Article by Annie Lambert Photos by Deanna Sparks Kjorlien
Vvvvvviiiiiibbbbbbrrrrrraaaaaattttttiiiiiinnnnnngggggg! Popular in Europe and Asia for more than a decade, Whole Body Vibration (WBV) has become a fast growing phenomenon in the United States over the past two years. Americans jiggle their bodies to improve fitness levels, boost athletic performances and aid with physical therapy and health issues, and now, thanks to Mary Knight, of Glendora, Calif., horses can also enjoy the benefits of vibrating.
Knight, who is 60, has spent her entire adult life in the Thoroughbred racing industry. In 2007, she was manager of Pegasus Thoroughbred Training Center for Dr. Mark Dedomenico, owner of the Pro Sports Club in Bellevue, Wash., one of the largest health clubs in the world.
“Dr. Dedomenico had these Whole Body Vibration platforms at the club,” Knight says. “Apparently, the guys that lift weights on these platforms have 25 percent more efficiency. They bulk up faster and feel it really helps them.”
Knight’s husband of 35 years, Chay, has Parkinson’s disease, so she bought a VibePlate WBV machine for their personal use after learning the therapy had benefits for people suffering from several types of ailments.
And then she began thinking outside the box.
“Learning about all the issues the VibePlate helped, I had it in the back of my mind it would be good for horses,” Knight explains. “Confined horses, especially layups, spending 23 hours a day in a stall have their circulation compromised by their inactivity. They suffer from serious bone density loss, so I thought it would be great for them.”
“It stimulates everything in the body, which is what you want,” Knight adds. “Horses living in a stall full-time is tantamount to us living in a coat closet. For horses in a controlled environment, I do believe the VibePlate has bona fide therapeutic value.”
To the Moon
The Russians and Americans initially developed whole body vibration technology—a form of biomechanical stimulation—during the 1960s for their space programs. Living in zero gravity for even a short period of time was causing astronauts to rapidly lose a significant amount of bone density and muscle mass. With no gravity to push against, bones and muscles get the message they are no longer needed.
Soon, space scientists shared their findings with medical scientists and more research was explored. WBV machines started appearing in hospitals and rehabilitation gyms. It was revealed through clinical studies that joint injuries required shorter recovery times. Overall, the technology was found to simultaneously tone muscles, improve flexibility and build bone density.
From there, scientists and medical researchers developed vibrating platforms. Their research balanced the safety and usefulness of varying vibration speeds and established a range of vibrations per second (Hertz), which produced healthy results. The effect of WBV exercise and therapy on conditions such as osteoporosis, ankle and knee injuries and joint pain were investigated.
“Athletes, the elderly, stroke victims and patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, scoliosis, arthritis, rheumatism, emphysema, cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s disease have all benefitted from WBV therapy,” Knight informs. “It has reduced pain, improved flexibility and increased range of motion, circulation [blood and lymph], muscle coordination, balance and stability.”
Presently, scientists are continuing to discover positive outcomes for other problems, including fibromyalgia. Sport medicine professionals have expanded the studies into athletic performance, as well. Athletes using WBV training techniques reportedly became stronger, moved faster, increased their endurance and experienced swifter recovery from fatigue.
“Improved circulation is one of the immediate effects of WBV,” Knight says. “This is achieved by the rapid, involuntary contraction and relaxation of muscles—30 to 50 times per second. Since horses are often confined to stalls the vast majority of the day, anything that could improve circulation would be of significant benefit to them. Increased blood flow improves oxygenation of the tissues, removal of toxins and metabolic waste and enhances the body’s ability to heal itself.”
“When you’re walking around the county fair, your feet can get to feeling so bad because all the blood is congested down in your lower extremities. They often have those little [vibrating/massage] machines for your feet. The motion creates circulation, and it makes you feel better. I figure the WBV does the same thing for a horse standing in a stall.”
With the thought that that WBV could be an asset to the horse industry, Knight got on the Internet and began researching the benefits of vibration technology. What she found was “a great deal of information attesting to what the technology does.”
It was not just muscle mass and bone density that showed marked improvement.
“Research has indicated an increase in levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin as well as increased hormone production such as Human Growth Hormone, testosterone and Intrinsic Growth Factor 1 after vibration,” Knight says. “People who use the platform have expressed a general feeling of well-being, possibly due to the increase in hormones generated by the vibrations.”
Because VibePlate made flat vibrating platforms, Knight worked with the company’s owner to develop the prototype for a WBV machine that would suit the size and weight of a horse up to the size of a Thoroughbred. She’d like to build a slightly larger machine to accommodate Warmbloods in the future.
“My machine is the only one that I know of for horses,” Knight says. “The horses that get on it absolutely love it. They almost get mad at you when you turn it off and take them back to the stall. They really look forward to it.”
Currently, Knight’s own machine is set up at Winner’s Circle Farm in Bradbury, Calif., and she is putting seven horses on the VibePlate daily for different customers. The base of the machine is 40 by 80 inches and it weighs 500 pounds. The present cost of the machine is $6,500, a reasonable expense when compared to other equine therapeutic technologies.
“There are two motors and separate controls for the front and back vibrators,” Knight explains. “Because the front end of the horse is so much heavier than the back end, I alter the frequency of the vibrations under the front legs every few minutes. The tingly feeling generated by the vibrations tends to cause them to paw like it might bother them a little bit. I just alter the vibration and it seems to mitigate that. For some reason the horses don’t seem to get restless in the back end.”
Under the hindquarters, Knight sets the control at 30 or 40 Hertz, and she may vary those numbers from day-to-day, but not during the course of the treatments, like she does for the forequarters. The amount of time and Hertz frequency vary by horse at each session.
“The sessions are generally just 10 minutes a day, and on certain horses, I sometimes do two sessions per day,” Knight says. “I’m hoping people who use the machine won’t overuse, misuse, it. I can see two 10-minute sessions a day, but more isn’t always better.
“The vibrations are vertical, not side to side, because the whole idea is to simulate a step. Practically every vibration, and there are a lot of them, is the same as a horse would feel if he just walked along and hit the ground.”
The lack of bulk and low profile of the VibePlate makes it easy to set up, and it does not take up a lot of room. It is also very safe to operate due to its simplicity.
“A stall would be the safest, most practical place to position the VibePlate,” says Knight. “But, it can be placed on any flat surface that allows enough room for horse and handler to stand comfortably away from traffic or any activity that would scare or distract the horse.”
“I don’t see how you can get into trouble with this machine,” Knight adds with a smile. “The horses readily walk right onto the machine, much like they’d load into a van, and when I turn it on, they don’t even flinch. I turn it on low and then crank it up a little bit. They just seem to relax and enjoy it.”
Tingly Warm Up
Because the vibrations simulate the physical steps a horse would take, the VibePlate is similar to a training warm up. Knight believes if she were currently training horses at the racetrack she would be using the technology prior to gallops.
“If I had a stable, I’d have one at the barn,” Knight says of the VibePlate. “My older horses or horses that had issues I’d probably put on it twice a day. Just let the grooms do it, just like they’d hold them in a turbulator or in ice boots.”
Dr. Patrick Sheehey, a friend and bloodstock sales client of Knight’s, bought a VibePlate for his trainer at Santa Anita. So far, the machine is getting two thumbs up.
“They tell me they’ll tack up their horses, put them on the machine for 10 minutes and take them to the racetrack,” Knight says. “The trainer, Carl O’Callahan, gallops his own horses and claims the difference in his horses are night and day. They are already warmed up.
“The vibrations stimulate the muscles, blood vessels and arteries, which improves the circulation right away. Plus, it releases the hormones and serotonin so these horses feel good. They are kind of loose and happy and warmed up. That 10 minute session saves your horses from going out to work being stiff and uncomfortable.”
Horsemen using the VibePlate have found it a practical and healing asset for their equine athletes and continue to explore additional benefits, according to Knight.
“Many of the vets think this machine will be good for bucked shins and bone remodeling,” Knight points out. “I don’t know that I’d put a horse that had an actual fracture on it, but there might be merit for that. An exercise rider with a non-union in her lower leg due to a bad orthopedic surgery started standing on it daily. She had been laid up for 10 months with no bone growth. I don’t know how or why it worked, but after starting on the VibePlate, the non-union started to mend together.”
In a very “unscientific test” on one horse, Knight measured the hoof length of a freshly shod horse, assuming the hoof would grow approximately one centimeter per month during winter months. Thirty days later, the hoof measured 1.34 centimeters, which Knight felt was significant.
“I believe the extra growth could have been from the added circulation created by the VibePlate,” Knight says with a shrug. “It was just the one horse, but possibly an indicator. If I was working at the farm full-time, I’d do several studies.”
Knight also believes the vibrating motion and contractions will be good for tendon or suspensory injuries that are treated with Platelet Rich Plasma or stem cell injections.
WBV, says Knight, is a non-pharmacological intervention for loss of bone density and enhancement of circulation. It is widely accepted for human use by health and fitness professionals and for medical and rehabilitation, sports performance and anti-aging specialists.
“This treatment modality is ideally suited for horses who are confined to stalls for most of the day,” Knight reiterates. “The significant beneficial effect of treatment has been well demonstrated. Its potential for enhancing the performance of the equine athlete is immeasurable.”
About Mary Knight
Mary Knight was raised in northern California within a non-horse family. She started her career with horses as a hot walker, but she worked her way to exercise rider and became a successful trainer. As a respected marketing and sales agent, she also owns and operates Mary Knight Bloodstock. Knight is now back in school, this time working toward a degree as a registered veterinary technician. Knight and her husband of 35 years, trainer Chay Knight, reside in Glendora, Calif.
Annie Lambert is a veteran journalist based out of Springville, Calif. E-mail comments on this article to [email protected].