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SC Rewind: Doc McKibbin

Published: June 27, 2015 11:12 am ET

Last Comment: February 11, 2017 12:09 pm ET | 6 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith reviews the life and times of the late Dr. Lloyd S. McKibbin a world renown veterinarian who spent a lifetime involved in harness racing. He ushered in many new and revolutionary ​medical ideas throughout his lengthy career.

​​It is not ​every week​ that I can write about someone who I have known personally and been able to spend time with; it is always a bonus. Many years ago (isn't everything?) I had the pleasure of ​numerous​ conversations with a most amazing and accomplished man by the name of Dr. Lloyd McKibbin DVM​. He was a ​veterinarian​ by trade and a true lover of the sport of harness racing. To top all of that off, he was an extremely nice man...a gentleman of the first order. ​I am pleased to have him as a Rewind subject. ​

Often seemingly out of nowhere he would appear on the backstretch at the Leamington Fairgrounds​ track​; sometimes the scent of cigar smoke preceded his arrival. He was often there just for a few races, maybe someone he had not seen for a long time was in Town, or maybe he just wanted to catch up on what was going on. ​Perhaps it was a busy day at the clinic....​Whatever the "reason" I was always glad to have a visit as he was sure to leave you with a story or two, always an interesting one. ​Some people are easier than others to converse with, he was at the top of my list. ​

Lloyd Salem McKibbin was born ​a bit east of London at​ ​Ingersoll​ in 1921. He attended school in the area and eventually went to High School ​in Aylmer, ​Ont. Like many of his generation, he lived through the Depression and in the early 1940's was called to serve his Country .​ ​Upon his return, he decided on a career path and soon achieved his dream when he graduated from the Ontario Veterinary college in 1952. Soon his travels took him some 200 kilometres or so westward where he took up residence in the small community of Wheatley, Ont. His first job involved the Tuberculosis testing of dairy cattle that was a big project at that time. It was from here that he would spend the remainder of his lifetime, working at his calling.

Left: ​A composite sketch of Dr. Lloyd McKibbin was done by well known Wheatley artist Harold Burton which depicted the many facets of his personal and professional career. ​Right: ​Dr. McKibbin in his office beside an early computer. He was among the first to keep medical records on his 'patients' in this manner.

Apparently not interested in a career of developing a general veterinary practice, early in his career he branched into specializing in the equine field. Perhaps it was his family background and his upbringing in horse country that led him along this path. Once headed in this direction he was not at all content to apply conventional and proven practices and methods, but rather he began to reach out for new and innovative solutions.

He knew that virtually all horses are at times plagued with lameness and that the diagnosis and treatment of these ailments would create a vibrant practice. He also saw that with the growth and prosperity of the sport that owners were eager to find quicker and more efficient means of rehabilitating horses. Gone were the days when a horse could be trained forever and in so doing be inactive for months and months at a time. Also outdated was the practice of just the application of linaments, poultices and salves and hoping for the best.

​​The Doctor at work ​in this 1967 photo

Dr. McKibbin's first in depth experience with equine therapy naturally began locally, working with nearby horsemen such as neighbour Jack McIntosh and other owners and trainers in the Leamington area. Fueled by his successes and ambitious approach, his practice grew. He attended conferences and educated himself in new ways and techniques and word soon spread of his 'healing powers'. He talked with other vets and was not afraid to travel to such places as the Kentucky Derby where he was welcomed in the paddock and backstretch. His main mission was to find something new and he was never afraid to try it.

Doc was a hard worker, perhaps at times a workaholic but he also dabbled in other enjoyable pursuits. In the early years he held a number of 'race days' at his own track just east of Wheatley. They attracted quite a few fans who watched keenly contested races for no purses, staged by local horsemen who were eager to try their young horses. It was more importantly a chance to get together. He also owned and bred a number of horses as well as racing a few, among them the storied Willy Tass -- who had a linament named after him -- and also Adios Judge who he also stood at his farm.

He even dabbled with thoroughbreds which were trained by leading them behind harness horses being jogged; a bit unconventional to say the least. These horses, which were repossessed due to unpaid vet bills, were soon claimed while racing on the Detroit circuit. Their success was due to Doc's cures no doubt.

At the peak of his practice, owners from across the land sought his services and horses from literally everywhere on the map ended up at the Wheatley Hall clinic. Many were cured of their ailments or at least helped. Others were less fortunate but Doc tried to do all that he could. Owners with large investments in their stock relied on Dr. McKibbin to operate, apply acupuncture or do anything that would rehabilitate their prized animals. Even if he had a new and yet untried procedure, they trusted in his seemingly endless abilities. For as far back as anyone could remember a horse with a broken bone was considered 'done'. Not so with the intervention of Dr. McKibbin who rehabbed a long list of such cases; many went on to further glory.

One of his earlier experiments which soon became popular was the use of acupuncture on horses, which he started in the mid 1970's. In the late 1980's, he began doing cryosurgery to remove troublesome tumors and other impediments which caused lameness. His scalpel was a rod cooled to -240 degrees C by liquid nitrogen. This new field of equine treatment brought in clients from far and wide. He was also among the very first people to advocate swimming horses for therapeutic purposes. He built his own pool, which was at times heated by an old steam engine that had to be started very early in the morning. The pool still remains on the former McKibbin property but has not been in use for many years.

​Doc McKibbin prepares for surgery at his Wheatley Hall Clinic using cryosurgery ​then a new technique. Previously only used on humans he perfected its use in equine surgery

Over the years Doc travelled all over the world, visiting exotic places like China and Japan where he once spent three months. He was always learning and teaching, delivering speeches and conducting clinics, and always seeking out what others were doing and thinking. Above all what was new and better? In an attempt to reach even more people with his ideas and theories he published a book titled "The Horse Owner's Handbook" aimed at helping people cure lame horses. While most of Doc's work was at the clinic he loved to go on 'road trips', visiting farms and helping horsemen solve their problems.

I recently spoke with veteran horseman and farrier Ross Siddall, a man who knew Dr. McKibbin for many years and worked for him at a variety of jobs for 9 1/2 years. "He was the absolute best Vet ever made, he was years ahead of his time in every way, at least 20! He could sense what was wrong with a horse and soon come up with a plan to try to cure it. Many of his theories and ideas were so far from what people knew that he was sometimes hard to believe.

"He treated everybody the same and if he had a fault it was that he would visit forever with his clients and forget about the long line of people and horses that were waiting for him."

I had a personal experience as an 'assistant' to "Doc", an event I still vividly recall from ​well ​over ​55​​ years ago. Late one Saturday afternoon I was practicing my culinary skills (heating up a plate of leftovers) when an unexpected knock​ came​ at the door. I was at home alone and supposedly in charge of ​​whatever as my parents were away. ​I immediately recognized the good Doctor and knew why he was calling by. ​ "Where is the colt I'm supposed to geld?" was the greeting.

Within a couple of minutes or less I was given a few short orders of where to stand and what to hold and all too soon I was told that the youngster was about to wake up. I led him back to his stall and went about my day secure in the knowledge that I would not likely be going into veterinary work! Away drove Doc with the parting words to say "Hello" to your father for me.

Dr. McKibbin and his wife Connie. This photo was taken when he was named "Wheatley's Man of the Year" in 1979. In 1989 he was inducted into the Chatham-Kent Agricultural Hall of Fame.

The McKibbin name is still current in the sport today as one of Doc and Connie's sons Terry trains a number of horses that race at London and other area tracks. Terry worked with his father for many years in a variety of capacities both at the clinic and as a trainer. He was also a very promising hockey player before a serious injury curtailed his career. Another son Paul did not follow the horses. Their only daughter Debbie did not become a vet but she did follow closely in her father's footsteps, working as his assistant for many years. Tragically she died at a very young age from cancer leaving behind her husband Tom Reid and two young daughters. This I believe was around 1990.

​Down through the years there have been a lot of people in and around harness racing known as "Doc"​, but to my knowledge there has just been one "Doc" McKibbin. He was an extremely talented man and one who made many friends in his travels. While his vocation was dealing with horses, he was truly a 'people person'; no one ever forgot him. He loved to visit and of course to talk 'horse'. He brought a lot of personality to his profession.

Dr. McKibbin passed away in 1992.

February 11, 2017 - 12:09 pmDoc McKibbin was one of my

Charlie Reid SAID...

Doc McKibbin was one of my Dads best friends a great veterinarian. For many years he would make his journey down to Orono and stay one or two nights and all the horseman in area would bring their horses to our farm to have Doc look at them. He loved my Moms cooking so much that was the only reason he came all this way. Scallop Potatoes, ham and lemon meringue pie I believe. Was his favourite After my Dad passed away in 1968 I made many trips to Wheatley for new magnets and surgeries. I will never forget I saw the biggest smile on his face when he led the famous Rambling Willy to his pool for his swim. I believe he had him there for three years off and on. I don't know who he loved more Willy Tass or Willy as he called him. What a wonderful and humble man and is missed by all horseman who knew him. Charlie Reid Meadowview Farms

June 29, 2015 - 3:58 pmDoc and Duncan Campbell were

Doc and Duncan Campbell were the best of friends. Each spring while on his rounds, he stopped in at the Campbell farm to check the current stock. On this occasion he arrived a bit late and in quite a hurry. Mrs. Campbell graciously invited him in for supper but he was far far too busy. As the visiting began and continued ,the clock ticked on .Finally he consented to stay for one of Mrs. Campbell's tasty feasts. Duncan's son Jack decided later in the evening that he would drive down the road to his Dad's to see how the "check ups" had gone. Much to his surprise Doc's car was still in the yard ,well into the evening hours. Once inside he saw that Hockey Night in Canada on TV had taken over and Doc was thoroughly enjoying the game, by now dressed in his pajamas !! (One of many great stories from my departed friend Jack Campbell)

June 28, 2015 - 7:59 amAnother very interesting

Another very interesting rewind Robert, had some dealings with the good doctor. A real devoted person for the equine race (all animals). If the human race was as devoted to each other as the good Dr. was to the equine race, we would have a wonderful world.

June 27, 2015 - 8:09 pmI worked for Dr McKibbin the

I worked for Dr McKibbin the summer before I started at OVC. He was an inspiration and I wish I had had had more training in vet med before I worked there. He mentored many equine vets around the world.

June 27, 2015 - 5:58 pmI remember making many trips

I remember making many trips to Dr McKibbon's with my father.
I enjoy reading your Rewind Stories, you bring back alot of memories in each story.

June 27, 2015 - 4:53 pmDoc McKibbin came to Avalon

Doc McKibbin came to Avalon Raceway, Goulds Newfoundland in the late 70's..I watched him remove a splint bone from one of our horses as he stood in the cross ties...he put magnets in acupuncture points in their ears..crazy stuff back then..I still have his book.

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