As a teen and young adult Kent Allen fit in with the best of the cowboys. He was the typical country boy with cowboy boots, hat and pickup truck. Kent also roped and rode reining horses on the ranch. If it was cowboy style it was Kent Allen.
Growing up his only goal was to be the youngest Quarter Horse judge. It’s the way he envisioned his life in the small town of Missouri where his father, Dr. Arthur Allen, was well respected. But there was a time when he envisioned some horseman having a need for a veterinarian and suggesting they go get Doc Allen’s boy that suddenly made him perk up and think about what he wanted to do and be in his life.
That didn’t stop him from following in his dad’s footsteps by first going to college on a track scholarship at Abilene Christian University in Texas for his undergraduate work until 1975. For his graduate work through 1979, he changed over to the University of Missouri Veterinary School in Columbia, where his dad taught previously.
The career leading to where he is today at 55 (October 9, 1954) began in 1980 with a job in southern California at an ambulatory practice clinic. There he gained experience working at the tracks and at many of the farms. A year later he was off to Arizona where he started his own Arizona Equine Clinic. Little did he know then that it would one day become the largest equine surgical medical facility in the Southwest.
Over the years Kent would forego the cowboy hat as his world had now taken on a new direction. His new life was becoming a good fit for the young Missouri lad. He sold his practice in 1996, the year he also received the Equine Veterinarian of the Year Award from the Arizona Veterinary Association. That same year he achieved another milestone as the Veterinary Coordinator at the Atlanta Olympic Games. With all the controversy about the heat and humidity in Atlanta being too much for the horses, Kent was put to the test to prove it could be done. A test he and his colleagues passed with flying colors.
In the end, with a great team of veterinarians and some careful planning he now considers the success of the Eventing at the Atlanta Olympics as probably his highest career achievement. He received a communication award from the American Association of Equine Practitioners for his assistance during that time.
“We proved that we could safely have horses compete in the Eventing at the Atlanta Games when numerous organizations said we could not do it safely.” Given the opportunity to prove or disprove the naysayers was an ultimate challenge for Kent. It was there that he met and worked with Kate Jackson. They are now collaborating again for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, where Kent has been named the official Veterinary Coordinator.
Moving On Up
In 1996, Kent moved to Middleburg, VA, a place he still calls home. He immediately established a diagnostic imaging sports medicine clinic that dealt primarily with lameness. Nowadays that type of clinic is the norm but back then it was revolutionary and the only one of its kind in the world.
With his recognition on the USEA Board of Governors in the early 1990s from which he also received the prestigious Governor’s Cup, his success at the Atlanta Olympic Games, and his practice Kent was slowly moving up the ladder of recognition. In 1999, he was the Foreign Veterinary Delegate for the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, Canada, a position he also held at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games where he was also the Head Veterinary Judge (Foreign Veterinary Delegate). For his services there he was given Sydney Olympic Committee’s Excellence Award.
Kent has also been on the Board of the USEF since 1999 and has chaired both the USEF Veterinary and Drug & Medications Committees, as well as been on the FEI Veterinary Committee twice as Vice Chairman, a position he now holds. He’s also served on the FEI medication subcommittee and been a member of their medication advisory group which determines the FEI medication policy. And with some reservation he commented to me as we sat chatting, “I’m also on the group which establishes the list of prohibited substances,” a topic that has been receiving some publicity pro and con of late.
It was in 2004 that a new role entered Kent’s life which for him is one of his greatest achievements. He established and became vice president of the International Society of Equine Locomotive Pathology, which Kent admits “is a mouthful and wasn’t named from a marketing perspective.” And in 2008 he received his certification.
The Horsey Side of Kent
You wouldn’t know it from all those achievements that while growing up Kent was that figure presented at the beginning of this article. He was a cowboy.
Yet if you ask him about the first time he ever touched a horse, that memory is vague. “It is always interesting to try and remember when that was,” explained Kent, whose first recollections are of a five-year-old boy showing in Halter classes because his father said he was up to the challenge.
“The mare was a bit high strung but my dad thought I could do it. Everything was going just fine until I somehow ended up in front of her. She did everything she could not to run me over.”
Then there was the time “I did barrel racing where I ran in, ran around the first barrel and the pony ran straight out the gate, but after that my equestrian career got better,” chuckled Kent as he sat talking with me in a suit and tie (and no cowboy hat).
Kent grew up surrounded by horses so his future was inevitable. “My family rode, trained and bred high level Quarter Horses. We had several World Champion Reining, Halter and Performance horses.”
In addition to being a famous small town vet, his dad was a well-known breeder, judge and rider. “So, I rode reining horses, showed and assisted my dad in his practice.” Kent paid for college by baling hay during the summer months. They baled about 35,000 bales a summer, and the sum total of those bales literally paid for his college career.
“I graduated veterinary college with no debt because I worked every summer and not only paid for my graduate school but graduated with enough money to start a practice.”
While his career focused on the veterinary practice, life in the saddle continued then and still continues today where he finds pleasure fox hunting alongside his wife Rae Stone. “My wife is an avid fox hunter and I’m good enough to follow in her path.”
Coming from a small High School in Missouri he also played all the school sports but afterwards came home and rode horses until 8 or 9 at night. Then it was family dinnertime, off to bed and up early the next morning to feed the horses before heading off to school.
Both he and his wife have passed their love of horses on to their kids, Austin, 22 and Forrest, 17. Austin continues to enjoy riding competitively in between studying environmental science and business at William and Mary College. When Austin gets home on the weekend most of his horse time is spent fox hunting. Forrest isn’t as much into the competitive riding but the unstructured thrill of fox hunting is definitely more his thing.
The Personal Side of Kent
You’ve probably figured out that Kent’s dad had a huge influence on his life. His mom, Norma Allen, is still alive at 82. However, his famous veterinarian and horse dad had an uncanny horse accident in 2003, when he was 75 years old. He was training a young horse which somehow ran over him and broke his neck. He hung on for just enough time for all his kids to arrive to say goodbye. It was a loss that was truly tragic for Kent.
‘My daddeveloped Xylzine (known as Rompun) one of the more commonly used tranquilizers in the world. He was a professor, AQHA judge and served on a whole bunch of Boards.”
To this day Kent finds himself picking up the phone to call his dad for advice, only to stop with phone in hand suddenly realizing those days are long gone.
“It was very difficult, he was not only my father but my mentor,” admitted the man whose name has passed the stamp of approval and has even surpassed that of his dad’s. “He had a huge influence in my life,” continued Kent. Yet he continues to be thankful that he had a chance to say goodbye.
It was clear that his parents influenced him but the “how” was what I wanted to hear from Kent. “My father helped me with my horsemanship, my desire to be a horseman and as a veterinarian he tremendously influenced my career.”
Kent still has his mom to turn to and she’s always a “glass that is not just full but overflowing. My mother was one of those people that always made you happy. Any mental stability from the challenges of my life I can credit to her. Both my parents were and are great people to have in your life because when it gets difficult you want people like them to turn to.”
As for most people, a typical day for Kent is a mixture of work and home. He generally gets up around 7:00 and works out in the family’s home gym. “I have a cup of coffee with my wife and then go on up to the clinic. They start at 8 and I start at 9, which is the one luxury I give myself for being the practice owner. By then they have some of the early cases started with the documentation and workup….” Kent went on explaining to me about his day in such detail that at times I got lost in the veterinary lingo. But it wasn’t the detail that impressed me but rather his clear passion for diagnosing every case with the utmost of interest.
I started to zero back in when he reached the end of the day and explained how the group would all get to do their imaging rounds and more before heading home, which for Kent is generally around 7:30 or so.
And so I was waiting for Kent to tell me about dinner soon after he arrived home but instead he talked about cooking dinner. I would soon discover that cooking is truly one of his passions. “That is my relaxation. About 10-15 years ago I started cooking and have taken numerous courses in Italy and France and all over. I am a pretty good Italian chef, passable at French and not very good at Oriental. It is fun and something for me to look forward to doing at the end of the day.”
His wife often pitches in as they use the time to cook and chat as they catch up on the day. It’s clear that he is very impressed with the woman he met while going to grad school. “She is a very accomplished dolphin veterinarian,” he revealed. “She owns a business with 100 employees that do non-invasive research and interactive activities with dolphins. She is one of the few people that owns about 40 dolphins around the world. I occasionally help her with the imaging aspects.”
After listening to Kent talk about his wife it was clear she has achieved in the dolphin world what he has accomplished in the equine community. “She wrote the original text on ultrasound in the dolphin,” he continued about the woman who is a former steward of the local Orange County Hunt.”
Kent’s love for his wife is very evident. “She is not only my partner and friend but a very well respected veterinarian in her peer group. She always has good advice for me when I start feeling overly passionate on a subject. She’ll remind me that there are two sides and that I need to take a deep breath. She is great about making me slow down and think about things before acting on them.”
Our conversation wandered back to the dinner preparations and enjoying that last glass of wine before maybe catching a show on TV or a bit of reading followed by lights out at 11. That TV program is usually House (no surprise). “My son tells me he can tell when I’ve been watching a lot of House; I become sarcastic. I enjoy it because I have a very talented team that keeps me going. Both are a bit of a mind game with lots of twists and turns. We imagine we have some analogies with that show.”
The Underside of Kent
While losing a parent was undoubtedly one of the lowest points in Kent’s life there were other setbacks along the way. “There is always a point in a veterinarian’s career where every equine vet can expect to be injured by his patients. In 1992 I was kicked in the face by a horse. As a result I am missing a little bit of my tongue on one side, where I bit down through it. That is why my jaw was only cracked and not shattered, or so they told me.”
That horse accident wasn’t the only one; the other was while out skiing. “A few years before (in 1989) I destroyed most of my left knee,” he recalled (but as a blessing in disguise). It took six months to recuperate from that but I decided to view that as an opportunity to learn about nuclear medicine, because it was not in any private medicine practice in the nation or in the world. And for Kent he viewed that as an opportunity.
He put a call into Dr. Robert Twardock and explained that he was “lame and can’t practice and I’d like to park on your doorstep for the next six months. He was incredibly gracious and I shuttled back and forth between Arizona and Illinois.” Once back in practice, his became the second practice with a nuclear camera.
While that low point ended up not being so low, as I mentioned earlier, it was the Locomotion certification that he puts on a pedestal because so far only ten people are certified in the world. Having that certification means he is recognized for his expertise in diagnostic imaging and lameness. Kent is part of an elite group of veterinarians who work very hard to earn that honor.
While Kent has achieved a lot in his career he continues to have goals. “I want to see the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games carried off in an excellent manner. This is its first time in the US and we need to prove we can do it with the best in the world.”
On a personal level Kent wants to spend more time with his wife and boys. “We try to get away and go scuba diving together. We also have plans to go fox hunting in England.”
Kent and his sons also enjoy sporting clay, trap shooting and skeet shooting. “We do that together. I grew up with a bird dog. Growing up we would go out bird hunting.”
Kent also enjoys watching college football and he softly added “and some professional football much to my wife’s dismay.” For Christmas his wife gave him a cooking lesson. “We had a chef come in and we had three other couples and under his supervision we all cooked and served the meal.”
Kent finds entertaining at home as pleasurable as cooking dinner. He also enjoys traveling with his wife since her business often “takes me away to exotic islands on occasion and we enjoy being on the beach.”
My interview with Kent was done in a mostly quiet setting with a few interruptions along the way but through it all Kent stayed as focused as he could even though it was clear he was relieved when I mentioned that I only had a couple of more questions. I wanted to conclude our conversation hearing in his words his vision of himself.
“Kent Allen is a veterinarian who was always going to be a horse veterinarian and who oddly enough was never interested in being successful. I am always surprised by it. I just wanted to treat and deal with horses and have been astonished by the accolades. As time passes I am amazed I have had all these opportunities.”
Kent still recalls those cowboy days and tries never to forget the foundation he learned from his parents. “I remember what it was like being young and coming up and so I try to make an effort to give back, especially to young people. It is great to be successful but it’s also important to give back.”
When asked for some descriptive words about himself, Kent admitted that “oddly enough I am shy, which would surprise most people, and I always have been. They probably don’t notice because I am passionate about subjects I am knowledgeable and feel strongly about,” he added.
And as for the advice he would pass along; as a mentor he finds veterinary medicine to be an incredible journey. “I always wanted to do it even though I didn’t envision it. My wife is a perfect example because veterinary medicine has an amazing variety of pathways to success. Working with horses is tremendously rewarding and not for the faint of heart. The educational part is very challenging and you can expect to be hurt. But I can’t honestly think of anything I would do different or anything I could have done that could have made my life any more rewarding.”
As we concluded our conversation, it was the cowboy image that he revealed to me early in our conversation that I tried to see. And while that image never was clear for me, what was obvious was that the Kent Allen of today was all built around that foundation that he had created as a youth. Baling hay made him accountable to his future. Roping and riding was all about meeting the challenge. Competition was about the accolades. Today Kent Allen is all of that and more!