information and experience from some of the most renowned experts anywhere made Van what he was, which was an exceptional veterinarian.
Van also was an active competitor. He successfully showed reining and cutting horses before becoming a competitive team roper. His background, education and unique experience combined to make Van the guru who was sought out by the top professionals in several equine disciplines, including reining, cutting, the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team and many of the world’s top cowboys. His client list in rodeo included ProRodeo Hall of Famers Jake Barnes, Joe Beaver and John W. Jones Jr. and future Hall of Famer Allen Bach, to name a few.
I grew up on a ranch, have been a horse doctor for 48 years and have roped for money for over 50 years. What I saw that made Van Van was his comfort zone around a horse. He could read a horse, so he could work with him without causing any unnecessary stress. Van used a round pen at the farm, which he designed to specific dimensions, and prepared the ground to perfection—not too soft, but not slick.
That round pen was Van’s favorite place to watch a horse move. The reason I thought that was so special is because when there’s no one leading a horse, he has full range of motion with his head and moves more naturally, because there’s no outside influence affecting the way he’s moving. Taking every horse to the round pen was part of Van’s preliminary lameness evaluation.
Van’s treatment room was inside, out of the wind and away from distractions. That’s where he had his X-ray and ultrasound machines. That’s where he injected a lot of joints. It’s a controlled environment, where there’s no wind, which could mean dust. And no dust lessens the chance of contamination and infection.
The net effect of all this was that Van could arrive at a more definitive diagnosis of a subtle or exotic lameness. He was also working on the cutting edge of treatment modalities, such as stem-cell therapy and similar products from a horse’s own plasma, which are evolving as we speak. Van was part of a group of people who are using the very latest treatments.
Van was intense about everything he did, from his veterinary career to his roping. When he got into roping, he sought advice and input from the best ropers in the world, so he could create the best possible conditions for him and his son Cody, from the arena setup to the cattle and ground. Van was a past national champion in aerobatic competition with his personal plane, which is more commentary on how competitive he was at everything he did. And he was just as respected in that area of competition as he was in our roping and rodeo world.
Van was never a guy who would go out of his way to try to impress you by talking. He quietly and confidently went at life. You had to watch him work to see how great he was. It was amazing to me that he was able to do as much as he did in his life. That he could be as sought-after and famous a veterinarian as he was, and still find time to rope and compete at dog trials and air shows was an amazing feat. He was so driven in a number of endeavors.
He had his goals, and did what it took to attain them without ever taking advantage of other people. He did it all on his own, and achieved great success on his own merits based on his ability. As busy as he always was, Van was very generous in helping other people solve their problems.