SDQHA Legacy Promoter of the Breed: Dr. John Ismay, DVM | TSLN.com
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SDQHA Legacy Promoter of the Breed: Dr. John Ismay, DVM

By Heather Smith Thomas for Tri-State Livestock News

Some folks are high profile in the things they do–and are famous in their accomplishments in promoting their favorite breed–while others are quiet, behind-the-scenes promoters who make a big difference in other ways. Dr. John Ismay, an equine veterinarian in Sturgis, South Dakota could be considered the latter.

“Most of what I do is just to help keep good horses performing. My wife and I also have some good horses ourselves,” said Ismay. He commented on one of his favorites – a son of Shining Sparks that he owned for quite a while. This special horse died recently. “We have some very nice offspring from him that we highly value,” Ismay says.

He grew up in the mountains of southwestern Colorado in a ranching family, and developed a deep appreciation for the human-horse relationship at a very early age; he was horseback nearly as soon as he could walk. The family was not rich; they lived in a two-room cabin constructed of railroad ties, with no running water. His first horse was a Shetland-Thoroughbred cross. His love of horses led to a desire to work with them for the rest of his life.



Dr. Ismay's childhood was spent in this two bedroom home in Colorado.
The family's first kids' horse.
Dr. Ismay's first horse was a Thoroughbred-Shetland pony cross.

His vision to become an equine surgeon was spurred by his close relationship with a local veterinarian who inspired him to pursue this dream. After finishing high school, Ismay enrolled in college at Colorado State University and received a Bachelor of Science degree from CSU in 1969 with a minor in Chemistry. He graduated with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in May of 1971 and took a job at Sturgis Veterinary Hospital after graduation, a general practice in Sturgis, South Dakota.

This veterinary facility was started in 1952 by Dr. J.A. Chamley and his wife Annie. After working at this hospital for about a year, Ismay decided that this was where he wanted to be, and he purchased the Sturgis Veterinary Hospital in 1972.



At that time the hospital was a single-veterinarian mixed animal practice. Seeing the need for a specialized equine referral center is this region, Ismay continually improved his own clinical skills through advanced courses in equine medicine, surgery and dentistry (areas of his special interest), both in the U.S. and abroad. He brought in highly skilled specialists to join him in these efforts, and invested in advanced technology for the practice. Over the years, with the dedication of a loyal staff, he developed the facility into an equine referral center.

Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, just north of Interstate 90, the Sturgis Veterinary Hospital & Equine Center soon became a hub of advanced equine and companion animal medicine, surgery and dentistry, providing a referral center for patients from South Dakota, Wyoming, North Dakota, Montana, and Nebraska.

The facility grew from a small flat-topped building in 1971 to a sprawling campus consisting of barns with more than 30 stalls, surgical suites, examination areas, a riding arena and much more. Plans for more facilities are on-going; additional construction on the hospital continues to this day. His vision for a high-tech specialty center has resulted in a facility dedicated to raising equine and companion animal medicine and surgery to an ever-increasing standard of excellence.

“As a referral hospital, we see diseases and ailments outside of the normal spectrum of an everyday practice. This has provided our staff with significant experience in treating unusual and more complicated ailments,” says Ismay.

This facility is equipped to deal with the wide range of medical problems that a horse may encounter. “Our staff includes a board certified internal medicine specialist and a board certified surgeon, ensuring that the patient receives appropriate and quality care. Our full-service laboratory is equipped with on-site hematology and chemistry to facilitate accurate and timely diagnoses. Emergency care is provided on a 24-hour basis,” Ismay says.

Through all of this advancement in ability to care for his patients, horses became an even more important part of his life, along with their owners. He has promoted the horse industry from behind the scenes by caring for and keeping the equine athletes and beloved equine family members in the best possible health. The relationship between horses and the human race became more evident, and something to be highly valued. Ismay made certain that he understood every patient in his care as much as possible. In his daily practice, horsemanship has become as important as the medicine and surgery.

He also continues to try to find ways to improve equine care, and holds a patent on a surgical procedure he designed to remove uroliths (also called calculi or stones) from the equine urinary bladder. Though his practice keeps him very busy, he still takes time to try to support the horse industry; he has helped organize and do educational presentations at numerous equine events and has promoted the equine industry through lectures and donations.

“We support a lot of the youth organizations in the breed and participate in the Stock Show. We’ve promoted many things for the (Black Hills) Stock Show and have given talks there. Every year for several years I gave a talk on saddle fit,” he says.

In his professional field he is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, South Dakota Veterinary Medical Association, Wyoming Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners. He has served on the American Association of Equine Practitioners Educational Programs Committee, and as Chairman of the Executive Committee of Veterinary Management Group 11, and has been on the Advisory Council for a large veterinary medical company.

His many efforts have not gone unnoticed; in 2010 he was voted South Dakota Agribusiness man of the year, and was voted South Dakota Veterinarian of the year in 2014.

He has a fondness for all horses but a special devotion to the American Quarter Horse. “I’ve never actively gone out and promoted the breed, but I have been supportive in every way I can. We have put on a lot of educational meetings at the Stock Show and other places and I’ve written quite a few articles for lay magazines as well as scientific peer-reviewed papers for medical journals,” he says. Some of his work has been published in surgery text books.

His goal in life is to help humans help horses, and he pursues this goal by helping educate veterinarians and horse owners to be able to take better care of the animals in their care.

Dr. Ismay conducting a dental exam with his grandson, Ben.
Conducting surgery in house. John Ismay
Courtesy photos
The "old" Sturgis vet clinic.
The new clinic includes a riding arena and round pen.
Dr. Ismay was named South Dakota Veterinarian of the Year in 2014. Courtesy photo
One of Dr. Ismay's favorite places to be is horseback.
One of Dr. Ismay's favorite places to be is horseback.
An aerial view of the new hospital.
Dr. Ismay enjoys a ride on his favorite horse.
Dr. Ismay has a fondness for all horses but a special devotion to the American Quarter Horse.
Dr. Ismay teaches others about proper saddle fit.

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