In Today's Top Jumper Barns, Technology Is Catching Up To Tradition

Feb 18, 2008 - 10:00 PM

Treatments such as lasers and magnetics are helping keep horses at their best.

In many facets of life, whether be it cars or cuisine, diets or designer jeans, fads come and go, but the functional ones usually find a secure place in society. The same holds true for many equine therapies. The more traditional methods of maintaining top equine athletes, like chiropractic work, massage, acupuncture and cold therapy, have found a permanent place in the care regimen of many competitive barns.

However, newer treatments such as lasers, magnetic blankets and pads and Game Ready compression therapies as well as the Back on Track ceramic products, are etching out a niche in some elite show barns.

“Almost every week I meet with our veterinarian to go over all of the horses in the barn,” said grand prix competitor Candice King. “Together we check the horses and he helps evaluate which horse needs ice, or which horse needs the magnetic blanket or footpad. After years of competing and taking care of horses, I always find that a lot of it is common sense. I’m an athlete myself—I go to the gym and work out and ride every day, and I have aches and pains, so my horses must as well.”

King, who has been competing at the grand prix level for more than two decades, uses many of the same treatment methods on her horses that she knows work on herself.

“I still use the more traditional maintenance methods on the horses like chiropractic and acupuncture, but I find that newer therapies, like the magnetic blanket, the magnetic footpad and the Game Ready also have a place in the barn,” said King.

“I’ve discovered that using the traditional methods in combination with the new methods creates longer-lasting results,” said Christopher “Kit” Miller, DVM, of Miller and Associates in North Salem, N.Y. “Things like chiropractic and acupuncture are traditional because of their effectiveness at treating performance-limiting symptoms, and it seems that many horse owners are more receptive to a holistic way of treating an injury.”

Pinpointing The Problem

“Before you start any form of therapy on a horse, it’s first important to pinpoint exactly what the problem area is and determine whether it’s an acute injury or a chronic one, meaning it has been going on for four or more days,” insisted Kraig Kulikowski, DVM.

“In many instances, I think the old rules still apply for acute injuries or for horses that undergo a lot of stress on a day-to-day basis. Nothing is better than cold therapy—whether it be in the form of ice water or Game Ready or other products out there. Cold therapy has a strong effect on blood flow because it constricts the vessels and decreases inflammation around an injury and helps prevent new injuries from occurring.”

A modern variation of the traditional ice boot, the Game Ready Equine system was developed using the same athletic training principles used by human athletes: rest, ice, compression and elevation. The combination of these four elements, according to the makers of Game Ready, reduce pain, muscle spasms, tissue damage and swelling. What makes Game Ready unique is the adjustable compression settings, which supposedly mimic the way a horse’s muscles contract and relax, thus pushing fluids and cellular debris along the lymphatic drainage system.

“Because muscles do a lot of work, they produce byproducts like lactic acid that can be destructive if not metabolized and cleared. Blood flow helps the body metabolize, thus allowing it to flush out those harmful byproducts,” explained Kulikowski.

Dana Escales, the barn manager for Andre Dignelli’s Heritage Farm in Katonah, N.Y., notices the difference Game Ready makes in many of the pony hunters, although she occasionally uses it on some of the junior and amateur-owner jumpers as well. “We like the Game Ready or some form of ice boot because it gives the horses and ponies tighter legs,” said Escales.

The Importance Of Blood Flow

As you are trying to maneuver your horse’s hoof onto the magnetic footpad, he stomps at a fly, grazing the edge of your foot. Getting out of bed the next morning, you feel some discomfort in your foot and, seeing the bruise, are reminded of what occurred the day before. Luckily for us, we know we are in pain and can treat ourselves accordingly, but horses aren’t able to tell us what is bothering them. By understanding how blood circulates in the body, we can better comprehend how to treat injuries in our equine companions.

“What would happen initially to your foot is that the blood vessels would burst, leading to discoloration,” explained Kraig Kulikowski, DVM. “The body then responds by trying to get as much blood flow as it can to the area because the blood carries nutrients and blood cells. When those cells are damaged, the body needs to clear out the damaged cells and start building new ones. In order for cells to grow, they need a steady supply of blood. During the initial phase of an injury, the body overreacts and a ton of blood flows to the site of the injury, causing inflammation, which in turn leads to pain and soreness. This is the body’s way of telling us to stop using that part because it’s injured.”

King also finds the Game Ready useful after competing in grand prix events. “I use the Game Ready or the ice boots depending on what area I want to target,” clarified King. “I think it’s very important to know each horse and his weaknesses, whether it be a problem you know about from a pre-purchase exam or a new injury. With that information in mind, I decide whether to use the Game Ready or the ice boots and on which leg or legs to use it.”

“There’s nothing better than ice for an acute problem,” added Miller. “One of the added benefits of Game Ready is that it massages the affected area as well.”


Magnetic therapy products such as magnetic blankets, hock boots, splint boots and bell boots encourage circulation much like the cold compression therapy. When applied, magnetic therapy products produce a magnetic field that deeply penetrates soft tissue and bone. Blood, passing through this magnetic field, separates charged ion particles and adheres to different sides of blood vessels. Positively charged particles then move to the negative side and the negative particles to the positive side of the vessels, thus creating a forced state of continuous movement.

“The magnetic products encourage circulation,” said Kulikowski, who prescribes magnetic products more for managing chronic problems, such as sore backs. “What you are trying to do by using a magnetic product is improve blood flow to the affected area. At this point, you’ve passed the acute phase of a ton of inflammation and you are trying to encourage the body to focus on the problem area and continue healing.”

So why does the continuous movement of blood vessels assist in creating a sounder horse?

As ion particles move, thermal energy, or heat, is produced. The magnetic pads in the various products have insulated foam layers, which trap the heat and distribute it throughout the affected area, increasing blood flow and bringing much-needed oxygen and nutrients to help speed the natural healing process.

“We use the magnetic blanket occasionally on our jumpers,“ said grand prix competitor Alison Firestone Robitaille, owner of Newstead Farm in Upperville, Va. “I feel it makes some of the horses calmer because they feel less sore and more relaxed after they wear the blanket. But not all horses react to it in the same way, so I really try to think about using it on a case-by-case basis. I find it’s great in a jam situation when I need a little added help before a big class, but I don’t feel it replaces more traditional therapies like chiropractic and acupuncture work.”

Back On Track

As another relative newcomer to the sphere of equine remedies, the makers of Back on Track products are trying to combine ancient Chinese experience with modern scientific findings. Elaine Schwarzer, who has been the head groom and barn manager of Mark Leone’s Ri-Arm Farm in Franklin Lakes, N.J., for nine years, notices a significant difference in the performance of her jumpers after using Back on Track.

“I first used the Back on Track knee wrap on myself, and we had a horse that had hock problems, so I tried it on him and it seemed to work. Now we have the wraps, hock boots and back pad. I put the back pad on the horses the night before a big class,” said Schwarzer, who added that since starting to use the ceramic products she’s noticed less of a need for routine hock and back injections. “I can also see a difference in the flexion tests done by the vet. The horses that I use it on just seem more comfortable.”

Back on Track products, like the various forms of magnetic therapy, strive to capture body heat and use it to expedite recovery from established injuries and prevent new ones from occurring. The products, like the Back on Track splint boots and blankets, are a blend of polyester with ceramic powder melted into the threads. Purportedly, the ceramic reflects body heat as an infrared wave, which can reduce inflammation, ease muscle tension and increase blood circulation.


Laser therapy was first used on humans, and now its usefulness is spilling over into the equine spectrum.

“I use the laser on acupuncture points in chronic injury situations when I am trying to stimulate a particular meridian,” explained Kulikowski. “It’s great in an FEI situation when it’s not easy introducing needles. I have seen a few horses that it’s really helped, especially when you can diagnose exactly what you are treating, but oftentimes I find that I have to use other therapies along with the laser to get the
best results.”

Used specifically on soft tissue injuries in which noxious chemicals are released in the inflammatory response, irritating free nerve endings and sometimes resulting in splinting and muscle and vasospasms, laser therapy works by dilating small blood and lymphatic vessels, thus breaking up the painful inflammatory cycle. The increase in circulation caused by use of the laser machine helps remove irritating inflammatory byproducts and results in accelerated healing and pain relief.

“We have two horses in the barn that we use it on almost every day,” said Lindsay Schiassi, barn manager for jumper rider Keean White’s Angelstone Farm in Cambridge, Ontario. “I feel it really helps take down wind puffs and relax backs. If I hit a good point, the horse’s eyes will shut and I can see his whole body relax, so I know it must be working.”

Category: Veterinary

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