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Holly Helbig, DVM: A Stethoscope, Saddle, and a She-Shed

Everyone along your path can try to change your ambitions, especially when the word horse has something to do with it. Dr. Helbig has proven time and again that if you genuinely want something in your life, it just takes passion, persistence, and hard work to eventually reach those goals. Dr. Helbig shares her life experience and words of wisdom freely - The stethoscope, saddle, and she-shed are sold separately.

by Mandy Boggs, Ohio Equestrian Directory 2021 Issue


If you grew up with a passion for horses or have been in the industry long enough, you have likely heard it all, “there’s no money in horses…choose a career that pays the bills…go to college and get a real job first.” These steadfast warnings, so common you can almost reach out and grab one, floating amongst the dust encircling a lifelong horsewoman methodically tending to her daily chores. Holly Helbig, DVM, took those words of advice and forged her own path to success, right back to the barn with a stethoscope and saddle in hand.

Today, Dr. Helbig effectively runs a hunter/jumper training facility, veterinary practice, and mobile veterinary pharmacy while still finding time to be a judge, licensed FEI show vet, and attend national shows with her own training horses and students. Dr. Helbig is, in fact, just one person, perhaps performing some sort of sorcery when it comes to finding those extra hours in a day that everyone seems to be in search of.

Dr. Helbig grew up in Akron, Ohio, competing in hunter/jumpers and cultivating a passion for horses from a young age. “I have been completely self-made with everything I have done in my life and worked really, really hard for every ride and opportunity. I have always wanted to have a career with horses somehow. Everyone in my life advised me ‘don’t do horses’, you will never make any money,” she chuckled. “I have tried some other things, but they weren’t for me. I cannot imagine my life without horses!”

With an undergrad degree in Business and Communications from Ohio University, Dr. Helbig took her first position in Boston working as a wedding planner at the Ritz-Carlton, a job she quickly realized that, quite frankly, she hated. She spent most of her early career as a pharmaceutical representative for Merck & Co., Inc. while also working part-time as a horse trainer in Chagrin Falls, Ohio for Jeff and Keeley Gogul.

“It was not like I spent my life sitting there dreaming of just taking care of dogs and kitties,” she laughed. “I kept trying to figure out how to have a successful career with horses, yet do something I love. My time in the medical world with Merck made me fall in love with medicine; it was quite a journey.”

In 2013, Dr. Helbig graduated from The Ohio State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, also being awarded Student Surgery Award for Excellence in Large Animal Surgery from the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, due to her special interest and skills in equine lameness.

Guest List
Holly Helbig, DVM aboard Guest List, 2020

She has over twenty years of diverse equine experience to offer her clients between her hunter/jumper training farm, Hawthorne Hill, and her Hawthorne Veterinary Clinic, both based in Dublin, Ohio, just outside of Columbus. Dr. Helbig has multiple horses and riders competing at the national levels. She has trained riders for some of the biggest competitions including, Capital Challenge Horse Show, Pennsylvania National Horse Show, Washington International Horse Show, and US Pony Finals.

The help of Alisha Metcalfe, Head Trainer at Hawthorne Hill, allows Dr. Helbig to focus on her sale horses and see numerous patients each day with her ambulatory vet practice. Dr. Helbig also serves as the official show veterinarian for World Equestrian Center in Wilmington, Ohio, Brave Horse in Johnstown, Ohio, and Kentucky Horse Shows in Lexington, Kentucky.

“Every day is vastly different for me. I have a ton of help from so many great people that literally support every aspect of each business,” she shared. “Stephanie (Rowney) works in the pharmacy, runs the books, orders my supplies, things like that. I just hired a new vet, Kaylin Van Horn DVM, to help with my practice which has been exciting. If I am at a horse show and I am showing, she can go to an emergency call. Before, if I was riding or at the in-gate ready to walk in the ring, it was understood that if I was needed, I immediately got off and went to take care of the horse.”

Managing a large training facility, showing horses herself, and running a busy practice quickly ate up the minutes that ticked by on the clock each day. “I have trimmed down a bit on the training as it was getting a little too complicated to juggle everything,” said Dr. Helbig. “Now, I have fewer clients and more sale horses. I love training young horses, doing the Baby and Pre-Green divisions, and working with them as they develop. I really enjoy and focus my business on that. I have a really nice young one right now [Guest List] that just finished up the Greens and will start the 1st Years in 2021. I bought him as a sale horse, but I really love him, so I am keeping him.”

She still takes a few kids to the shows, but still must work hard to find a balance between her businesses. “I have a calendar and there are only so many hours in a day. It is just a matter of being organized. The amount of support staff that we have is what truly makes this all work,” she explained.

While working as an official horse show vet comes with perks, it is not always an easy job. What began as a simple solution to a problem, quickly morphed into yet another business venture for Dr. Helbig.

World Equestrian Center (“WEC”) in Wilmington, Ohio is one of the largest equestrian facilities in the United States, with over 200,000 square feet of climate-controlled riding space and over 600 stalls, all connected by indoor walkways that even the veteran exhibitors can find themselves getting lost in.

“WEC gave me a little office up in barn A. It is ¾ of a mile to get from barn A to the end of barn M. So... it would be in the middle of winter, icy, snowing, and I would be in barn A at my office. I would get a call to go to barn M. It was easier to just walk than trek out to my cold truck and drive around, so I would take my backpack and be on my way,” she shared. “Sure enough, the client would need something I didn’t have with me, so I would walk 20 minutes back to barn A, get what I needed, and take it all the way back down to their stalls. On top of riding and showing, I was putting in like 60,000 steps a day just looking at horses and I just got so tired!”

When WEC built their picturesque indoor shopping area known as “Vendor Village”, at the heart of the facility, Dr. Helbig decided to use one of the spaces and put a veterinary pharmacy in as a centrally located office and hub of sorts, where she could send clients to pick up their medications or supplies. She could simply see the patient, write a prescription, and they could go pick up what they needed, saving her what seemed to be never- ending trips down those long hallways.

“It was a tiny, little corner shop that we very quickly grew out of,” she chuckled. “At first it was just stuff I needed, some basic medications, and a central place for my computer and a printer. Within a year I was out of space. I hired Stephanie Rowney, and she really added this sort of boutique vibe to it. People started coming in and asking for other items.”

“The Apothecary” was born and continues to thrive. Offering everything from medications, equine health and wellness supplies, supplements, gastrointestinal products, first-aid products, to even “FEI safe” natural alternatives for both horses and pets. Soon customers were coming in asking for convenience items for themselves, from over-the-counter human medications to everyday hygiene products. The business grew to include unique items that either mobile tack shops did not carry, or those items that it was just simply too inconvenient to leave the show grounds searching for at nearby stores. The Apothecary comes with the unique benefit of having a veterinarian there to answer questions and offer knowledge to the customer.

“We realized there was a void in the local market and thought, well heck, we need this at every horse show,” said Dr. Helbig. “I got the idea for a she-shed on wheels. I took my idea to the Amish and said I need you to build this shed on this trailer. At first, they thought I was crazy, but they did it and it came out great!”

While The Apothecary becoming a veterinary pharmacy on wheels was not in the initial plans, it quickly became a very successful mobile business that fit into the world that Dr. Helbig continued to establish. Patrons at the horse shows she attends have been grateful and have become continuing customers, refilling their medications online, and looking to Dr. Helbig for advice or follow-up visits when they can meet her at shows.

Dr. Helbig has always been one to give back to the equine community, especially to those who work so hard to be in it like she has. She is currently building an extension onto her training facility for a small veterinary care area to offer more options to those that can’t always afford the large veterinary hospitals for treatment.

“Say you have a horse that doesn’t have a surgery option, or the owner can’t afford a big hospital stay or treatment. Maybe the horse needs to be treated for a few days for something. The horse can come here to be monitored, treated, and given non-surgical treatment(s) to try - without having those other options available,” she explained. “We will now be able to offer our facility as a haul-in clinic for lameness work-ups, with a full-sized indoor arena so that I can lunge, see the horse go, or even hop on and get a feel for what is going on - that you can’t always see. There are no veterinary clinics around here that can offer something like that.”

The dedicated efforts to heal horses and offer them the care they deserve have not gone unnoticed. Dr. Helbig has been lucky enough to acquire various horses over the years that perhaps had lameness issues, or could not perform at the level the owners had hoped for.

“I have quite a few horses that had past lameness issues that I have been able to keep comfortable and happy, giving our students a chance to ride and show horses they could not have otherwise been able to afford. We work hard to maintain them, keep them sound, and give them a job they can do. These are really, really nice horses giving so many kids such wonderful opportunities,” said Dr. Helbig.

While her businesses quickly flourished, she would often spread herself thin while trying to be present everywhere, always expected to perform her best. Dr. Helbig admitted that sometimes you must reorganize and readjust along the way.

“My mom just passed away about a year ago, my dad died when I was younger, and I am realizing that I don’t want to go on and just work. I want to get married, have a family, and do some normal things,” she said. “I am working hard for that work-life balance. Having a balance has made me better in my career and not feeling as overwhelmed. It is an extremely hard thing to do, but I am so happy to share that I am trying really, really hard.”

Everyone along your path can try to change your ambitions, especially when the word horse has something to do with it. Dr. Helbig has proven time and again that if you genuinely want something in your life, it just takes passion, persistence, and hard work to eventually reach those goals. Dr. Helbig shares her life experience and words of wisdom freely - The stethoscope, saddle, and she-shed are sold separately.

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