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Nicholas Ernst, DVM

Nicholas Ernst, DVM is an equine surgeon at the Leatherdale Equine Center on the St. Paul campus. He describes himself as a utility infielder among horse surgeons.


“I don’t think there are too many of my breed,” he says. “I cover soft tissue, I cover orthopedics. I do basically the main systems—GI, upper airway, and orthopedics. Plus I do lameness,” that is, correcting deficiencies in a horse’s gait.

As a youngster, Ernst lived in Valdivia, Chile, more than 400 miles south of the capital, Santiago, in a region dominated by cropland, dairy farms—and horses. The family moved to the United States for several years as his dad attended the University of California, Davis.

“By the time I lived here for five years, the funny part is I forgot how to speak Spanish,” Ernst says. “So when I went back to Chile I didn’t know how to speak Spanish. I was like the Chilean gringo. It’s pretty tough to go to a place where you don’t know the language—and it was my own country!” 

When he returned home at about age 10, several of his friends lived on farms. He would visit and climb on horseback to round up cows for milking. He loved riding.

“It was nothing fancy,” he says. “But to me it was fascinating—to get on a horse and go get all the cattle up.”

After completing the DVM program at the University of Chile in Santiago, he returned to Davis.

“If you wanted to be the best, you had to leave Chile, because we didn’t have the means to be the best,” he says. “So as soon as I graduated, I ended up in Davis, doing their clinical rotation. I took all the horse clinical rotations—medicine, surgery, reproduction, and anesthesia. I volunteered for all the on-calls.” At a Davis internship, “that’s where I saw what a surgeon was. I was like, oh man, I want to be this!” 

He worked in private practice, earned a master of science in clinical epidemiology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and completed his equine surgery residency. He was a clinical instructor at The Ohio State University when a Florida mentor moved to Minnesota and invited Ernst to follow.

“Hey, they’re looking for a young team. You want to come and play and enjoy the weather?” Ernst recalls his mentor asking. “I liked the idea of starting something new and dove into it.”

Now, nine years later, Ernst is a horse clinician.

“I have all the toys and a great team of technicians and faculty around me,” he says. “I have everything in this building. Horses come to me. We evaluate them and then if they require surgery, I can help them.”

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