Alumni News

Scollay-Ward Recounts Rewarding Career Caring for Racehorses

[Mary Scollay-Ward at DVM graduation and today]

Alumna Recognized for Distinguished Service to AAEP

People often say life comes full circle. The career of Dr. Mary Scollay-Ward, a 1984 graduate of the college, certainly exemplifies this truism.

Dr. Scollay-Ward has loved horses for as long as she can remember. Her love began with her first riding lessons in second grade and grew when she owned her first horse at 16. Dr. Scollay-Ward’s enthusiasm for equines is notable throughout her body of veterinary work.

I laughed every day and learned something every day,” she recalls. “I can’t imagine a life not being around  these horses in some capacity.

Dr. Mary Scollay-Ward

Dr. Scollay-Ward, who grew up in Palatine, Ill., worked in an equine ambulatory practice near Joliet until she “stumbled into” racing regulatory medicine, where she found a professional purpose and a sense of community. Starting in the winter of 1987 at Balmoral Park in Crete, Ill.,  “I laughed every day and learned something every day,” she recalls. “I can’t imagine a life not being around  these horses in some capacity.”

A Passion for Racehorse Medicine

During her veterinary studies, she completed an 8-week equine externship in Newmarket, England, under the direction of Dr. Robert Crowhurst. Here, she found the drive and passion that solidified her interest in racehorse-specific care. She begged Dr. Crowhurst to stay at the ambulatory practice, going as far as promising to treat foal diarrhea if it meant she had a place in Newmarket.

“He looked at me and he said, ‘Young lady, you must never start out where you want to end up. You must go somewhere else and make your inevitable mistakes. Then you are ready to come back,’” Dr. Scollay-Ward recounts.

Accepting his advice, Dr. Scollay-Ward returned to the States, where her career blossomed. She worked with racehorses everywhere from Kentucky to South Florida. In 1997, Dr. Scollay-Ward joined the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Racing Committee. She received media training from the AAEP to assist in her role as an on-call veterinarian during racing broadcasts.

In this role, she acts as a liaison for the press and explains medical concepts in a digestible, understandable way for non-veterinary listeners. Another veterinarian tends to the wounded horse while Dr. Scollay-Ward informs the press.

“My best days were when nobody knew who I was or that I was there,” she says, since her presence was visible only when a horse had suffered an injury.

In addition to her work as an on-call vet, Dr. Scollay-Ward serves on the Professional Conduct and Ethics Committee, writes AAEP white papers, and acts as the Chief Operating Officer of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, where she helps maintain the RMTC’s goals of upholding racing safety and integrity for every horse in every race. She also gives talks to veterinary students, urging them to branch out and look for career opportunities where they are least expected.

“If someone would’ve told me I would be spending this much time with analytical chemistry, I would have never believed them,” Dr. Scollay-Ward jokes. “There are other ways to use a veterinary degree that contribute in a significant way.”

Coming Full Circle

In recognition of her decades of experience, hard work, and grit, Dr. Scollay-Ward received the 2020 AAEP Distinguished Service Award. Humbled by this award, she encourages others to applaud the people working behind the scenes and the membership engagement that drives the organization.

A couple of years ago Dr. Scollay-Ward was offered a position in Newmarket, England, with the British Horseracing Authority. “Dr. Crowhurst’s words came back to me,” she details. “I worked hard enough that I was able to come full circle and had the opportunity to end up where I wanted to all along.”

Though she declined the offer, Dr. Scollay-Ward fondly recalls her time in Newmarket and her long veterinary career. She emphasizes how inclusive and encouraging Illinois and her classmates were when it came to job searching—students in the class of ’84 were funny, smart, and “supported each other through the search for where we belonged in veterinary medicine.”

Looking back on her eventful, full-circle career, Dr. Scollay-Ward is reminded of a Grateful Dead album title: “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

By Jamie Gordon

Photoillustration with photo by Jeff Griffith on Unsplash