Veterinary surgery provides an interesting context in which to address important questions about the links between formal 'book' learning and actual, personal experience of the phenomena in question, and to examine the processes through which these links are forged. Participant observation of surgical procedures suggests that surgeons initially learn about anatomy from books, pictures and demonstrations, and become skilled 'operators' through the application of enhancement and reduction procedures that have the effect of transforming the living body into something more closely resembling anatomical pictures of it. Some of these procedures can be seen as a set of formalized 'rules' for performing operations, and like most rules, they appear to decrease in importance as a surgeon gains experience. They may, however, regain importance when a practitioner meets with an anatomical variant that he or she has not previously encountered. Other practices appear to be less formalized, requiring creative, constructive use of visual aids or language practices outside formal textbook knowledge. The links between actual bodies (and operations) and textbook representations of them are thus formed within a community of 'operators'.