Peter Daniel Rossdale OBE, MA, PhD, Drmedvet (hc Bern), DVMS (hc Edinburgh), DVSc (hc Sydney), FACVSc, DESM, FRCVS
A dedicated equine clinician and scientist, who published widely and had varied interests. He founded a remarkably successful practice, became recognised as the ‘Father of Equine Perinatology’ and was one of the first to embrace veterinary evidence-based medicine.
Peter was born in London on 8th September 1927, the 4th child of George and Kate Rossdale. Dr George Rossdale, an eminent London medical practitioner, was an important role model for the way Peter conducted his own professional life and for providing an always available personal service. He developed an enquiring scientific basis for equine clinical practice and was perhaps one of the first practitioners to embrace ‘evidence-based medicine’, before the term was invented. These principles became the foundation for Rossdale & Partners’ modus operandi.
Peter became interested in horses from the age of 6 years and his early ambition was to become a jockey. In 1939, he was evacuated from London and boarded at Stowe School, where his passions for science and literature developed. His aim to become a veterinary surgeon, associated with horses, grew. Teachers tried to dissuade him saying that veterinary standards were poor as compared to the medical profession, but his father was supportive. Thus, Peter learnt to accept challenges with relish and overcome obstacles placed in his path by others, which held him in good stead for later life. 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. The Cambridge Veterinary School did not open until 1949 so in 1948 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. He became a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1952 and subsequently spent two years in mixed practice in Rye, Sussex, where he had seen practice as a student, near his then family home at Brooklands in Kent. He became determined to specialise in horses, where castration, firing and colic were the main issues of the day.
Peter married Jill Clifton, a Kentish farmer’s daughter, in 1954. They produced two sons, Simon and Anthony and a daughter, Sally, who gave them six grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
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! He purchased a brood mare. Through her matings he developed a relationship with Cheveley Park Stud in Newmarket, which resulted in an opportunity to join the Reynolds, Leader, Day and Crowhurst practice in Newmarket, which he accepted. 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. He worked 24 hours per day, 365 days per year for two years, except for one weekend off, when Leo Mahaffey, an Australian veterinary pathologist, then at the Animal Health Trust, stood in as a locum. Michael Hunt subsequently joined Peter in 1961, to form Rossdale & Partners, which, after 60 years, now as Rossdales Veterinary Surgeons, is proud to be the base for more than 50 veterinarians, with a world-acclaimed ambulatory practice, equine hospital, diagnostic centre, pathology laboratory and branch practices in Hertfordshire and Lambourn. 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, with whom he also liked to debate politics, religion and international problems. He developed meaningful professional relationships with paediatric clinicians at Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge. This clinical research in practice allowed him to satisfy RCVS with a Fellowship thesis and founded a lifetime of rewarding collaborative research with veterinarians, medical clinicians and scientists from all around the world. With this model he attracted considerable grant aided funding, including from the Welcome Trust, leading to a long list of peer-reviewed publications in international journals. His collaborative research papers on ‘wastage’ of racehorses from conception to 4 years old were perhaps his most referenced. His colleagues, friends and the many young international veterinary students and new graduates who came to see practice and undertake clinical research with him, still refer to him as the “Father of Modern Equine Perinatology”. He collaborated with consultants from Addenbrookes’ ‘Rosie’ Hospital’s maternity and perinatal services teams, members of which he sometimes brought with him on evening visits to sick foals, sometimes even in ‘black tie’, fresh from a dinner party!
Peter published a number of books on equine health for lay and professional readership. 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 were particularly well received. His textbook, ‘Equine Studfarm Medicine’, co-authored with his Partner, Sidney Ricketts, with two editions (1974 and 1980), became the standard equine reproduction text of the time. He wrote a light-hearted weekly postscript in the Veterinary Record under the name ‘Totaliser’. The texts for his writings were recorded onto a Dictaphone, which he used on his rounds, and the tapes were later transcribed by his devoted secretaries.
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, elevating its status to one of the most prestigious veterinary journals, internationally. He became the journal’s Emeritus Editor. He started Equine Veterinary Education, EVJ’s sister journal, in 1989, to cope with the ever-increasing demand for equine commissioned and review articles, case reviews and educational topics. He was EVE’s editor from 1990 to 1991. He formed the link with the American Association of Equine Practitioners, which led to EVE being jointly published in both UK and USA. He was inducted into the University of Kentucky's Equine Research Hall of Fame. He was a founder member of the International Symposium on Equine Reproduction that has met and produced proceedings every four years from Cambridge in 1974 and then around the world to Cambridge again in 2018, before an enforced pause for Covid-19 reasons.
Peter was one of the founder board members of the RCVS’ Equine Certificates and Diplomas in Equine Stud Medicine and served on many equine committees including the Horserace Betting Levy Board’s Veterinary Advisory Committee.
For all these successful endeavours, Peter has been awarded Doctorates, honoris causa, by the Universities of Bern, Edinburgh and Sydney. He was awarded the OBE by Her Majesty the Queen, for his services to veterinary medicine. The Royal Veterinary College awarded him their Fellowship. The Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association awarded him their Devonshire bronze, which recognises outstanding achievement and contribution to the British Thoroughbred breeding industry.
In addition to all his professional endeavours, Peter was a lover of music, art and the theatre. He had good and long-lasting friends in all these areas of interest.
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. So many younger colleagues, friends and acquaintances, within and without Rossdales, in UK and throughout the world, owe him so much in aspects of their professional and personal lives and only wish that they could come close to his achievements. 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”. We all miss him dearly.
Michael Hunt, Sidney Ricketts, Nick Wingfield Digby, Tim Greet, Deidre Carson, Neil Steven, Andrew McGladdery, Frederic Barrelet, Michael Shepherd, Peter Ramzan, Richard Payne, Andrew Bathe, Ian Cameron, Oliver Pynn, Robert Dallas and Alastair Foote.