From cold-water spas to vibration therapy, barrel racers invest much of their time and money in making sure their horses are healthy and happy. In Part Two of a three-part series, Barrel Horse News caught up with experts in the industry to find out the benefits of these various alternative therapies.
Alternative therapies range from a vast inventory of products and applications. They can provide proven healing, pain management and rehabilitation benefits. As our experts expressed in Part One, blood flow is key to the healing process, and the majority of alternative therapies regulate blood flow for the purpose of healing. Both cold-water or saltwater spas and vibration therapy such as TheraPlates are commonly used throughout the industry and provide many benefits to the working athlete. The differences in how they are used separately and in conjunction with each other, however, is where these modalities can be useful.
Cold Water Spas and Ice Therapy
Cold-water or saltwater spas trigger three basic reactions in the horse: 1) The metabolic response of the cells is reduced, decreasing the oxygen requirements to function; 2) Reduces the amount of fluid that develops in the injured area; 3) Serves as a numbing factor that acts as an analgesic. When salt is added to cold-water spas, it allows temperatures to be lowered farther than just water alone, plus salt acts like a poultice, drawing out inflammation and infection.
“I’ve had success with acute injuries like approximal suspensory tears that everyone has to battle and getting some of the tissue inflammation and tissue reduction down,” Marty Tanner, DVM , of Tanner Equine said. “We use the spas for tendons the same way. Basically, any soft-tissue injury where you have some edema or tissue inflammation in the lower limbs, the spa is a useful tool.” Knowing when and how to use cold-water therapy is paramount, Tanner states.
“Especially in an acute injury when you drop the temperature, you’re causing vascular constriction so you get less edema in the tissue. However, early on in a condition sometimes that’s a little detrimental, because sometimes that tissue will overreact and gets so swollen and so inflamed that you have to resolve that before you can begin the healing process,” Tanner said. “Those types of modalities [like cold-water spas] help tamper or somewhat control that reaction. The salt itself will actually pull fluid out of the tissue to help with the edema reduction, so all that pays off, because the more you can reduce the edema and fluid in the soft tissue, the lymphatics work better. You get better drainage to the legs and it creates a cascade effect of accelerating the healing process and keeping the inflammatory process to a minimum.”
Outside of acute injuries, spas can be used for daily maintenance and pain relief from arthritis, laminitis, sore muscles, wounds, skin infections and joint health. With daily maintenance, spas can often provide extended life to horses’ joints and even extend or eliminate the need for injections—in some cases.
“For chronic joint pain and chronic injuries, it causes some pain relief for those horses and keeps them more comfortable,” Tanner said. “It does twofold—for pre-performance it gets horses comfortable, but also one of the big bonuses it has immediately after performance is that it cuts the amount of post-performance inflammation that a chronic injury has to sustain. It helps maintain horses and lets their body recover quicker before the next performance.”
Like with human athletes, providing cool hydrotherapy or icing sore muscles is a great way to minimize inflammation and ease soreness for an equine athlete. Three-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier Sydni Blanchard agrees cold-water spas are beneficial for high performing horses. She says there are ways you can provide similar benefits without the cost of owning a spa yourself. “My dad used to be a football player, so we’re all about ice. I love ice—any way you can use it,” Blanchard said. “Hidez made what I think is the greatest invention—an equine compression ice sock that you don’t have to plug in, and it ices at the same time as it compresses, which just increases circulation [while reducing inflammation].” You can also achieve the same results in a do-it-yourself way with cloth or paper cups.
“You can even use an old pair of jeans and use ice wraps,” Blanchard said. “It’s the same thing we do with human athletes. You can fill up little paper cups with water, put them in your freezer and then tear off half the cup. Then you have an ice pack to ice their stifles that way.” Both experts agree that although cold-water spas have become a huge advantage to the equine industry, if you aren’t able to use this modality, any way you can reduce inflammation in your horse or provide pain relief—in or out of a spa— is a positive move for your horse’s health, both before and after competition.
“I had a horse that was claustrophobic, and he would have hurt himself [being in a spa],” Blanchard said. “Each person will have their own insight on [spa therapy and icing], but the main thing is to know your horse.”
Equine Vibration Therapy
Equine vibration and wave technology therapy, such as TheraPlates, provide a form of blood circulation, much like the laser, ceramic and magnetic therapy discussed in Part One of this series.
Theraplates and other vibration therapy products provide whole-body vibration that decreases inflammation, provides pain relief, increases bone density and muscle mass, increases joint mobility and flexibility, reduces the need for injections, increases blood flow and offers benefits for many hoof conditions.
“I think [TheraPlates] are a good warm-up type of therapy. Those help a lot of other injuries as well…it’s targeted to increase blood flow,” Tanner said. “I use that a lot actually—for example, Jess Harper helps me at the NFR, and she has a TheraPlate. We’ll put those horses on starting in the afternoon before the performance that night, and it loosens them up and gets the blood flowing. Typically that population of horses is a little older, so they have a few aches and pains. They don’t get to the NFR sitting in a stall—they had a lot of runs, a lot of miles, a lot of competition hours, and with that comes a certain amount of creaks and aches and pains. The TheraPlate is really good at relieving those and keeping the horse comfortable for the next performance.”
Blanchard also attests to the benefits a TheraPlate can provide. “I have a TheraPlate, and that really seems to work with horses that tie up or have any kind of feet problems,” Blanchard said, adding that she used the TheraPlate to help bring back her 2013 NFR mount Pure Victory Dash from a stifle injury.
Both Tanner and Blanchard agree alternative therapies are often best used in combination with several modalities. Although each therapy offers important benefits, their advantages are increased when used in conjunction with each other. Tanner says knowing when and how to use each form of therapy correctly is paramount to the horse’s health.
“With chronic injuries, we’ll put those horses in the spa daily, initially until we feel like we have the inflammatory reaction under control and then start spacing it to every other day, twice a week, once a week—those types of time frames early in an injury,” Tanner said. “After a point, treatment switches and you start going the other way to other modalities that increase blood flow [in a more] controlled method so you don’t cause soft tissue inflammation around the injury.”
Blood flow is how injuries heal, so after the initial inflammation is reduced, treatment transitions to increasing circulation so tissues can begin healing.
“Even after you put a horse in a spa and you cool that leg down, a lot of the time I’ll use temperature swings to increase blood flow [to heal the injury],” Tanner said. “After I’ve gotten some of the edema reduced by putting them in a spa, then I’ll turn around and [use a blood-increasing modality] to increase the blood flow and that way you don’t get the edema with it and the temperature swing will help stimulate the tissue.” Using one form of therapy won’t be a cure-all leading to your horse’s continued health and happiness. The entire horse’s body must be evaluated, but by using alternative therapies like spas, vibration therapy and ice, together, you can better address your horse’s health. “I think a lot of those modalities are useful. The fine line you want with these is the individual modality. Some of them are useful in getting that horse more comfortable so it can go perform, versus a therapeutic modality where I’m trying to heal something,” Tanner said. “Some of those products go both ways, like the spa. Just like in a human athlete, they’ll ice down for comfort before and after competition. It’s useful there, but it’s also very useful therapeutically.”
Blanchard agrees using alternative therapies together to increase the health and fitness of your horse is the key factor in any treatment you use. Blanchard’s favorite aspect of using alternative therapies is their ability to keep her horses healthy and performing their best without putting them through stressful surgeries or maintenance with medications.
“Horses love their jobs, and they know they are one of the best and they want to do it,” Blanchard said. “I never force my horses to do it—I don’t agree with drugging them to do it, but if I can make them feel better to where they want to do it, then I’ll allow them to. [Alternative therapy] is an alternative way to do it besides just drugging them to get by.” Click here to read Part 3.
This article was originally published in the July 2018 issue of Barrel Horse News.
Meet the Experts
Marty Tanner, DVM 2016 Zoetis Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Veterinarian of the Year Marty Tanner, DVM, has been a long-standing veterinarian in the barrel racing industry with more than 30 years experience in equine medicine. For the past 10 years, Tanner has traveled to the National Finals Rodeo to serve his PRCA and Women’s Professional Rodeo Association clients. Tanner continues to dedicate his life to the equine athlete at Tanner Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation in Millsap, Texas.
Sydni Blanchard is a three-time NFR qualifier, WPRA Rookie of the Year and barrel racing clinician. She’s earned more than $542,900 in professional rodeo earnings aboard great horses such as Famous Heartbreaker, Mr Famous Jess, First Flash Fire and Firewater Five, among others. As one of seven children, Blanchard developed a competitive edge playing sports with her siblings. That passion for competition transferred to her rodeo career. Blanchard also has a passion for the health and happiness of her equine partners, investing much of her time and money into their care. Over the years, she’s researched and tested many alternative therapy products and treatments, many of which helped prolong the careers of her pro rodeo mounts.