The right touch: Equine therapies
When you have a partner who carries your full weight while leaping over obstacles and performs feats of physical strength and flexibility without complaint or hesitation, it seems only fair that all options be explored in the interest of insuring his or her optimal health. Horse owners understand this and have begun seeking therapies for physical and behavioral issues that once were considered outside the mainstream of traditional western medicine.
While first turning to conventional veterinarian treatments, many Island horse owners also seek alternatives: massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic therapies.
Dr. Angela Jasper, a Falmouth-based veterinarian who practices acupuncture and chiropractic on scores of Island equines (and the occasional canine), employs the different modalities of both western and eastern medicine in her treatments.
Most of her work is done with competitive sport horses, even competitive dogs, and older, arthritic animals with chronic problems.
"I have a different approach from most regular vets. I like to integrate both modalities" Dr. Jasper says. "When I practiced regular medicine, the horses weren't happy to see me. It was, 'Here's the lady who comes to give shots!' Now the horses are happy to see me. That's rewarding."
Dr. Jasper explains that feedback in conventional medicine is usually instant, and although acupuncture can stimulate nerves, increase blood circulation, and cause the release of hormones, the results aren't always immediate. "It's not like with one treatment they get better. You have to build on the change."
On a recent visit to treat Barney, a 20-year-old quarter horse gelding owned by Laura Campbell, Dr. Jasper combined all three modalities in an attempt to alleviate some of the discomfort stemming from Barney's chronic Lyme disease. "Lyme," she says, "wreaks havoc on horses." Using a smooth-tipped instrument shaped like a pen cap she scans the length of Barney's body along what are known as meridians, or "energy highways," looking for muscle reactions that indicate areas needing attention. "It's not always 100 percent," she says. "Sometimes it's more of an art than a science."
Using a large foam box to stand on in order to reach the animal's spine and work on his hips from above, she moves on to do chiropractic adjustments. "I always notice a difference," after Dr. Jasper works on Barney, Ms. Campbell says. "It's a very profound change."
The horse stands quietly, receiving gentle kisses from his owner as thin straight pink-tipped acupuncture needles are inserted. "He's loving this," says Ms. Campbell. "He's a very demonstrative horse." After the needles are removed, one comes out with a pronounced bend, meaning energy has moved through it.