Written by: Chantal Marleau

Dr. Dubro Zerajic, a veterinarian and acupuncturist, has dedicated his life to helping horses.

Thumbnail for Dr. Dubro Zerajic: The Journey and the Wisdom

Jennifer Anstey photo

According to the wisdom of Confucius, if you “choose a job you love, you will never have to work a day in your life.” An avid horseman and veterinarian, Dr. Dubro Zerajic was fortunate enough to model his life in precisely  that way.

As an equine veterinarian for 50 years, the now semi-retired Dubro not only enjoyed a career that afforded him the opportunity to be inspired by horses every day, he also dedicated himself to becoming one of Ontario’s foremost pioneers in equine acupuncture – or “neuro-muscular stimulation,” the term he believes is a more accurate description of his work.

Born in the former Yugoslavia, Dubro was raised in the home of his grandparents after his father was killed during the Second World War. “We didn’t have much,” remembered Dubro. “It was life in a communist country. I picked up riding when I was 11 and eventually worked my way to riding championship horses. I wasn’t too good, but I was riding  with the top guys and was learning so much from them.”

This time spent in the saddle provided the young Dubro with an opportunity to learn a great deal about equine movement and helped him develop a sixth sense for healing horses.

The Early Veterinary Career for Dr. Dubro Zerajic

Dubro graduated with a veterinary degree from the University of Zagreb during the height of the former Yugoslavia’s difficult economic turmoil of the mid-1960s. “There weren’t any jobs,” he remembered. “That’s why I came to Canada.

“I came with only $100 in my pocket and lived in [Toronto’s] Cabbagetown because it was cheap. For $17 per week, I had room and board. I came alone, which meant I could concentrate on preparing for the exams I needed to write to practice in Canada.

“You create your own luck for your life,” said Dubro. “You study, you work hard and you try to be the best. This is how it goes. It’s very simple when you accept these things. You don’t look at the problems, you just look at your future.”

For Dubro, that meant keeping his head buried in books in order to successfully complete his two mandatory Ontario Veterinary College board exams. “I was very fortunate to do both these exams in only one year,” he said. “When you want something, you just have to work very hard for it. It wasn’t just by chance that I passed so quickly.”

After graduating, Dubro went into practice with Tony Calverley in 1973. “I was very fortunate to be with him. He gave me lots of good advice and direction.” Five years later, Dubro launched his own practice in Aurora, Ontario. “You always have to move forward and do whatever you can to better yourself,”  he said.

It was this zeal to continuously improve himself that landed Dubro on the road to researching acupuncture: a pursuit that would shape the remainder of his career.

Dr. Dubro Zerajic and Discovering Acupuncture

“It was by chance that I was introduced to one small book on acupuncture,” he recalled of his introduction in 1968. “I started to get interested in it immediately and then read all I could. I experimented on my horses and then slowly started to incorporate it into my practice.

“I eventually realized that acupuncture cannot be learned from books. I tried to transfer human points to the horse, but it was difficult. There were so many things that I didn’t understand when I first started learning: the Yin and Yang, the meridians… At that time, nobody in North America was able to explain to me how or why it all worked.”

With his scientific background, Dubro was unable to accept the Chinese explanation that acupuncture worked by correcting imbalances in the flow of energy through channels known as meridians. Dubro’s own research revealed that the acupuncture points corresponded to nerves or nerve-endings, and this realization led him to study physiology, specifically what each nerve does when stimulated.

In 1978, Dubro set out for Japan to study for a brief time with Dr. Kirisawa, who would help him answer some of the more complex questions he had not been able to solve on his own. “He told me it would take a long time and a lot of experience… he was right,” said Dubro. “You first experiment with thousands of horses and then you start to understand these things.

“This is why young veterinarians do not want to study acupuncture. Some show interest, but when they don’t get results on their first try, they give up. Acupuncture may be very powerful but it doesn’t do miracles.”

A Love of Thoroughbreds

On his return from Japan, Dubro started his own comprehensive equine practice which included spending a great deal of time treating horses at Woodbine Racetrack. Dubro has a special affinity for Thoroughbreds. “They are the Formula One cars of the horse world,” he said, a definitive hint of pride in his voice.

“As soon as I began working, I used my first paycheque to buy a Thoroughbred,” he said. “Eventually, we began a breeding operation. My wife and I started with off the track mares and I did most of the training myself. I used to love to take the Thoroughbreds and gallop them on the racetrack. I miss that.”

Among his most famous clients, Dubro counts Hall of Famers Glorious Song (1980 Horse of the Year) and Bold Ruckus (Canada’s leading sire 10 times), both of whom he treated for muscle tightness.

Dr. Dubro Zerajic These Days

“Now that we’re older, we no longer have horses,” he added regretfully. “We recently gave away our last two horses as gifts. That was very hard because they were all part of our family.”

Even though he considers himself semi-retired, Dubro’s schedule is still just as busy. He continues to work with his long-time clients, focusing mostly on consultations and acupuncture. “You can’t just stop now,” he said. “I still enjoy what I’m doing and do as much as possible.” In what little spare time he has, Dubro enjoys talking and visiting with friends, working on his art and keeping up-to-date with his profession – no vacation time for this “retiree.”

Dr. Dubro Zerajic and Passing the Torch

“I’m just an ordinary person though,” concluded Dubro. “Everything I’ve ever done I’ve wanted to do because I enjoy it. I hope this is true of the young vets. If you choose this profession, you have to want to help the horses. You cannot be a veterinarian only half way; you should always try to be the very best.

“I have only figured out a part of the picture though and I hope that those who come after me will complete it.”