'A brilliant mind, a brilliant vet' - tributes to Suffolk equine veterinary practice founder

Rossdales Veterinary Surgeons

Dr Peter Rossdale, founder of Rossdales Veterinary Surgeons, died at the end of last month - Credit: Rossdales Veterinary Surgeons

Tributes have been paid to Newmarket equine veterinarian Dr Peter Rossdale who died aged 94 on November 26 following a short illness.

Peter, recognised as the 'Father of Equine Perinatology’, founded the successful Rossdale and Partners in 1959, which now employs more than 50 vets under the name 

He was born in London on September 8, 1927, the fourth child of George and Kate Rossdale and developed an interest in horses from the age of six and his early ambition was to become a jockey.

His decided to become a veterinary surgeon, associated with horses after he was evacuated from London to Stowe School in 1939.

Teachers tried to dissuade, though he told his housemaster that he would “rather be a first-class vet than a second-class doctor”.

Peter read natural sciences at Trinity College Cambridge, starting in 1945, and he entered the Royal Veterinary College, firstly in Camden Town, where he recalled being taught to use a firing iron, and then Streatley, near Reading, where a solitary cow formed the basis for the large animal clinical teaching.

Peter married Jill Clifton, a Kentish farmer’s daughter, in 1954. They had two sons, Simon and Anthony and a daughter, Sally, who gave them six grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

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During his two years in Rye, Peter’s passion for racing and race riding continued. He rode point to point with some success but became ‘famous’ following one race when the local newspaper printed a photograph of him unseated from his mount and landing on his nose.

Peter joined the Reynolds, Leader, Day and Crowhurst practice in Newmarket. After four years he had developed a loyal following of clients, who liked his way of working.

In 1959, Peter and Jill started a new practice in Newmarket, working 24 hours per day, 365 days a year for two years, except for one weekend off.

Michael Hunt subsequently joined Peter in 1961, to form Rossdale & Partners, now Rossdales Veterinary Surgeons.

Peter retired his partnership in 2002 at the age of 75 years, allowing his name to be used for the practice, in perpetuity.

During his early years in practice Peter formed a passion for the perinatal foal and spent night after night during the breeding season out tending to sick foals and at the same time making observations and collecting samples for analysis in his own laboratory, which he initially developed with Leo Mahaffey.

This clinical research in practice allowed him to satisfy RCVS with a Fellowship thesis, his collaborative research papers on ‘wastage’ of racehorses from conception to four years old were perhaps his most referenced.

Peter published a number of books on equine health for lay and professional readership, including The Horse’s Health From A-Z, co-authored with Sue Wreford and the multi-author editing of Horace Hayes’ Veterinary Notes for Horse owners and ‘Equine Studfarm Medicine’, co-authored with his Partner, Sidney Ricketts, which became the standard equine reproduction text of the time.

In 1961, Peter was a founder member of the British Equine Veterinary Association, he was a past President of BEVA (1976) and was Editor of Equine Veterinary Journal from 1979 to 2010.

Peter's efforts were recognised in several ways including doctorates, honoris causa, by the Universities of Bern, Edinburgh and Sydney and an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen, for his services to veterinary medicine.

Following Jill’s death in 1999, Peter married Mary Sharkey, again found happiness and gained three stepdaughters and a step-granddaughter. Peter suffered a stroke in 2020, which left him wheelchair bound. Mary was a wonderful carer until Peter’s death.

Peter described himself as a ‘catalyst’, who stimulated others, and this remained the case, to his death. His energy, enthusiasm and intellect will remain legendary amongst those that knew him.

His colleagues are proud to have known him and to have worked with him and believe that he was one of the most important veterinary surgeons of our time.

One of his clients, on hearing of his death, said: “a brilliant mind, a brilliant vet and just a very nice person, for whom a lot of us will miss his wisdom, sense of humour and skill as one of the best and most knowledgeable vets we have known”.

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