How Hooligan the horse harnessed vet student talent and the legacy he'll leave

Hooligan the horse is living out his twilight years at Dr. Aimie Doyle's farm on the Green Road in Bonshaw, P.E.I., after 25 years of helping teach students at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown.

Now his handlers have created an endowment fund at the college that will live on in his name.  

"Hooligan has his name Hooligan for a reason," said Doyle, who graduated from the vet college in 2000 and returned to teach large animal surgery in 2010. 

'Naughty streak'

"He's definitely got a little bit of a naughty streak in him. And he's always used that pretty interestingly with students," Doyle said. 

Submitted by Aimie Doyle

The standardbred gelding became part of the college's teaching herd in 1993.

Doyle was assigned to take care of Hooligan's grooming duties in her very first week at the school in 1996, she recalled.

Hooligan seemed to have a sense of which students lacked horse experience and would stand quietly as they located his heartbeat or counted his respirations — others who thought they knew it all might get a warning from a raised back leg prepared to kick. 

"Everybody enjoyed Hooligan for that — his nature definitely came out when it came to challenging certain students and being really nice to others," Doyle said with a laugh. 

'Pretty good life'

Hooligan also bossed around the other teaching horses in the field — mostly mares — running the herd as though he were a stallion, Doyle said. Some of the mares did not enjoy this, however, so students would often treat Hooligan for minor cuts and bruises from bites and kicks, she said. 

Submitted by Aimie Doyle

"They live a pretty good life," as part of the 14-horse teaching herd, Doyle said, grazing in the field next to the college all summer and fall while students learn how to physically examine them and do minor procedures such as drawing blood. "All these horses are very tolerant," she said. 

Hooligan was special in that he was a rare universal blood donor — his blood type could be donated to horses of any blood type — so Doyle said he has saved hundreds of horse lives, especially newborn foals. 

'Everybody wants to retire'

Although Hooligan was healthy, he was the oldest member of the teaching herd, Doyle said. 

Submitted by Aimie Doyle

"It just became a time, we were like gosh, he's been here for 25 years, maybe it's time that he stopped having to do this as a job every day," Doyle said. "Everybody wants to retire!" 

So Hooligan was honoured this past summer at an ice cream social along with retiring human staff — he was even awarded a certificate of recognition. 

Doyle has taken Hooligan home to her farm in Bonshaw, where nothing is demanded of him except to eat and romp in the field with her four other horses. 

He can't see very well anymore — 30 is old for a horse — so he gets around with some guidance from two ponies on Doyle's farm. One of them is bright white and he could see her easily and began following her around, Doyle said. 

Hooligan Equine Fund

But Hooligan's work for the AVC is not done yet. 

Submitted by Aimie Doyle

The college has started the Hooligan Equine Fund, which will annually award an AVC graduate who is going on to specialize in equine medicine or surgery. Doyle said their goal is to raise at least $15,000 by Dec. 31, to endow the award so that it continues in perpetuity.

"We were thinking of ways we could honour him, because he really has made an enormous contribution," said Doyle. 

The first Hooligan award was given to a student this past May, using funds that had already been given to the AVC. 

"Now we're just hoping to be able to continue this award in the future," Doyle said. More details on the award can be found on the vet college's website

Hooligan would have helped teach about 1,600 students over his career, Doyle estimates.  

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