Longtime racetrack vet Oscar Swanstrom dies at 80

The following tribute to long-time racetrack veterinarian Dr. Oscar Swanstrom upon his passing also ran in the Shelbyville Sentinel-News and The Courier-Journal. Swanny, also known as “Any Vet,” which he proudly displayed on his license plate, will be greatly missed but our memories of our friend endure.

Louisville – On Saturday, November 21, 2020, Oscar G. Swanstrom, DVM, MS, passed away at the age of 80. 

Oscar’s life exemplified one of love, kindness, laughter, strength and hard work. Born in Arrowsmith, Illinois, Oscar grew up working hard on his family farm, taking care of dairy cattle & show horses, as well as planting and harvesting many acres of their large family farm. 

Among his early skills, he leaned the art of shoeing and trimming horses from his brother-in-law Forrest Garrett. He also drove a black Clydesdale hitch based in Illinois, traveling to shows all over the Midwest. 

After a friend encouraged him to go to veterinary school, he attended Eastern Illinois University, graduating in 1961 with his pre-vet degree. 

He earned his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Illinois and was honored, in 1964, with an Illinois Racing Board scholarship. 

Following graduation, during Vietnam, he enlisted in the United States Air Force. He was commissioned a Captain, and served as base veterinarian at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia. 

In 1969, following the Air Force, he attended Purdue University for advanced study, earning his Master of Science Degree in Veterinary Medicine, specializing in radiology and orthopedic surgery, while working as a graduate assistant and clinician. 

After graduation, he was the Field Veterinarian at Illinois Equine Hospital and Clinic in Naperville, Illinois. Within two years, he was teaching at Michigan State University’s Department of Large Animal Medicine and Surgery, educating students, farriers, clients, and 4-H students in veterinary science classes. 

From 1975 -1979, he had a private racetrack practice for the Chicago Thoroughbred Race Tracks. In 1977, he met Theresa, the love of his life, when he brought a horse into the clinic where she worked. They were married to for 36 years. 

1980 took him to Kentucky, where he had a private practice, serving a number of Thoroughbred tracks and farms. He earned the nickname “ANYVET” at Churchill Downs because of his dedication. 

He authored numerous publications on a variety of topics, including “Therapeutic Swimming” which included producing the first video of equine underwater movement; “Clinical Effects of Intra-Articular Healon Injection” (Journal of Equine Medicine and surgery) and Intra-Articular Betasone and Depo-Medrol: A Comparative study”. 

He also wrote several monthly columns, including for the Illinois Equine Market, Illinois Racing News, Backstretch Magazine and The Paulick Report. 

He was a member of many organizations, including the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association, Honorable Order of the Kentucky Colonels, and the Who’s Who in the Midwest. 

He presented five American Association of Equine Practitioner papers and was a speaker at numerous Veterinary Medical Association conventions. 

He was nominated and inducted into the International Veterinary Hall of Fame by an international group of veterinarians and farriers in 2005 at Churchill Downs. The award was sponsored by The American Farrier’s Journal. 

Oscar was a very special person, loved and valued by all, especially for his personality and humor. He was an outstanding vet, who never sugar coated anything. He was straightforward and told clients the facts. And he was more than fair to all. 

It didn’t matter if the horse was a backyard pet or a million dollar winner. Each of his patients was treated with the same level of respect and greatest degree of care. He showed up in the heat of the day or below zero night. He was devoted to his patients. 

If he didn’t know something, he would get on the phone and get answers. Oscar’s priority, focus and passion was never money, but always the love of the horse and getting them healthy and thriving. 

He was the vet who Buck Wheat, head of PR at Churchill Downs, would call on to share his time and experience with celebrities, giving then a glimpse into the world of racing and the beauty of the thoroughbred horse. 

He traveled the globe and was respected internationally by fellow veterinarians and farriers from Brazil, Sweden, France, Ireland, Japan and beyond. However, no matter where he went, Kentucky was always the most beautiful place to him and was his paradise. And his family was his first priority and his everything. 

He had an infectious smile and laugh and loved to make people happy through his humor, storytelling, and open heart. To his daughter Kasi, he set the highest of bars for what a real gentleman should be. To his son Justin, he was the epitome of the phrase “work hard and never look up.” And to his grandsons Colton & Ryan, he was “the best Grandpa around”. 

At the end of the day, Oscar was a humble, loving man who saw himself as a simple farm boy from Illinois. However, in reality, he was a very rare and caring soul who will be deeply missed by so many. 

He was preceded in death by his parents, Bernard and Daisy Bane Swanstrom; his brother, William Swanstrom and his sister, Suzanne Garrett. 

He is survived by his wife of 36 years, Theresa Swanstrom of Louisville; his son, Justin Swanstrom of Simpsonville; his daughter, Kasi Cox (Jeremy) of Westport; his grandsons, Colton S. Cox and Ryan L. Cox of Westport; his granddaughter, Ruby Elizabeth Swanstrom of Simpsonville and several nieces and nephews. 

There will be no services.

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Jennie Rees