He is remindful of the way medicine was once practiced, when house calls were a way of life, when the practitioners of the science had a neighborly bedside manner and enjoyed visiting as much as doctoring. Above all, when the care and treatment of the patient went beyond the dictates of the bottom line and the corporate intrusions on time and attention to detail.
There is a price to be paid for such dedication to duty, however, and it’s typically expressed with a question from one of his colleagues: “Have you seen Bowman?”
The answer usually can be found by locating the barn sending the tempting scent of fresh bakery into the surrounding atmosphere. Someone made a cake to accompany the morning coffee and has the good Doc’s ear, if, in fact, he doesn’t have theirs.
“We sometimes have to think about sending out a search party,” said Dr. Lynn Hovda.
The lost party, of course, is Dr. Dick Bowman, the long-time state veterinarian and equine dentist at Canterbury Park, who for many years has provided a refuge for the unwanted and displaced horses of the Minnesota racing world and beyond. The Middle Ages had their Francis of Assisi. Canterbury Park has its Richard of North Dakota.
Dick Bowman has saved hundreds of horses from a dismal life if not a dreadful demise once their racing careers have ended, hauling them 600 miles to his North Dakota ranch, then tending to their infirmities, fixing their teeth, feeding them and generally restoring them to the good health necessary to live out the remainder of their lives, quite often right there in rural Bowman, and all too often at his own expense.
“He is a person who has a lot of trouble saying no,” Hovda added. “Here’s the deal with Dick. He never says no and he doesn’t grumble about it. Doesn’t matter if the horse can barely stand on three legs or is a 25-year-old broodmare that just needs a home for its last days.”
There is a difference, Hovda noted, between individuals who have trouble saying no and then complain about their own acquiescence. Dick Bowman doesn’t say no because that is what he intends. He very simply wants to help animals in need, because he cares about them.
At any given time, there are 50 to 60 horses located at his Second Chance Ranch, at one time as many as 80, all waiting for someone to adopt them, perhaps after seeing them on the Facebook program on which they can be found.
Bowman often gets repaid with the simple recognition the animals provide. “When they first get to the ranch they want to be left alone. They don’t want anything to do with people for a while,” he said. “You can’t even walk up to them. Eventually they come looking for us, wanting to be petted, wanting some contact with humans.”
There are other special occasions that can accompany only a true appreciation for horses, when the herd en masse, for example, heads to quench its thirst. “There’s nothing more exciting to hear than a herd of horses running up to the corral for water,” Bowman said. “You’d think it was a herd of buffalo. They sound like thunder. Sometimes they’ll simply come running up to say hello.”
Canterbury Park and the HBPA have provided financial assistance to Bowman’s adoption and relocation program since it was started, “tons of money” according to Bowman.
Yet, expenses go on and on for horses, for dental care, for inoculations and for food, always for food. “I shudder to think how much grass and hay they go through,” Bowman added. “A horse will eat almost continuously if allowed to.”
Yet, Bowman persists, working his cattle ranch in North Dakota when time allows, letting his son or brother oversee the hired help in other instances, as he does while he spends the meet in Shakopee, working alongside Hovda and Dr. Christy Klatt and hauling horses no longer useful for racing to North Dakota.
The transmission in his truck recently went out, so Bowman had to hire help to take a load of six horses to his ranch, a job that, including the $300 in fuel needed for the trip, ran about $1,800. “Caring for horses isn’t cheap,” Bowman added. “The University of Montana farrier school comes out (to the ranch) every six weeks or so, and that can run $1,500. It’s another $1,000 to vaccinate them.”
Donations help and adoption does, too, but there is seldom enough in either case. The best case for a former racehorse is a new line of work as a pleasure horse or jumper with a responsible owner.
Bowman had an equine dental practice involving clients in six states for 17 years, traveling 60,000 miles a year caring for the teeth of horses in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and even in Wyoming one year. He sold the practice a few years ago, allowing himself more time to devote to his cattle ranch, the horse adoption program and his duties at Canterbury Park during the live racing meet. “It’s never been a thing that made me money,” he said. “But it’s probably the most fulfilling thing I’ve done in life.”
Bowman went to work out of veterinarian school at several tracks in Florida, which is where he met Camille McArdle, an early vet at Canterbury and currently a member of the Minnesota Racing Commission. He moved onto the backside at Canterbury in 1986 and was a fixture until the track closed after the 1992 meet. He returned sometime after the track reopened in 1995.
Bowman’s outgoing, friendly demeanor has made him a favorite around the stables in Shakopee as well as in the test barn among the numerous young aspiring veterinarians. “I don’t think there’s been a wedding or a party involving someone in the test barn that he hasn’t been invited to,” said Hovda.
There are hundreds of horses on the grounds at Canterbury and at the Second Chance Ranch in North Dakota with similar sentiments…in an equine sort of way.
by JIM WELLS