This year marks Peterson Smith Equine Hospital + Complete Care’s 40th year of service in the equine industry. Over the past 40 years, Peterson Smith Equine Hospital + Complete Care has become one of the most highly recognized equine practices in the United States, providing a range of services from single patient management, to large farm consultations, to 24/7 emergency care. The practice’s exponential growth could not have been realized without the hard work and dedication of founders Dr. John Peterson and Dr. Johnny Mac Smith, who have since retired, and their first employees, Dr. Phil Matthews and Dr. Kevin Hahn, who still play active roles at the practice today.
Dr. Matthews and Dr. Hahn were classmates at Colorado State University Veterinary College before moving to Ocala, Florida, and beginning their careers as veterinarians at Peterson Smith. While they were friends, the duo had not initially planned to work together. “I did an externship in North Carolina during my senior year,” explains Dr. Matthews. “After the externship I visited Ocala for a week and met, and stayed with, Dr. Smith, who ran a solo practice at the time. I went back to Colorado to finish vet school and met Dr. Peterson shortly after, who was in town for a CE meeting.”
Immediately after graduation, Dr. Peterson offered Dr. Matthews a job working for him as a solo practitioner. While he appreciated the offer, Dr. Matthews expressed that he hoped to work for a group practice and gain mentorship from numerous industry professionals. Dr. Peterson proposed that he and Dr. Smith merge their practices to form a partnership, and Dr. Matthews agreed to work for them both. “On August 1, 1981, I sat at Dr. Peterson’s kitchen table as he and Dr. Smith signed their partnership agreement to form Peterson & Smith P.A., and I proceeded to sign my employment agreement,” recalls Dr. Matthews. “From the start, we were very busy. I quickly built my own clientele and was not able to help Dr. Peterson and Dr. Smith with their workload, as intended. They asked me if I had any classmates that might like to move to Ocala and work for the practice, and the first person I thought of was Dr. Hahn.”
At the time, Dr. Hahn was working as an intern at Littleton Large Animal Clinic in Colorado. “I traveled to Ocala to visit and interview in February of 1982,” says Dr. Hahn. “I was hired during that trip, but needed to finish out my internship in Colorado. I did make one more trip back to Ocala in May to help Dr. Smith when he nearly cut his thumb off on an HCG bottle, then officially moved down and began working at the practice in August of 1982.”
“We originally worked out of Dr. Peterson’s stud barn and had just one secretary. The hospital was constructed in 1983 and took emergencies from the start,” says Dr. Matthews. “There were only about 27 vets in the area, but Ocala held roughly the same number of horses that it does today. The practice grew quickly to meet demand, hiring one or two vets each year for about 10 years.”
In effort to meet the needs of the area’s growing breeding industry in the late 90s, the Equine Reproduction Center, now known as the Advanced Fertility Center, was constructed. “The Equine Reproduction Center was the idea of Dr. Bill Russell’s wife, Dr. Pooley, who worked at the practice as an intern, then a resident, then an ambulatory clinician,” says Dr. Matthews. “She believed that we were missing out on a lot of opportunities by not having a breeding operation. At that time, embryo transfer was becoming very commercially viable. At that same time, I acquired a large Quarter Horse account that bred about 250 mares each year and did a lot of embryo transfer. The Equine Reproduction Center met a need in the equine community. It took a year to secure the location and build the facility, and construction was finished in 1999.”
Over the past 40 years Dr. Matthews and Dr. Hahn have grown close as both coworkers and friends. “We knew each other pretty well in vet school, but have become a lot closer since being partners at Peterson Smith,” explains Dr. Matthews. “It’s a funny thing that two classmates moved across the country and contributed to building a large equine practice in Florida.” Now part of the nine partners at Peterson Smith Equine Hospital + Complete Care, Dr. Matthews acts as President of the practice and Director of the Advanced Fertility Center and Dr. Hahn focuses on reproduction.
Both Dr. Matthews and Dr. Hahn have watched Peterson Smith Equine Hospital + Complete Care grow and develop into one of the largest equine practices in the United States with more than 25 veterinarians and a large support staff that includes laboratory technicians, veterinary technicians and an administrative team. “I expected the practice to do well, but I did not expect us to be this big. We were definitely in the right place at the right time,” says Dr. Hahn.
Dr. Matthews mirrors Dr. Hahn’s thoughts on Peterson Smith Equine Hospital + Complete Care’s growth over the past 40 years, “It has been an exciting and rewarding process, and has been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work, too. Many people were instrumental in getting Peterson Smith off the ground, and even more people were integral in making Peterson Smith what it is today. We were certainly in the right place at the right time, with the right idea.”