With one well-placed push along the sacroiliac joint, a loud popping sound ricochets from somewhere along the back of the horse’s body, inspiring a sigh of relief and instant licking and chewing.
“You’d be hard pressed to find something, short of Washington, D.C., that is more politicized than the horse show world. So really I haven’t gone far,” said Miles Hildebrand, DVM, as he steps back to survey the horse’s reaction to his adjustment.
It’s a simple way to describe a star-studded past where Hildebrand was more likely to encounter U.S. presidents and major league baseball players than equines and their ailments.
His journey from the hallowed ground of Capitol Hill to eyeballing a horse’s hind-end joints is a story he doesn’t mind telling. But right now, his full attention is on the patient in front of him.
Hildebrand places a large block next to the horse and steps onto it, the better to give him purchase while he feels for joints out of place along the spine.
Twenty, or even 10 years ago, sports medicine and rehabilitation for horses weren’t common practice. But with the growth of the sport, and wider acceptance of horses as equine athletes, sports medicine for horses has grown and taken on a life of its own.
Just this year, the American Veterinary Medical Association approved a Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialty. Prior to 2012, veterinarians who practiced sports medicine along with treating conventional cases had no way to distinguish that end of their business, other than via reputation and word of mouth. Now that a specialty has been approved, Hildebrand plans to become one of the first specialists and will be preparing to sit for the boards. It’s a process that will take him three or four years while he maintains his busy full-time practice.
There’s nothing pretentious about the tall veterinarian with clipped gray hair and soft blue eyes. He shoulders the trademark gentleness of a truly good veterinarian like a comfortable coat. Also a certified chiropractor, Hildebrand’s veterinary work blends western medicine and chiropractic care with specific technical knowledge of sport horse biomechanics. He moves around horses as if it’s all he’s ever known, when in fact that’s just the contrary.
No Tunnel Vision Here
Hildebrand moves on to a new horse, first watching it trot in a circle and then pressing his fingers into points along the neck. He’s feeling for muscle stiffness or a joint rendered immobile. With half-closed eyes, the horse lowers its head and sighs.
It’s impossible to grow up where Hildebrand did, near Fort Worth, Texas, without being exposed to rodeos and western riding. But Hildebrand was granted little saddle time as a boy. His father was a man who liked the idea of owning horses, rather than a hands-on horse person. The successful owner of an industrial paper company, he won his first two Thoroughbred racehorses in a poker game. Hildebrand took every opportunity to be around the horses, picking up work at the racetrack as a groom. And even as other interests began to redirect his time, he always hoped veterinary school was in his future.
But he didn’t have tunnel vision. His interest in politics and baseball steered his college years. Hildebrand played baseball at Texas A&M. He moved up to the semi-pro ranks and was picked up by an independent minor league team in Miami shortly after graduation. He might have even made it to the major leagues if it weren’t for an arm injury. He returned to playing baseball after his arm healed but never in the same capacity.
“Get On With Your Life”
In the months after his injury, Hildebrand took a job as an assistant coach to the baseball team at Texas Christian University and, later, at North Lake College in Dallas.
“But still, baseball was just a job, not a career,” Hildebrand said.
In 1988, he moved to Washington, D.C., with the purpose of finding a “real job” in politics, but shortly after he arrived, a position with the Baltimore Orioles found him.
“The Orioles were looking for a scout to cover the Mid-Atlantic states,” Hildebrand explained. “I ended up working for a grassroots lobbying firm during the week and scouting for the Orioles on the weekend and evenings. Later, I was actually offered a contract to go back and play with them as a semi-pro player. But I think I was a better coach.
“Baseball was a boyhood passion that I wasn’t ready to give up on yet, and going with the Orioles was a way for me to stay with it,” he continued. “But now that I’m closer to my father’s age, I look back to when he said to me ‘get on with your life’ in terms of baseball. Now I know what he meant.”
But while baseball wasn’t a career path for Hildebrand, politics certainly were. As a teenager, he’d enjoyed volunteering for local political campaigns. Veterinary medicine once again took a back seat as he was pulled into the fast-paced life of a D.C. bureaucrat.
Hildebrand quickly moved on from the job with the lobbying firm to working with Congressman Tom Kindness (R-Ohio, 1975-1987).
As an assistant to Kindness, Hildebrand grew familiar with the rhythm of 1980s Washington. When a position as a White House liaison presented itself, Hildebrand took it and found himself on the team that surrounded President George H.W. Bush.
“At that point my job was to coordinate things wherever the president was making an appearance at an event,” he said. “I needed to make sure that we could get enough supporters to the location. I would get on the phone and call the local Republican committee office and make sure a crowd of supporters would be there when the president stepped out of his limousine.”
It was fast-paced work that kept Hildebrand busy on Capitol Hill. Then everything changed.
An Interesting Time