The diesel engine of Dr. Ronald Fessler’s Ford pickup truck roars as it makes it way through the back roads of Bedford County.

“There’s not many of these roads I haven’t been on,” Fessler said.

When he spots Steep Forest Farms, Fessler turns off the main road and travels up a hill. If you happen to be driving behind Fessler’s truck, you know why he’s going to the farm.

Fessler’s license plate says “HORSE DR”.

Since 1972, Fessler has been visiting farms around the Lynchburg-area to administer vaccine, help with births and treat sick clients. Fessler is an equine veterinary and owns Windhaven Equine Clinic in Forest. He treats horses.

“This is a job you wouldn’t do if you didn’t like it,” Fessler said.

Fessler pulls right up to the gray stables at Steep Forest Farms. Two dogs roam around and birds chirp in the distance.

Fessler’s wearing a collared shirt with wild turkeys printed all over it. His jeans are a little baggy and his white shoes are caked in dry mud.

As he steps out of the pick-up truck, the wind hits his white hair and white beard.

Fessler greets the farm operators – Kit Syndor and the vet’s daughter-in-law Jen Fessler. Then he gets to work.

The bed of his pickup is a mobile veterinary clinic with everything from paper towels and running water to needles and vaccines. Fessler grabs a tray of small bottles.

The farm is home to more than 10 horses. On this day, each horse is getting vaccines for diseases like strangles – which affects the lymph system – and West Nile Virus. Fessler calls this work “the simple stuff.”

“I’d rather do preventive health than have to treat a sick horse,” Fessler said.

Fessler has been the vet for Steep Forest Farms for more than 30 years.

“It’s like your family doctor,” Jen said.

And her mother agreed.

“There’s a lot of wisdom that comes with experience,” Syndor said.

When the first horse is pulled out, the doctor gives it two shots.

Next, a vaccine for strangles must be given to the horses. The vaccine is sprayed in the horse’s nose.

“Whoa boy, whoa boy,” says Jen, who is holding the horse.

When Fessler gets the liquid up the horse’s nose, the horse sneezes.

This process is repeated for every horse. Some are more cooperative than others.

In his 35 years as a veterinarian, Fessler has been kicked a few times and seriously injured. One time, while feeling a horse’s uterus, Fessler broke his arm when the horse pulled away.

But getting injured is part of the job, he said.

Fessler grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, away from cornfields and horse stables.

“Basically, I was a city boy,” he said.

He remembers traveling through Virginia as a child when his family drove to Washington, D.C.

He liked the land and he liked the mountains.

Iowa, he said, “is as flat as a billiard table.”

Fessler entered college at the University of Iowa in 1963, and planned to study medicine and treat humans.

“I’d like to be outside,” he said, “so I changed.”

Between his sophomore and junior years, he went into veterinary medicine. He concentrated on dogs and other small animals.

That summer Fessler worked in the animal clinic, and was supposed to work on a widerange of animals.

“I got stuck in the equine side,” Fessler said, who added he had never worked with horses prior to that summer.

One of his teachers noticed how well Fessler worked with the large animals and told him he’d make a great horse doctor.

After Fessler graduated, he moved around the country a bit, and eventually landed in Virginia in 1972. In 1978, Fessler and his wife, Karen, bought Windhaven Equine Clinic.

The farm is named Windhaven because the day he signed the ownership papers, a “mini twister” blew across the property.

Over the years, Fessler said he’s treated thousands of clients around the Lynchburg area.

He still enjoys his work, he said, and the best part is when he can help horses give birth.

He said most horses give birth at night, and when they do, the owners call him.

“It just gives me goose bumps seeing a foal come into this world,” he said. “It’s a miracle.”

It’s a pain getting up in the middle of the night, he said, but it’s worth it.

“It’s a 24-hour job,” Fessler said, but is better than any office job.

“I’d go nuts,” he said. “I’d go stark crazy if I was in an office all day.”