Alternative Healing

The world of alternative therapy is growing and gaining in popularity. Is it right for the horses in your care?

Have you considered trying an alternative therapy to help keep your horses in top condition or to rehab an injury? There are a variety of treatments available, and it is best to discuss this with your veterinarian before deciding on a course of treatment. Then you may find that a non-invasive, drug-free method could be beneficial. Dr. Debra Powell has a PhD in equine nutrition and exercise physiology, and she is a certified massage therapist and has been trained in a variety of alternative therapies. Below is a list of the treatment methods she uses in her business, along with a brief description of each.


Massage therapy is commonly used to help improve performance and relax the animal. It can also increase mobility and range of motion. Massage can increase blood flow to the muscles, which hastens the elimination of wastes and toxic buildup from fatigued muscles. Alleviation of muscle tension and spasms can naturally increase the animal’s efficiency while removing harmful toxins from muscles and joints. Proponents also claim that massage therapy can improve flexibility, muscle tone, and range of motion.

Electrical Stimulation

This process involves placing electrodes at specific trigger points or the injured area and, depending upon the condition, delivers a low- or high-voltage stimulation to the nerves. The lower voltage stimulation allows for endorphin release and relaxation, while higher voltage stimulation allows for deeper nerve penetration and active muscle contraction.

Therapeutic Ultrasound

This treatment uses a form of acoustic energy waves. These waves act as a deep tissue heating agent and can penetrate as deep as five centimeters into underlying tissues without excessive heating of the skin.

Magnetic Therapy

For magnetic therapy, iron unipolar magnets are placed directly on the skin around the affected area. The theory here is that the magnetic field generated helps to increase local blood flow and therefore increase delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the injured tissue.

Laser Therapy

This treatment uses light energy, which travels though tissue and can be reflected, refracted, scattered or absorbed. Laser therapy is meant to stimulate the release of neurotransmitters, which activate cell functions without changing tissue temperature.

Acupressure and Acupuncture

This ancient practice uses acupoints and meridians to relieve a variety of ailments, including muscle spasms, muscle tightness and soreness. It is said to promote local blood circulation and release of endorphins necessary to reduce pain.

Therapeutic Taping

This procedure involves taping over and around specific muscles or muscle groups in order to give support or prevent over-contraction. Taping is used following massage in order to provide lasting results after a massage session. It also provides extended soft tissue manipulation as the horse moves. Taping is designed to help alleviate edema and pain by microscopically lifting the skin.

Pulsed Electromagnetic Therapy

This therapy uses electricity to generate a magnetic field. Proponents say the pulsating magnetic fields dramatically influence the ion exchange at the cellular level, which can improve oxygen utilization of diseased or damaged tissues. In addition, magnetic fields are said to be able to reduce pain sensations almost immediately due to increased oxygen partial pressure in the tissue and increased local blood flow within the capillaries.

How They Are Used

Dr. Powell has found that massage, electrostimulation, laser and electromagnetic therapies have been the most popular. “I use a lot of these therapies as a preventive with my active show horses. It keeps their muscles relaxed and toned, and their joints flexible. As a result the horse performs and recovers well,” she says.

Dr. Powell sees a variety of benefits with different therapies. She tells the story of one client who has an exceptional halter mare that always gave the farrier a hard time. She was so heavily muscled that she could not bend well. “So for her, I do relaxation massage and stretching, focusing on the kinesiology of her entire skeleton. I want her to become limber enough to be able to pick up her legs and be comfortable when the farrier maneuvers them.” The process has worked so well that the same farrier has her do other horses with the same issue, but Dr. Powell stresses that as with all therapies, she has to repeat it on occasion to make sure the results hold.

Finding Someone to Work With

Before having anyone work on your horses, you must have a goal in mind. Dr. Powell always tells her clients and potential clients that she is not a quick fix therapist. She evaluates the entire horse, including the environment that it lives in, how much it travels, what its diet is, etc. She does not believe in covering up an injury for performance’s sake. “If that is the client’s wish, then I tell them that I cannot help their animal.”

Once you decide to give an alternative therapy a try, how do you find someone who can perform these procedures properly? Dr. Powell recommends checking a person’s credentials first and referrals next. Further, do your own homework. “If the therapist cannot answer questions about anatomy or physiology of the animal, that should give you pause,” she says. “Good specialists should be able to specifically answer why they are doing what it is they are doing, what it is correcting, what may be some problems after the treatment, and what you should look for. All of the therapeutic modalities that I use, I understand what they do, how to use them, when not to use them, and when they need to be replaced. Continuing education is very important when it comes to doing what I do. Things change on a weekly basis and if I am to remain on top of things, I must be aware of everything.”

People performing alternative therapy properly understand and use all forms of therapeutic intervention, both conventional and alternative. Dr. Powell likes the ability to work with a veterinarian who is willing to try something other than conventional medications and surgery. However, she will not use any therapy that she is unsure of. She uses what she knows will work.






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