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Due to the fast paced nature of those twenty days, I am sure that I did not record every use of the therapies listed, but the following account is fairly accurate. Low level light, often referred to as laser therapy, was the most frequently used modality, being used 143 times.
One hundred forty-one horses received electric stimulation, and magnetic therapy was called for 122 times. Massage was employed 75 times with chiropractic used 28 times. Acupuncture was applied 55 times, and ultrasound saw 16 incidents of use.
The low level light devices provided by Equilight and Alphalaser saw constant duty. A few of the teams had their own Respond units with them. Low level light provided stimulation for cell repair and pain relief.
The second most often used modality was electrical stimulation due to the popularity of the Synaptic units. This new device, developed for human physical therapy, offers very high-frequency electric current.
The use of magnetic fields was a familiar sight during the Games. Norfield's static magnet wraps and body blankets were welcomed by the competitors. The electro-magnetic blanket made by the Respond Company was a staple of the American team. Respond and Norfield specially designed blankets for the 1996 Olympics that would not overheat the horses during a treatment.
The competitors knew about the various techniques of massage. Several eventers cautioned against the use of sports massage, deep friction massage, or any aggressive massage technique, realizing the potential for connective tissue damage when muscles are in a high state of tension. Sedation and mental relaxation were the goal of the massage techniques.
I used therapeutic ultrasound to lower limb injuries such as tendonitis and joint conditions. I suspect that many of the horses enjoyed ultrasound treatments after the Games to help them in their recovery from this astounding athletic effort.
A few of the team veterinarians and Dr. Debbie Williams, a veterinary acupuncture specialist from the Atlanta area, treated horses with acupuncture. Her straight forward approach demystified this often misunderstood modality.
Although I was the only Olympic staff equine therapist, several of the teams brought a therapist with them. Mary Bromiley accompanied the New Zealand team and gave us all support and advice from her years of experience with upper level competitive horses. Amanda Sutton accompanied the British team; Gillian McHugh served the Spanish team; the Canadians relied on Bill Godbold; and Mary Bromiley's daughter, Penelope Slattery, served the Swedish team. The Americans had Doug Hannum, therapist for the three-day team, and Tom Meyer for the dressage team.
Although the jumps were spectacular, on-course injuries were few. The FEI reported only seven falls of horses in more than 1,000 jumping efforts during the teams' three-day competition. The weather did not pose the threat as expected, so we were spared that additional stress. The horses competing were truly world-class athletes, most of them being at the top of their game. Even so, physical therapy was welcomed and appreciated. I left for the Olympics saying that it was a once in a lifetime experience but I came home saying ? I hope I am selected for Sidney!
Reprinted with permission from The World Equine Veterinary Review.