Controlling 1,000-pound Beasts Keeps Alabaster Pediatrician on the Farm


 
“I don’t drive tractors,” says Dianne Matheson, MD, a pediatrician in Alabaster for the past 21 years, who lives on a farm with land, lakes and hay fields. She jokes that her husband feigns surprise at her being scared to drive the big farm machines, “but I’ll get up on these big beasts,” she says.

 

She’s referring to her dressage horses. Pablo, her largest, weighs in at 1,450 pounds and measures over five-and-a-half feet tall at his shoulder.

 

Matheson is immersed enough in the sport to have traveled to Holland in 2005, where she found Pablo and brought him home. He’s a Dutch Warmblood, a sporting breed denoted for dressage, jumping and driving.

 

Horses have been a life-long love. “I first rode a horse when I was three years old, and I rode right up until high school,” Matheson says. She didn’t ride regularly again until 1987 when her husband, Dan, bought her a horse for their first anniversary.

 

With a warm lilt in her voice, she says, “Daddy Warbucks is still on our farm, retired. He’s as happy as he can be and lives with another horse of mine named Amy who is also retired. She’s an Appaloosa.”

 

Like with horses, her love for medicine began in childhood. “I always wanted to be a doctor,” Matheson says. She had several generations of doctors to look up to. Her grandfather had been a radiologist, and her father ran a family practice for years before completing a psychiatric residency.

 

 

By the time Matheson hit medical school at UAB, she knew she wanted to work with children. “In med school, all my electives were in pediatrics,” Matheson says. “It was a just a good fit. There was no eureka moment; I just like working with kids.”

 

During her internship and residency at The Children’s Hospital of Alabama, Matheson realized that she didn’t want to just “go in and put them to sleep or do surgery. I wanted a long-term relationship with my patients,” she says.

 

With that in mind, Matheson has been a pediatrician in Alabaster long enough now to see second-generation babies in her practice. “I follow families through birth and then through their own families,” she says. “That’s what I like the best: the relationships and the ability to help people in social situations, to be their advocate. It’s not a one-time thing between us.”

 

In 2005, after 15 years at Greenvale Pediatrics, Matheson and two other pediatricians left to start their own practice. “It was kind of fun and cool to do, because we’re involved in every aspect,” she says. “It’s a lot harder than just showing up, seeing patients, and going home. But management is very rewarding.”

 

Their practice, Alabaster Pediatrics, has now grown to five physicians, all women. “Each of us wanted to have our own lives. We all are mothers. Now we have complete control over our hours and schedules,” Matheson says. All the doctors agree to work three days a week, and the practice closes on weekends.

 

“It’s been a good experience, and we should have started this a long time ago,” Matheson says. The partners relish control over things like who they hire and what vaccine protocols to follow. “It’s been a good thing, plus we all like each other,” she says, adding that another physician there, Patti Schroder, also shows horses.

 

The value of horses in her life, Matheson says, doesn’t just lie in the caring and riding of them. “It’s been a way for me to develop some really good friendships outside of medicine. The shows, the trail rides with friends, it’s all camaraderie.”

 

She brought her newest horse, Tres Chic, from Holland as well. “She’s my dream horse. She’s bred for performance, and her grandsire was famous,” Matheson says. Tres Chic stands inches shorter than the mightier Pablo. “She’s a smaller ladies’ horse and easier to ride,” she says. “And the prettiest thing you ever saw in your life.”

 

Her husband, an investment banker who hunts, fishes, and grows the hay on the farm, says watching dressage is like watching paint dry.

 

“But I enjoy the sort of thorough process and attention to detail it requires, the extra complexity of it,” she says. Shows last an entire weekend, and Matheson travels to four or five a year around the Southeast. “I’m not all that accomplished, I just enjoy it. It takes a physically and mentally strong person to get the movements out of these horses. It’s a humbling sport.”

 

 

 

 

 

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