In a 2009 article for the Chronicle of the Horse called, “What Can We Do To Prevent Steeplechase Injuries?” veterinarian William H. McCormick called for the need for pre-race vet inspections, fewer drugs and more accountability on the part of riders and trainers.
He wrote with clarity and backed up his theories with a fair amount of science. The distillation of his research resulted in pinpoint analysis of the issues, how and why injuries to steeplechase horses happen, and also the fact that there is no such thing as “zero risk.”
Willie McCormick has a pioneer spirit, which put him at the vanguard of alternative veterinary medicine. He learned a different way of looking at clinical cases through alternative medicine and then amplified his impressions with science and logic, the cornerstones of his formal education.
He founded the Middleburg Equine Clinic in 1982 and shortly after trained in acupuncture, Chinese herbs and osteopathy long before alternatives, especially for equines, became popular. The clinic on Millville Road (Cle Toledano joined the practice in 2003) specializes in equine sports medicine with facilities for diagnostics, imaging techniques and surgical procedures.
Dating farther back than the high-tech benefits of computers in the vet practice, McCormick gained a solid foundation in old-fashioned horsemanship. His father, James P. McCormick, stamped him with “practical tools to survive in the horse business, a zest for work, stubbornness and the ability to take abuse.” Margaret Herron McCormick endowed her son with a love for animals, book learning and family values. She also encouraged Yankee ingenuity and idealism.
“Age quod agis” pretty much describes McCormick, who lives by the Latin saying that means “do what you do and do it well.” He isn’t easy to follow as he zips from one complex topic to another. Everything he says is fascinating, but it comes at you quickly and quietly. The southern gentleman enjoys that racing pace, even in conversation.
“Acupuncture – you learn one point at a time, and you use certain ones more than others,” McCormick said. “You study it over the years. You keep learning, you find what works for you.”
His findings offer fascinating insights into what alternative medical examinations can uncover in terms of skeletal abnormalities.
“The horse might go lame with a skeletal abnormality, then again he might not. The chance for lameness doubles if the horse has an acupuncture abnormality,” McCormick stated. “Acupuncture is very helpful with sport horses and race horses.”
McCormick grew up riding both. He matriculated at University of Virginia where he chased foxes and played lots of polo, yet still earned the grades to attend and graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. After one year as an intern at the Delaware Equine Clinic in Unionville, PA, he returned to Middleburg for good in 1974. The following year he married Lydia Donaldson, VMD, PhD, who remains the great love of his life.
“We’ve been married 37 years and she’s a lovely person,” said McCormick. “She keeps my feet on the ground. Everybody needs that once in a while.”
One of the other great loves of McCormick’s life is related to his passion for horses. For a number of years he raced and his steeplechase win record includes three Rokeby Bowls, three Orange County Bowls and one Middleburg Bowl. He also had some great wins aboard Cinzano (Randolph Rouse) and seconds with Senator John Warner’s Annual Meeting. He made 99 starts during his amateur career (1969-1985) with 17 winners, finishing second 24 times, and placing third on nine runners.
“I haven’t been getting much time to ride—the job is pretty demanding, it’s pretty hard to make ends meet in this economy and people still have to be paid,” McCormick said. “Anyone who wants to be a vet, I say go for it. You have to do what excites you and I’m still excited about it 38 years later.”