Meet Dr. Robin Bell of UF Equine Hospital at World Equestrian Center

Dr. Robin Bell-Pet scan

Dr. Robin Bell helps position a horse to receive a PET scan at the UF Equine Hospital at World Equestrian Center, Ocala.

In the fall of 2022, Dr. Robin Bell, an associate clinical professor and an equine sports medicine specialist, moved to Ocala from his longtime home in Sydney, Australia, to join the team at the then newly opened UF Veterinary Hospital at World Equestrian Center in Ocala. He hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped since.

Since his arrival, Bell has stayed busy not only caring for patients that include elite equine athletes and other horses from the community, but also sharing his knowledge and insights with other veterinarians interested in equine sports medicine and important diagnostic tools now available to treat patients at WEC. For example, he presented a talk at the first Equine PET symposium, held at the New Bolton Center in Kennet Square, Pennsylvania, gave two talks at the Florida Association of Equine Practitioners’ Ocala Equine conference in February 2023 and spoke at the UF Veterinary Hospital’s annual RDVM day last June.

He also has continued his commitment to remain immersed in the world of equine performance and competition through his role as Australia’s Equestrian Team Veterinarian.

Bell with rider, grand arena

Dr. Robin Bell, right, speaks to a rider inside the Grand Arena at the World Equestrian Center, Ocala.

Last July, he visited The Netherlands to help Australia qualify its showjumping team for the Olympics in 2024.

Veterinary Page: It sounds like the past year has been a whirlwind for you! What do you most enjoy about working at the UF Veterinary Equine Hospital at WEC?

Bell: Actually, it’s really hard to pick just one thing that I love about working here. I really enjoy the dynamic young team of people that we have here. I love working at a place where the whole facility, WEC itself, is dedicated to horse sport and the well-being of horses. My favorite part though, would have to be that I have the opportunity to take 15 minutes out of my day and drive down to the ring to watch my clients and patients compete. At home, I would lose most of a day to be able to do that, but now I can schedule my cases around that period of time.

Veterinary Page: Obviously the offerings at WEC supplement what we offer in Gainesville at the Large Animal Hospital. Together we have a robust team of clinicians and support staff all working together for the benefit of our equine clients. Have there been opportunities for the WEC team to exchange knowledge and network with our team here and do you envision us strengthening those collaborations?

Bell: There have been countless collaborations already. We have worked with a number of services on cases here at WEC, including cardiology, internal medicine, surgery, ophthalmology, etc. We often do standing CTs for horses that have been seen at Gainesville and then have had further procedures performed by the faculty and residents from Gainesville while the horse is still here at WEC. I was fortunate enough to spend two 2-week blocks on the large animal surgery service in August and September which I really enjoyed.

Veterinary Page: Can you describe briefly what an average day is like for you at WEC?

Dr. Robin Bell and staff member Kathryn ? walking a horse through a hallway at the UF Equine Hospital at WEC.

Dr. Robin Bell and staff member Kathryn Heiss walking a horse through a hallway at the UF Equine Hospital at WEC.

Bell: Maybe I should have used this as my favorite thing about working here! There really isn’t a typical day here. The days are very variable, depending on whether or not there is a show here, or in season, which week it is and who is showing. Typically, we have between four and six aqua treadmill cases per day and up to 15 on a busy day.

We generally see a couple of lame horses each day, and when season is on, it is not uncommon for horses to come straight from the ring, whether for lameness, poor performance or to use the treadmill, salt room, vibration therapy/Theraplate or all three. It still gives me a kick to see riders come straight from the ring in their whites and unsaddle the horse in the clinic for us to put it in the treadmill or salt room. In terms of advanced imaging, again, that is quite variable; the start of the week tends to be busier for things like MRI and CT/PET, while the busier show days are quieter.

Veterinary Page: We offer a variety of diagnostic imaging tools as well as sports medicine rehabilitation and therapy. Do you find that most of your patients come for one or the other or are there times when horses receive both imaging and rehab treatment?

Bell: Again, it depends on the patient and the diagnosis. It is quite common for the horses we’ve done imaging procedures on to return here when they are at a stage in their rehabilitation that things like the treadmill or vibration therapy/Theraplate are indicated.

Veterinary Page: What have been some of the key successes you have witnessed at the UF Equine Hospital at WEC in the year you have been here?

Bell: I get the biggest kick out of being able to go to the ring and see a horse that was either unable to compete because it was lame, or was performing poorly because of a clinical condition, or that we have been part of the rehabilitation of that horse, and to see that horse go and do his job for his rider. I get the same kick if that horse is jumping the meter in Indoor 1 Arena, but it is pretty special being able to watch them get back out there under lights in the hotel ring on a Saturday night.

Veterinary Page: Tell us about your own sports performance interests! Did you bring your horses with you from Australia? Tell us about them! Do you have other pets as well?

Dr. Robin Bell examines a horse before it receives treatment in the aqua treadmill.

Dr. Robin Bell examines a horse before it receives treatment in the aqua treadmill.

Bell: I am very passionate about jumping but I do also love eventing and dressage as well. I like any competitive horse sport! We brought three of our horses over with us from Australia. Oaks Sharko is my wife Erin’s 1.40 to 1.45-meter horse; he’s a 17-year-old by Parco out of a mare called Hormindale.

Oaks Coronet is a young horse that we own with some of Erin’s clients in Australia. She’s a 7-year-old mare out of Cassiago by a mare called Cera Carlina. The third one is Coronation, also a 7-year-old, who we bred out of Cornel to a beautiful mare, Valuation, that was one of my horses back home. We also have three chihuahuas, Santana, Lewis and their daughter, Rose.

Veterinary Page: Have you continued to perform in showjumping competition?

Bell: I haven’t started back competing yet. I wanted to concentrate on building the caseload/clientele here before I start looking for a horse. I need a certain type of horse, and if one of those comes along sooner, then I’ll get back into it sooner.

Veterinary Page: What’s looming at WEC that you’re excited about?

Bell: There’s a couple of things that are pretty exciting here at the hospital. This season, we are hosting a lecture series to help educate horse owners about different horse health topics and highlight how we can help serve the equine community with our facilities and expertise here.

In terms of research, I am particularly excited about a couple of projects we have going. We are running a clinical trial funded by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and are looking into PET scan of the sport horse fetlock in horses having standing MRI of the fetlock. Our sports medicine resident, Dr Alyssa Daniels, is running a trial comparing contrast CT myelogram with conventional myelogram and MRI of the neck. Finally, and probably most exciting for me, is we are going to work with Canon to develop protocols to do dual-energy CT scanning, which will be an absolute game changer, especially in relation to imaging fluid in bone/ bone bruising.

Veterinary Page: Favorite restaurant at WEC? In Gainesville?

Bell: We don’t really eat out that much, and certainly haven’t been to Gainesville much. When we have Australians over to visit, we do always take them to the Red Crab here in Ocala. It’s a novel experience compared to what we have back home.

Veterinary Page: Thanks so much for sharing your time with us, Dr. Bell! Best of luck.

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