Jay Merriam, DVM, MS

Jay Merriam DVM, MS
Jay Merriam DVM, MS
Combining a concern for equine welfare and a love for teaching, Dr. Jay Merriam has prioritized both in his 50+ years in private sport horse practice.

As President of the Massachusetts VMA in 1993, Dr. Merriam co-founded Project Samana, a charitable health care project that has taken over 300 veterinarians, students, and technicians to the Samana area of the Dominican Republic on twice-yearly visits for the last 30 years. Participants have treated thousands of animals and provided training for local veterinarians, students, and caregivers. Integrating welfare and humane care into his growing practice was key to becoming an adjunct instructor at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, where he chaired a private practice/academic internship within the Department of Large Animal Medicine.

As a member of AAEP’s board of directors for eight years, Jay advanced welfare concerns and served as founding chair of the Equine Welfare Committee, a post he held for three terms. He organized the first Equine Welfare session at the AAEP Annual Convention in 1995.

Dr. Merriam’s vision was to expand outreach efforts similar to Project Samana to other countries where working equids are critical infrastructure. He consulted with equid vets in the developing world and envisioned a movement to train Western veterinarians in the medical needs of the world’s horses, donkeys, and mules. Most live under unhealthy conditions but are vital to the survival of their families. He also began to build a network of like-minded organizations and clinicians who could share the work, reduce duplication and, above all, work together in field training situations. He coined the term “Equitarian” for the cause to build grassroots support for the effort.

In partnership with Dr. Julia Wilson, Dr. Merriam co-founded a unique non-profit organization, “The Equitarian Initiative.” The first Equitarian Workshops began in Mexico in partnership with Dr. Mariano Hernandez-Gil, The Donkey Sanctuary, UNAM and others in 2010- 2015. They have since spread throughout Central and South America. Working closely with local vet schools and other education/aid organizations, this innovative outreach for veterinarians has touched many colleagues personally; enhanced the image of veterinarians; and influenced the lives and health of working horses, donkeys and mules and their families. Their focus is the provision of direct veterinary care, training of veterinarians and caregivers and education on the need for a healthy working equid population. After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Dr. Merriam began a project in partnership with World Horse Welfare that is still ongoing.

He is a frequent speaker on working equid care and has taught in India, Morocco, Haiti, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. Currently, Dr. Merriam serves on the board of directors for The American Fondouk in Morocco where he presents surgical training seminars and clinical workshops annually. He is also a director at Wind Walkers Therapeutic Riding Centre in Colorado, Project Samana and Equitarian Initiative.

Mentoring has always been an integral part of his professional and practice life. “Teaching altruism” has been the driving force of his professional career, proving that practice and equine welfare can co-exist. His feeling that students can gain more clinical knowledge and experience in intense, high volume non-clinical settings while learning to give back early and often in their career has proven successful. Many graduates go on to start their own projects. Seasoned veterinarians can come back to “real veterinary medicine” when matching their clinical knowledge to the real-life world of these animals without the benefits of well-equipped clinics—only the gift of inner experience and knowledge.

Dr. Merriam graduated from Kansas State University in 1969, interned at University of Missouri, and performed graduate studies and obtained an MS in Equine Surgery in 1974 from Auburn University. He worked in a racetrack/surgical practice in New England before founding Massachusetts Equine Clinic in 1985.

Mentee Comments:

I met Jay as an intern in 1972 at Auburn Vet School Equine Section where he was a surgical resident studying for his master’s degree. He was a mentor from day one, showing me the local routine and teaching me continuously for a year.

Jay continued his mentoring in a private equine sport horse practice in Massachusetts, a practice well known for excellent externships, internships, and associate mentoring. Jay and his wife Shelly have an international reputation of enthusiastic support in so many good projects for both man and animals.

Jay Merriam is truly an internationally recognized mentor, and founder and leader in mentoring and altruism programs.

– John S. Mitchell, DVM

I had the honor of being Jay’s veterinary partner at the Massachusetts Equine Clinic for close to 30 years. Jay was the best mentor, teacher, guide, and partner. In the early days, Jay was very much my mentor and role model and yet he encouraged me to find my own way and to develop the techniques that worked for me. We loved doing surgery together! We would get so excited about working on puzzling situations that required some creativity.

Jay has always been a man of devotion, as evidenced by his passion and commitment to every part of his life—his family, our practice, our clients and, most importantly, our patients. He was always the one to go above and beyond for the horses and their owners.

One of his many strengths was his interest in education—of the horse owners, new graduates and every associate veterinarian that walked through our door.

He had the brilliant idea of starting the very first private practice/university internship in the country, and it was incredibly successful! It was a boost to our practice, the large animal team at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and to the interns themselves. It gave them tremendous insight into career choices with hands-on experience in multiple disciplines.

– Lolly Cochran, DVM

Massachusetts Equine Clinic was well known for Jay’s expertise in lameness. And along with the lameness, he was aware of the important role podiatry/farriery played in treating these cases. He was also aware of the necessity to educate farriers and improve the vet-farrier relationship. To address this, he started ‘podiatry days’ at the clinic monthly. I or another vet-farrier would travel to Massachusetts Equine; horses with a lameness issue localized to the foot were brought to the clinic along with their routine farrier. The diagnostic and imaging modalities at the clinic were utilized to determine the best farriery for the horse, then Jay, the farrier and I worked together to apply the appropriate farriery. Using this scenario, we all learned together, the farrier would be able to continue with the farriery plan at the next shoeing cycle and, best of all, we helped the horse.

On one of my visits to the clinic, Jay asked if I wanted to join them for an Equitarian trip and I agreed if I could bring my daughter Jendaya, who at that time was a teenager with aspirations of becoming a veterinarian.

It was a unique trip in an extremely poor area of the Dominican Republic called Samana Bay where veterinary care was scarce, non-existent, or unaffordable. Jay presided over the initial orientation, daily discussions of cases and the day’s events, all to make the trip more productive.

This was a life-changing experience for my daughter…not only did she learn veterinary medicine, but she learned what it was like to live in poverty. I returned nine years (five with my daughter) to Samana with Jay and was inspired to do trips to other regions of the world. Jendaya is now a graduate veterinarian doing an internship at Texas A&M. What a gift Jay gave to both of us!

– Stephen E. O’Grady, DVM, MRCVS

Through his work in establishing Project Samana in the Dominican Republic, and career-long mentoring of hundreds of young veterinarians, Jay has had a profound influence on our profession. He literally coined the term “Equitarian” which is now THE word that describes outreach welfare efforts for equids around the world. Jay, along with his wife Shelley who has been a constant partner in this journey, have inspired legions of equine veterinarians to give back by improving the lives of working horses in developing regions of the world. While forging those initiatives, they have set up systems that assure that local caretakers learn how to continue the care that the Equitarian ambassadors bring to rural locations. And at the same time, Jay and Shelley have always brought humor and joy to every project. They are inspirations to us all!

– Ann E. Dwyer, DVM

It has been so refreshing for me to work with Jay. He is a solutions sort of person! Even in the worst-case scenarios, Jay can magic optimism and a strategy from his enormous bag of clinical tricks. As a member of the board of directors of the American Fondouk, Jay has been resolute in his support of our clinical program. When Jay started on our board in 2012, he was one of only two clinicians in a board of some 15 individuals. It sometimes seemed that his was a lone voice in the wilderness. Thanks in large part to his infectious enthusiasm and clinical stature, he and I were able to persuade the board to invest significantly in upgrading our facilities and turning the Fondouk from a very basic developing country clinic to something resembling a state-of-the-art equine hospital with a worldwide reputation for clinical excellence in the care of working equids. I know how much the Fondouk owes to Jay’s unwavering support.

– Gigi Kay, BVM&S, CertAVP(EM), FRCVS, RCVS, Director, American Fondouk

Jay changed my life in many great ways as he has done for many others. His strong belief in the good we could make happen for working equids was contagious and inspiring, not just for me but for so many others that have become Equitarian volunteers, veterinarians, and technicians. Working with Jay has always been uplifting as well as educational. He so effectively harnesses his broad experience in equine medicine and surgery as well as practice management that he is like a “one-stop shop” for excellent advice. One of my favorite Jay expressions is, “no problema.” He is great at finding ways around and through challenges, leading us all to learn to do the same, by being flexible, creative, determined, honest, kind, and humble. In many situations, Jay has reminded us all to put the welfare of the horse first and thereby also help the people that depend on them. There could be no better mentor for me and for launching Equitarian Initiative onto the international stage of equine welfare organizations. Thank you, Jay!

– Julia H. Wilson, DVM, DACVIM

I met Jay at the first Equitarian workshop in Vera Cruz, Mexico. From the moment I saw him give a hearty and joyful hug and greeting to Mariano, his Mexican veterinarian counterpart, I knew he would be an inspiration in my career. That sincere, positive, and encouraging attitude is Jay through and through. His passion for Equitarian Initiative has been shared with me and so many others. Knowing that I had his support gave me confidence to pursue Equitarian projects on my own.

What a difference Jay has made in the world of working equids and their families!

– Judy Batker, DVM

Dr. Jay Merriman has for decades originated and led an operation that has so positively affected the lives of giving participants, animal owners in need of help, and a myriad of working equids. The participants have and continue to include practitioners and students. As a longtime member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, I believe Jay’s long-term efforts have been and continue to be a gift to the world at large. Thank you, Jay!

– William A. Moyer, DVM

Dr. Jay Merriam’s enthusiastic “yes!” catalyzed my career and set my professional journey in motion. As an undergraduate student, I reached out to him about participation in the first-ever Equitarian Workshop. Jay was not only welcoming, but displayed the same congenial, encouraging, and connection-making personality to me as a student that he does to everyone he comes in contact with.

Jay is a pioneer, a change-maker, and an exceptional human being. Because of him, I was invited into a network and community of inspirational individuals within the profession of veterinary medicine.

– Angela Varnum, DVM, MPH

Since its creation, the word “Equitarian” has taken on a life and meaning which describes the act of philanthropic veterinary service for working equids across the globe. Today, “Equitarian” is an internationally recognized description of the passionate and selfless people who have dedicated their lives and skills to this work. And whether those individuals have been fortunate enough to be under his direct influence, or if they have been indirectly impacted, we can all thank the creator of the word and the co-founder of the Equitarian Initiative, Dr. Jay Merriam, for paving the way. Dr. Merriam has mentored countless veterinarians as an educator, a role model, and a trailblazer in the world of veterinary medicine. He has shown us time and time again that success is not a measurement of dollars earned, but how many animals and people we can share our privilege with. In turn, Dr. Merriam brought many of us back to the very heart of practice though his shared passion, contagious humor, and undeniable enthusiasm for the Equitarian life. In his own words, “you can’t be unchanged by this work.”

– Annie Henderson, Executive Director, Equitarian Initiative

Jay, your dedication to the welfare and care of all kinds of working equids—and thus of their owners and their hardscrabble livelihoods—has set the standard for all veterinarians. You recognize the hard labors of many donkeys, horses, and mules in this world to help lighten the burden of the work of many people.

As I remember, it started with an Executive Committee meeting of the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association about 1992 when you and Dr. Bob Labdon asked the Executive Committee to endorse Project Samana in the Dominican Republic. As you began learning Spanish, you began organizing large animal teams (about twice a year) to donate your services to make the equids’ lives healthier to help their owners more efficiently. These teams consist of other equine veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and veterinary students (later including those of Dominican Republic). Some of the issues you and your teams address include deworming; gelding; treating wounds, including saddle/tack sores (and showing owners how to avoid some of these problems); dentistry; hoof care and basic farriery; and in one case with Dr. Chris Dilman, a successful field surgery of an exceptionally large inguinal hernia. In recent years, you have been finding a good jack donkey to help produce mules in Samana. Over the years you reported, so joyfully, these accomplishments in Executive Committee meetings and in articles in the Newsletter of the MVMA that help colleagues understand ways to improve the lot of many animals. I believe that it is because of your infectious dedication that many other projects evolved by other veterinarians to donate their services in other countries and in parts of the United States.

But Project Samana is not enough for you. In your indomitable spirit of caring for hard working equids, if I remember correctly, you developed the word, “Equitarian,” an equine veterinarian who donates services to help the more than 110 million working equids worldwide. As a result, there is now the Equitarian Initiative, all because of your efforts to encourage American Association of Equine Practitioners to endorse this project.

And I know that you continue to consult with American Fondouk in Fez, Morocco, a full service, charitable, mostly equine veterinary hospital/clinic. The internet has helped you to keep in consistent contact interspersed with an occasional trip to Morocco. Maybe you might consider a new last name of “Jay Equitarrian!”

– Lisa Sinnigen, VMD

Jay: You define mentor and mentorship as it should be. Truly. I do not think that a week goes by at Tufts when I don’t talk about you. I remember showing up on your doorstep as a newly minted veterinarian, not worth much at all, and you having the generosity of spirit to let me ride in your truck. As I gradually became very slightly worth more than nothing as a veterinarian, you continued to have the generosity of spirit to let me show what I could do—all while supporting me and refusing to let me feel like a failure when I did fail. Do you remember when I put the emasculator on a 2-year-old colt backward? You were so completely calm in the face of a tsunami of blood, and when you had cleaned up the disaster, you bought us sandwiches and we sat on the dock somewhere in Rhode Island and you told me that everyone made mistakes, that I would continue to make mistakes, and what mattered is how I dealt with it. And you had me go and do the next castration on a standing adult horse, because you were pretty damn sure I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. You showed me that although I had failed at doing one castration, I wasn’t a failure. I tell students about that all the time. You taught me to treat all my patients as though they were Derby winners—even that thoroughly rotten mini donkey that tried to kill me and frankly, you couldn’t get a dime for it because it had laminitis in all four. And when I sometimes wonder if I should have done something else with my life, I remember you explaining to me that your life was so satisfying because at the end of every day, you had restored a little order to God’s world.

Together, we created a remarkable internship, trained some remarkable people—although I have to say that you bore the brunt of crashed and, literally, burned trucks—and that’s how you showed me that our lasting legacy is the people that we help to go forward. We talked a lot of philosophy and politics in the year that I spent as your intern, and you taught me that as long as cookies have raisins or nuts, then they count as a health food. Important philosophy of life. You showed me how important it is to give not just money, but time and sustained and purposeful interest in the lives of those around us. I sometimes tell people that I want to be you when I grow up, but I can still see almost 30 years later that you are sui generis, and I can aspire to be like you, but there will never be another you, Jay. The good thing is that you’ve given a piece of yourself to so many of us that if you put us all together, we do a little good on this earth the way you taught us all to do. With much love and admiration.

– Melissa R. Mazan, DVM, DACVIM