For Bonnie Ascher-Nette, DVM, there is no such thing as too much time spent with horses. An equine veterinarian who specializes in sports medicine, she devotes her days to treating the animals she loves and dedicates any time left over to training and showing her amateur-owner hunter, Denver HTF.
As a young girl, Ascher-Nette dreamed of attending veterinary school and always intended to work with horses, but upon arrival at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, she learned that balancing riding and work would be an ongoing challenge.
“I think anyone who’s been through vet school will tell you it’s one of the hardest things you’ve ever done in your life,” said Ascher-Nette, 31, Ridgefield, Connecticut. “But at the end, when you graduate, it’s the most gratifying thing you’ve ever done in your life.
“A lot of people who go into vet school wanting to be equine vets end up [in] small animal,” she continued. “They don’t end up becoming equine vets on the way out, and I think part of it is because the lifestyle of an equine vet is hard.”
People advised her that if she wanted time to enjoy her own horse, she should rethink her career choice, but Ascher-Nette was determined.
“I stayed with the equine track, as did a number of my friends, and it all ended up working out in the end,” she said.
Ascher-Nette now works for Rabanal Equine, where she cares for New York and Connecticut-based high performance hunters, jumpers and dressage horses. While she has flexibility in scheduling her appointments, she’s on call around the clock and drops everything for an emergency.
“It can become hard when you are accessible to your clients 24/7,” said Ascher-Nette. “It’s good because you’ve built a relationship and you’ve built a trust base; they trust you when you say, ‘This is what I want to do for your horse,’ but at the same time, being that accessible puts a strain on your personal life, your hobbies and relationships—kind of everything.”
When not working, Ascher-Nette is bringing along Denver, whom she bought as a 4-year-old in 2016.
Bred by Hilltop Farm (Maryland), Denver was doing the baby green hunters when Ascher-Nette’s longtime trainer, Patty Miller, spotted the Hanoverian gelding (Donarweiss GGF—Raj Mahal LTF, Royal Prince) and encouraged Ascher-Nette to buy him.
The pair hit it off immediately, winning the Pennsylvania-bred young hunter under saddle at Devon (Pennsylvania) in their first horse show outing. By 2017 they were winning tricolors in the adult amateurs.
Ascher-Nette also moved to Connecticut in 2017, and she started training with Kristen Abbatiello-Neff of Sea Horse Stables LLC in Newtown, Connecticut.
The next year, Ascher-Nette set her sights on qualifying for the Marshall & Sterling Insurance League National Finals, held in September in Saugerties, New York, during the HITS On-The-Hudson circuit. She hoped Denver would come away with mileage and experience, and to Ascher-Nette’s delight, he won the championship in the SmartPak Adult Hunter division.
Last year she moved up to contest the 3’3″ amateur-owner division, winning multiple tricolors and challenging their skills in national derbies as well.
“He’s been above and beyond what we all hoped that he could be,” said Ascher-Nette. “When you accomplish something together, whether it’s in the show ring or it’s just one of those light bulb lessons, it’s not only your horse that’s learned something, you’ve learned something along with them. It’s your relationship that’s grown.”
She relishes every accomplishment with Denver, and not just in the show ring. “It will be at home, those moments in our lesson when we’ll both just get it, it’ll remind me of three years ago, where we were and where we’re both at now,” she said. “For me, I feel like that’s the most gratifying thing about bringing a young horse along, is knowing that you’ve been involved in every step of the process.”
2019 was a big year in Ascher-Nette’s personal life as well: She married Eric Ascher-Nette in June.
To fit everything in, Bonnie schedules out her personal endeavors far in advance, traveling to support her husband at his marathons or going on mini-vacations. Sometimes she finds a way to mix work and pleasure, spending the past two winter seasons in Wellington, Florida, where she treated clients and competed Denver at the Winter Equestrian Festival.
“This year, we got some clients that have a lot of show horses that are staying up here for the winter,” said Bonnie. “My boss [Amy Rabanal] and I also talked about work-life balance, and as much as I loved going to Florida for the season, it was a long time to be away from my husband.
“That was really tough for both of us,” added Bonnie. “We’re really close; we talk every day, multiple times a day. So, being gone for almost four months out of the year with not a lot of opportunity to see each other was tough. My boss and I had talked about ways to make my work-life balance better.”
Bonnie acknowledges high performance equine medicine is not a low-stress job.
“The higher the levels you go in sport horse medicine, the more pressure there is on everybody, not just on the vet,” said Bonnie. “There’s pressure on the rider, there’s pressure on the trainer, pressure on the owner. Each part of veterinary medicine has its own pressure-filled situation, but I think in sport horse medicine, especially working at levels where you’re working on horses that are going to Wellington or going to World Cup Finals or things like that, there’s added pressure from all sides.”