Getting to know Kayla Henderson
SLVREC member, 2004 scholarship winner and fifth generation Valley native, Kayla (Cochran) Henderson is making an impact on the San Luis Valley. As a 2004 Sargent High School graduate and co-owner of Alpine Veterinary Hospital, she has known since she was a little girl that she always wanted to be a vet. “I never really thought of anything else. I just focused on gaining veterinary experience,” she stated.
Kayla worked hard throughout high school and received a full-ride Boettcher Foundation Scholarship, in addition to a $500 REC/Tri-State Scholarship. She completed both her BS in Equine Science & Business Management and vet school at Colorado State University. Kayla stated, “what the REC scholarship allowed me to do (on top of my full ride) was transfer some of my funding so that I could study abroad in Ireland for a semester and finish my Honor’s Thesis on thoroughbred racehorse nutrition.”
Following graduation from vet school in 2013, she “dragged” her husband kicking and screaming back to the Valley. Here she was able to apply for a federal grant to practice medicine at a rural mixed animal practice in a shortage area. “Thanks to the undergrad scholarships I received, I had no undergrad debt. But vet school is one of the most expensive professional programs; and that grant helped me pay off all of my loans within five years of graduating,” Kayla commented.
When in 2019, Dr. Tyler Ratzlaff decided the time was right to pass the ownership of Alpine Veterinary Hospital onto the next generation, fortuitously, two of his associates, Kayla and Dr. Carla Enderle (a fourth generation New Mexico ranching native, Adam State Grad, and 2006 CSU Vet school grad) jumped at the opportunity to fulfill their own lifelong dreams. “We are not only the first partnership to own the practice, but also the first women owners,” she commented.
Currently, Alpine has seven doctors, two locations and 21 full- and part-time staff members.
“We have been practicing continually for 80 years, serving every single walk of animal life from Buena Vista to Santa Fe, Pagosa Springs to Trinidad. We are the only practice that’s available 24/7, 365 in the SLV. We participate in 4H and the SLV Fair, Stampede and the Ag Fair every year. Our veterinarians and technicians spend countless hours at career fairs, school classrooms and college STEM workshops. We volunteer as committee members, Science Fair judges, lobbyists at the State Capitol, and serve as officers of both state and national organized veterinary medicine organizations,” Kayla explained. “One of our biggest contributions is serving as one of the largest mixed animal practices in the state for dozens of veterinary, pre-veterinary and veterinary nursing students to experience externships and preceptor-ships from CSU, Adams State, and hundreds of other American and foreign universities.”
Kayla commented, “I’ve always loved the Valley and was never really one of those people that wanted to leave as soon as I possibly could! I always knew that if I married the right kind of man, and my career worked out going down the mixed animal path, that I would want to practice in the SLV. The opportunities were perfect: the grant opened and my husband’s company had an Alamosa office, so the move made a lot of sense. Now, being able to raise my kids (Gage, Audra and Corbin) on the same ranch, have them attend the same school (and occasionally have the same teachers!) that I did, and practice at the hospital my family’s ranch had used for generations, is a dream come true.”
Kayla’s husband Wade is from Pagosa Springs; he is the main reason she went down the mixed animal track, instead of the equine/Kentucky track (he said he’d never live away from the Rocky Mountains!). He has his own civil engineering company, Sky Hi Engineering, but loves farming and growing hay. He, Dr. Enderle, her husband DJ, and Kayla own the real estate that Alpine Vet sits on.
Wade and Kayla also own a ranch with her brother Chad Cochran and his wife Amy (who is one of Alpine’s senior vet techs), and their parents Ronna and Jerry Cochran.
As a family, they love to ride horses and work cattle. “We love staying at our US Forest Service ‘Cow Camp’ cabin, and we occasionally get a vacation to Maine or Mexico,” she said. “Personally, I love reading and being in book clubs, gardening, and working on the ranch with our chickens, sheep, horses, Border Collies, cats and cattle.”
Kayla was recently awarded a $125,000 grant for the practice to really improve their food animal medicine. They also plan on using the money to help establish educational stipends for producers and students.
“Carla and I are hoping to one day establish a scholarship fund much like REC’s to help students who have interest in veterinary medicine or animal science. Scholarship programs like REC’s are absolutely essential in getting hard-working, rural kids from communities like ours the best start possible. I can only hope we can one day be as successful as you all have been!” Kayla concluded.
Alpine Vet History
The history of Alpine Veterinary Hospital is long and fascinating. The property in Monte Vista, which is the original hospital, was actually once a sugar beet factory in the early days of the town. Dr. Arthur G. Wadleigh, a native of Missouri and graduate of the very first class of DVMs at Colorado State University (then called Colorado A&M) in 1910, moved to Monte Vista in 1917 where he continued an already impressive career. He was on the executive committee of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, lectured and served on many national boards, and published numerous papers and reports on livestock medicine. He built the original veterinary hospital (parts of which are still in daily use) in the 1940’s and retired in 1956.
Dr. Wadleigh sold the practice to Dr. Jay Childress, a Kentucky native and 1952 CSU graduate who had worked for Dr. Wadleigh as a student and then as an associate. Dr. Childress and his wife Maudie grew the practice immensely during his 21 year tenure as an owner, improving the facilities, adding an xray machine and autoclave, as well as founding what is now the Conour Animal Shelter next to the hospital.
In 1977, Dr. Childress sold the practice to Oklahoma State University grad Dr. Bob Dugan. Dr. Dugan and his wife Carol Lee named the practice Alpine Veterinary Hospital and expanded the services while making wonderful improvements until they sold to their young, newly hired associate, CSU graduate Dr. Tyler Ratzlaff in 1989.
Dr. Ratzlaff and his wife Bonnie were at the helm of AVH for 30 years, expanding it to a five-veterinarian staff and purchasing the well-established Valley Veterinary Clinic in Alamosa from Dr. Bob Steffens in 2012. In 2016, they built a brand new, state of the art facility on that property, fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Dr. Ratzlaff decided the time was right in 2019 to pass the practice ownership to the next generation, so he could focus solely on practicing medicine and spending time with his family. Fortuitously, two of his associates, Dr. Carla Enderle and Dr. Kayla Henderson, jumped at the opportunity to fulfill their own lifelong dreams of owning the veterinary practice. They are not only the first partnership to own the practice, but also the first women owners!