Paul Jepson is chairman of the committee that is responsible for delivery of Great Britain's Equine Health and Welfare Strategy. He is a former chief executive and veterinary director of the Horse Trust, a former director of the Army Veterinary and Remount Services and is president-elect of the British Equine Veterinary Association.
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How did you get to where you are today?
When I qualified in 1972, I worked in large animal/mixed practice but horses had always been a passion and I set up my own practice (rare in those days) with a special interest in horse work. I sold the practice when I joined the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, which I did with a view to seeing more of the world. Despite spending the first two years in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles, I subsequently lived and worked in a variety of exotic places.
I retired from the Army in 1997 and took up the role of chief executive and veterinary director at the Horse Trust, which was known then as the Home of Rest for Horses. As well as running the Home and its estate, the charity's biggest output was funding and running a multimillion pound scientific research and postgraduate scholarship programme that also provided state-of-the-art equine facilities in the veterinary schools and the Animal Health Trust.
I retired again recently and now work self-employed, including consultancy work for the Horse Trust, which is a key player in promoting and advancing equine welfare. The equine sector was quick off the mark in response to the Government's Animal Health and Welfare Strategy and developed and published its own strategy (GB Equine Health and Welfare Strategy) in 2007. This brings together resources and expertise from the industry and government. I was honoured to be asked to chair the strategy group, which is updating the strategy and prioritising a new action plan based on risk analysis.
Tell us about your involvement with the African horse sickness working group.
The outbreak of bluetongue disease in the UK sent a very clear message, as 10 years previously anyone suggesting we could have bluetongue in this country was ridiculed. Whatever can happen with bluetongue can happen with African horse sickness (AHS); the viruses and mode of transmission are very similar. It soon became apparent that we were as ill-prepared for AHS as we had been for bluetongue. The consequences for the equine industry, subsequently valued at £7 billion annually, could be dire, with a mortality rate in our naive equine population of over 90 per cent. I pulled together a working party of experts from the horse industry, academia and government and over the course of 18 months we developed a strategy for coping with an outbreak and the regulations that empower the Government, in consultation with the industry, to take the necessary and potentially draconian steps to bring an outbreak under control. We also secured Defra funding for the development of a safe and effective vaccine. It's a fine example of government and industry working together and the principle of responsibility and cost sharing. The arrival of Schmallenberg virus in the UK further demonstrates our vulnerability to exotic diseases.
What other activities are you involved in?
Farriery has always been a special interest. The Army, which runs its own School of Farriery, gave me an opportunity to become involved in the training of farriers and try my hand at ‘bending iron’. I subsequently became a liveryman and, in 2005/6, the Master of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, which has the welfare of the horse as its primary focus and has been responsible for setting the qualifying standard of farriers since 1356. I also served on the Farriers Registration Council and more recently was involved as an external examiner in the development of degree courses in farriery, which has evolved from an art and craft into a science.
What have you liked about your jobs?
Every job has been full of variety – from promoting basic agriculture and veterinary science in the Himalayas of Nepal, to shuffling paper on everything from war plans to an individual's career in the Ministry of Defence. At the Horse Trust I was everything from farmer, estate manager and resident vet to chief executive and company secretary, dealing with investment managers and lawyers. Being a jack of all trades is very much an echo of the veterinary profession that I graduated into, but which is fast disappearing with the inexorable growth of specialisation.
What have you not liked?
I have always struggled with the gap between what is possible in veterinary medicine to make a real difference to the quality of an animal's life and the frequently prohibitive cost of providing that treatment. Putting a monetary value on an animal's life is always a heartache. Conversely, I dislike immensely the culture that promotes treatment whatever the cost and irrespective of the real benefit to the animal's welfare. Euthanasia can sometimes be the best and kindest option for all concerned.
Why is your role important?
I would like to think that I make a difference to the welfare of the horse.
What's your advice to someone considering a similar career?
Veterinary training equips you for a wide variety of jobs, but the rest of the world has a problem seeing beyond the stethoscope and thermometer image of a vet.
What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?
The best piece of advice I chose to ignore was to join the Navy.
What was your proudest moment?
Graduating as a vet; I felt I had the world at my feet.
… and your most embarrassing?
On a personal level it was probably plumbing a dishwasher in to the central heating system.
On a professional level – as others have no doubt experienced – it was an occasion when I believed a prognosis was good and I said so; and then it all went wrong because of an error on my part.
On a lighter note, it was being chased out of a field by a normally placid, but by then very angry, Highland cow when, according to onlookers, I hurdled a five-bar gate.
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