Some equine therapies, such as chiropractic and acupuncture , require special training or certification. Others can fall under the “do-it-yourself” (DIY) category, raising concerns on how to safely incorporate them into your horse’s care.
Are you curious about infrared, laser , ceramic fabric, and magnetic therapies? These therapies are generally supplied to the horse through a range of equipment, from blankets or wraps that can be left on the horse to gear that plugs into an electrical outlet for short-term, supervised application.
“All of these therapies are going to increase the blood supply and circulation as well as stimulate the system and the cells,” advises Julie Mayer, DVM CVA CVC CCRP, a holistic and rehabilitation veterinarian based in Phoenix. “Some can be used to reduce muscular pain, and ease inflammation. However, they’re typically going to be fairly gentle.”
Proper use requires some consideration, according to Chris Bessent, DVM, a Milwaukee-area veterinarian and founder of Herbsmith, Inc. “These are really neat, proactive therapies that an owner can implement into their veterinary plan, but each one needs to be evaluated based on what’s suitable and appropriate at the time,” she says. “They’re also typically ‘in addition to’ therapies, since you might be using glucosamine or Adequan, or joint injections, to help your horse, but then you can add in something that will speed healing and recovery, or warm muscles for relief.”
Developing an understanding of each therapy’s uses will help you identify when they’re appropriate.
Ceramic Fabric Therapy
Ceramic-infused horse blankets , saddle pads, leg wraps, and boots might sound like space-age horse clothing, but the science behind them works on the basic principle of heat transference. An external, non-invasive therapy, the use of polyester/polypropylene fabric with ceramic powder melted into the weave allows the fabric to reflect body heat as an infrared wave, keeping the blood circulating and the muscles loose. Equine applications include prevention as well as recovery, since ceramic fabric equipment can be used to prevent stocking up when an ‘outside’ horse is suddenly confined to a stall, or before a workout to reduce warm-up time.
With no external power source, ceramic fabric equipment can be used safely on an unsupervised horse, according to Bo Lofvander, owner of Back On Track, a manufacturer of ceramic fabric therapy clothing and equipment for horses, humans, and dogs. “It’s something you can put on the horse and go home, and not have to stand there while it’s working,” he says.
Infrared waves are divided into three categories (near, middle, and far) depending on the actual wavelength measurement, and can result in applications of either light (near) or heat (far) that are easily absorbed by the body for healing and therapeutic benefit.
According to John Crerar, vice president of Thermotex Therapy Systems, Ltd., ‘far infrared’ energy can be used to treat muscle and joint conditions, and to reduce inflammation and decrease stiffness in the equine athlete. “Our products can increase blood flow as well as metabolic activity within cells; this delivers more nutrients and oxygen to a treated area while removing accumulated wastes and toxins.”
An example of ‘near infrared’ is the LED, or light-emitting diode. Christina Reguli, who with her husband Dennis developed According to ‘Gospel’ – Equine Light Therapy LED light pads to help heal their show jumper Gospel Hour, reports that photon receptors in the body’s cellular mitochondria absorb and use the energy from the LED lights. “Damaged cells can’t produce the energy needed to repair themselves; exposing them to the energy from the LED lights provides the extra resources they need to heal,” says Reguli, adding that anyone can use LEDs safely. “The delivery of the energy is very gentle with LEDs. One of the beauties of this form of light therapy is that you don’t necessarily need special training to use it.”
Invented in 1960, the term ‘laser’ is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. A laser is a focused stream of oscillating electric and magnetic waves, and different types can result in visible light, or invisible radiation (eg, X-rays, microwaves), depending on the wave’s length.
While they’ve become commonplace in our society, some lasers are extremely powerful and require special handling and safety precautions, yet others have been identified as ideal in the treatment of soft tissue injuries. “Our laser wavelength is 904nm, which we’ve determined allows for the greatest penetration into joints and muscles while still providing a safe and easy-to-use device,” reports Doreen Hudson, vice president at Respond Systems. “It allows enough energy for a rapid treatment, but not so much that it can heat tissue, which can be a problem with stronger lasers.” Lasers can stimulate circulation to speed healing; when combined with another modality such as acupressure, lasers can even help break up scar tissue.
Understanding laser power classifications can be complicated, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made it easier for the consumer with ‘danger logo’ labeling that specifies the potential eye damage hazard from a 20cm distance. “If you’re advertising a true laser therapy system, it’s a federal law to show the danger logo,” advises Hudson.
Magnetic therapy works via creating a magnetic field that penetrates into a horse’s soft tissue and bone. One result is the charging of blood particles, enhancing their movement patterns to stimulate both healing nutrients and blood flow to an injured area. Options include different sizes, strengths, and even types of magnets; for example, ‘static’ or ‘stagnant’ magnets emit their own energy, while ‘electromagnetic’ therapy has a moving energy with a pulsed current.
Stimulating acupuncture points on the horse’s body with magnets has been shown to result in muscular relaxation and overall soothing of the horse, as well as increased blood circulation, according to Kristen Davison, Professional’s Choice marketing coordinator. “The increased circulation warms muscles to prepare them for use, and then soothes the area after being worked, when muscles are fatigued,” she says. They use ‘bi-polar’ magnets in a variety of therapeutic products ranging from blankets to bell boots to knee and hock wraps; the ‘north pole’ element has a calming energy, while the ‘south pole’ element stimulates blood flow, she says.
Bessent points out that DIY-ers need to use equipment appropriately. “For a recent injury, you don’t want to add heat, you want to cool it. Therefore infrared wouldn’t be good for acute issues, but it would be excellent for treating a chronic condition such as scar tissue or arthritis,” she says.
Mayer says it’s also important to evaluate how debilitated the patient is when selecting therapies. “A weak animal can be overwhelmed by being exposed to a large amount of energy. It’s better not to get too aggressive with applications; break them up, do them on subsequent days. Give the body a chance to absorb the energy and figure out what to do with it,” she cautions.
Additional factors to consider include existing medical conditions, such as cancer, or neurologic issues. “These therapies are stimulatory to the cells, so, for example, you would want to avoid any sites that are known to be cancerous; you don’t want to draw circulation to a tumor,” says Mayer. “Likewise if an animal is prone to seizures; we wouldn’t use these therapies on an epileptic dog, for example, since you don’t know what you’re going to stimulate.”
Many options for holistic equine therapy equipment exist today. If you’re interested in including some of these options in your own training and health management programs, be sure to research them thoroughly. Look for studies showing efficacy, discuss options with your veterinarian or licensed therapeutic provider, evaluate companies and their product claims carefully, and always use caution and common sense with any therapeutic equipment.
DIY Therapy Musts
* Remember safety first! Read and follow all instructions; if you’re in doubt about any potentially harmful interactions between new equipment and existing treatment modalities or medications, check with your veterinarian.
* Make sure things aren’t too tight, too loose, too heavy, or too hot for your horse, and check equipment frequently since it can shift.
* Using a labelmaker or a laminated checklist, label equipment with any special precautions so they’re always close at hand. Use safety equipment when needed, such as eye protection for laser therapy use.
* Anything with electrical cords requires observation during treatment and secure tying of the horse to prevent cord chewing. Use a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet as a safety precaution; a muzzle, feedbag, or wooden neck cradle can help discourage known chewers.
* Facing down new equipment can be a worrisome experience for any equine, and particularly stressful if that horse has recently undergone surgery or been fighting illness. Since the goal is to provide a healing experience, be sure to introduce any new equipment slowly, in small doses, and in a soothing environment, and watch for any adverse reactions such as swelling.
Some therapeutic equipment is very reasonably priced, while others can be costly. When you’re ready to try something new, a few financial tips:
* Consider a co-op approach, pooling resources for the purchase of large-ticket items. Set up a contract as to who uses the equipment and when, and what the group will do in the event of a co-owner buyout, or should a complete equipment sale become necessary.
* Keep your eye out for used or reconditioned equipment; contact manufacturers or search online for options.
* Have a friend who already uses the equipment you want to try? Ask if you can borrow it for a specified trial period. Or, you might be able to rent equipment from a manufacturer or other resource such as your local veterinarian.
* If you’re looking at equipment that’s geared toward medical recovery rather than wellness or conditioning purposes, you might want to check with your insurance agent to see if it’s eligible under your equine mortality/major medical policy. While most equine policies don’t currently cover holistic treatments, it never hurts to ask.
Lisa Kemp helps equine business owners reach their ideal clients through improved communication efforts. An award-winning writer and marketing strategist, Lisa’s writings have appeared in both print and online equestrian media.