The Business of Practice: Equine Sports Medicine Practices   

In this episode, Drs. Ciera Guardia and Andrea Sotela offer advice for starting a sports medicine veterinary practice.
Sports medicine practice veterinarian performing lameness examination of horse's leg.
The quality of services you offer is more important than the quanitity when starting a sports medicine practice. | Getty Images

In this episode of The Business of Practice podcast, Ciera Guardia, DVM, and Andrea Sotela, DVM, joined us to talk about sports-medicine-focused practices and their recommendations for veterinarians considering this career option.  

Guardia and Sotela became passionate about sports medicine through their early experiences with horses. Guardia grew up in Texas and was a skilled dressage rider who qualified for the USEF Young Rider competition as a junior. However, due to a cataclysmic injury to her horse, she was unable to participate. She spent the next two years rehabilitating her horse with close veterinary supervision, which opened her eyes to all that sports medicine and rehab could accomplish. Sotela competed in the hunter-jumper world as a young rider and started working for a horse show veterinarian as a teenager. Being a part of the world of high-class athletes, she developed a “love of the puzzle” of performance issues. 

Starting a Sports Medicine Practice

Each doctor went on to open her own practice focused on sports medicine, Guardia in Houston, Texas, eight years ago and Sotela in Rhinebeck, New York, two years ago. Both spoke of the pressures in their associate positions and how they came close to leaving equine practice due to feelings of burnout. Both saw being a practice owner as an opportunity to have a flexible, customizable, financially rewarding career with a maximum amount of freedom. They shared how passionately they enjoy their work now and how much they appreciate being in charge and able to make their own choices. 

When asked about the most important things they learned in the first several years of practice ownership, Guardia said she gained a lot of confidence. Most importantly, she learned, “I CAN do this!” She advised practitioners to “Listen to your gut, because if they (a client) feel shady, they ARE shady.” Sotela shared that she learned to say no and felt empowered to say no to requests that were outside her boundaries. She felt renewed passion in her work and realized “the equine industry really does have room for concierge service.” 

Structuring a Sports Medicine Practice

Both doctors offered recommendations for structuring a practice focused on sports medicine, beginning with having a full complement of diagnostic equipment from Day 1. By being able to do a high-quality prepurchase exam from the first day of practice, they solidified their brand promise. Sotela described the importance of transparently laying out the limits of the services she offers and having a well-planned social media blitz upon opening. Guardia emphasized the importance of advertising only the services you plan to offer, even if at first you do a small amount of general practice and emergencies, as she did when she first began. She said the quality of your services is much more important than the quantity when establishing your reputation.  

In closing, Sotela offered a promising note to current and future veterinarians: “Happiness in equine practice exists!” Guardia agreed, saying she is incredibly grateful for the life she is leading, with clients that care about her as a person and work that she loves.  

About Ciera Guardia, DVM 

Guardia grew up in Texas. As a teenager and throughout her undergraduate career, she was a competitive FEI dressage rider and competed in three-day eventing. She attended Texas A&M University, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science and then her DVM. Her goal was to be a leader in equine orthopedics and sports medicine, and she became qualified as an FEI Treating Veterinarian early in her career. After working with several prominent practices and honing her skills, Guardia started her own solo sports medicine practice, Guardia Equine, eight years ago in Houston. She presented a paper at the 2021 AAEP Annual Convention in San Antonio entitled “Seeding the Field to Grow Future Owners.” As a registered attendee, you can access the recording and paper by searching AAEP Annual Convention 2022 On Demand. 

Contact: cg@guardiaequine.com 

About Andrea Sotela, DVM 

Sotela is a native of Potomac, Maryland. She grew up riding and showing hunters and jumpers as well as playing polo. As a young adult, she spent several years working as a veterinary assistant for a prominent show veterinarian on the East Coast show circuit, which allowed her to gain a strong background in lameness diagnosis and sports medicine. After earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences at the University of Maryland, Sotela attended veterinary school at The Ohio State University, graduating in 2006. After veterinary school, she completed an internship at the Littleton Equine Medical Center, in Colorado. She is certified in veterinary chiropractic and has completed all the modules from The International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology (ISELP) and wishes to obtain certification. Sotela is the owner and founder of Cavallo Veterinary Services, a solo practice limited to sports medicine, based in Rhinebeck, New York. 

Contact: asotela@cavallovet.com 

Disclaimer from sponsor: This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax and/or other advisors with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit (collectively, “Synchrony”), make no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions in this article are the sole opinions of the author and roundtable participants. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

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