Dr. Robert Barber knew he wanted to be a veterinarian since his very first day of high school. Prompted by a guidance counselor to consider his future, the young polo player settled naturally on his career path.
Today, 30 years later, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville graduate is one of the most sought-after veterinarians in Marion County and across the Eastern seaboard among hunter/jumper competitors. He travels throughout the year from horse show to horse show and is the official veterinarian of HITS Ocala where he sees hundreds of horses over the course of the two-month-long competition.
At his northwest Marion County rehabilitation farm, Dr. Barber and his team, which includes his wife, Michelle, recovers equine athletes through comprehensive physical therapy programs. Most of the injuries Dr. Barber sees are of the soft-tissue variety rather than bone. These tendon, ligament, and muscle problems must be detected early, which is why he has attended extra courses for ultrasound imaging and maintains the cutting-edge equipment required for the best imaging.
“We would often diagnose a problem and say to the owner, ‘Okay, now you need to rehab him,’ and they’d say, ‘But where do we send him?’” he says. “So we started to do rehab at our farm. We give them more personalized attention—a personalized approach with veterinary oversight. I direct the program and am seeing them at least once a week, even every day.”
The smallest detail is accounted for by Dr. Barber’s dedicated team of assistants, down to the very floor beneath the horses’ hooves. The four-inch-thick SoftStall/ComfortStall anti-fatigue mats in each stall are like standing on “a king-size Tempur-Pedic mattress,” as Dr. Barber describes it.
“Some horses arrive here in pain and with a poor disposition,” he adds, “but within three or four days in these stalls, they are happier.”
Time on the treadmill is also often a part of Team Barber’s therapy. The horses walk for 30-minute intervals on the machine, stretching and working their recovering muscles, joints, and ligaments.
“You can see him engaging his lower back,” Dr. Barber says, standing behind the treadmill as one patient begins his workout. “By altering the elevation even slightly, we can change the dynamics of the workout and let the horse engage different muscles.”
“This helps them develop a work ethic, too,” adds Michelle. “We walk them up onto this, they go to work, and then they walk off pleasantly. It teaches them to focus and to walk straight at a steady pace. It helps to lengthen their stride while stretching out those kinks and soreness. This is one of the best investments we ever made.”
Last month, Dr. Barber brought on a new associate, Dr. Larry Wexler—a University of Florida graduate—to help with the practice’s workload. On a recent overcast morning at the HITS showgrounds in Ocala, the two doctors worked side-by-side as horses came in for maintenance.
Dr. Barber also plans to open an equine podiatry center in Marion County soon. The high-tech facility will be a place where veterinarians and farriers can work together to address foot issues.
New projects, horse shows on the road, a barn full of recovering athletes—no matter how demanding Dr. Barber’s schedule has grown over the years, he still makes a point of always being readily available for his clients. It’s simply a part of his philosophy.
“When you call me, you get me,” Dr. Barber says. “We know the horses’ names, what classes they’re doing. We pride ourselves on providing personalized attention.”
Dr. Robert Barber
11339 West Hwy. 326, Ocala