How very fortunate are the injured horses who find their way to Angie Hager’s mecca of equine rehabilitation nestled in the Paso Robles region of California.
Awaiting their sore muscles and tendons are coldwater salt spas, underwater treadmills, electrical-stimulation therapy, and many kind hands ready to gently take their reins and lead them from pain, back to health.
Hager, a part-time Three Day Eventer and licensed physical therapist with copious experience helping people overcome their various injuries and conditions, had a masterstroke one day: “I knew of horses in the hunter/jumper and eventing sport horse world who would be turned out in a field after they incurred a ligament injury,” she says. “People would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for these horses, and then wind up turning them out in a field where they became de-conditioned.”
With her years of physical therapy to call on, she recognized that ligament and tendon injuries heal better if addressed immediately, rather than being allowed to form scar tissue.
And in 2007, she applied that knowledge and the best practices learned helping humans, and co-founded Los Laureles Equine & Training, with the mission of healing horses.
Starting with an underwater treadmill and a 750-acre former horse farm, the horse world has since latched on to her good idea, as demand for her services has turned the center into a thriving operation. It concentrates on rehabilitating racehorses and ex-racehorses, and re-training those who will be sold on to new homes, for new careers.
“We like to bring in horses as soon as the injury has occurred. That way they’re a blank slate before the scar tissue has formed,” Hager says. “If we have a horse who has been standing in a stall or out to pasture for a year” they’re harder to treat “than a freshly injured horse.
“If we get them right away, we can take months off the usual rehabilitation time, and bring back a much better product. The horse will be better balanced and stronger.”
To avoid additional stress on their joints, horses exercise on the underwater treadmill and also walk on a European walker to ease them along the path to recovery, she says.
The most common injuries presented at the center include lower leg ligament injuries and deep digital flexor and suspensory injuries, she says.
A common course of treatment may involve a trip to the cold, saltwater spa to decrease circulation to the lower leg and pull inflammation out of the cells, she says, explaining that the salt water works on cells in a similar way that it does on potatoes. In salty water, the potato loses water from its cells in an osmosis process that causes the potato to get soft and flexible.
In horses, as the cells shrink in the cold water, circulation to the affected area increases, she says.
“We like to keep a horse in the salt water for 10 minutes, and after their legs get tight and cold, we may put them on a vibrating thera-plate, to help increase circulation,” she explains.
As injuries heal, horses are moved to the underwater walker to build strength and balance, and receive Functional Electrical Stimulation at another point, to ease out the “knots” in sore muscles.
With numerous success stories to her credit, Hager recently entered into partnerships with horse charities CANTER California and NeighSavers. She is offering NeighSavers free treatment on their injured horses, and a discounted board rate at their stables.
And, Los Laureles Equine & Training turned a project horse from CANTER California into a solid citizen, and a good prospect for future sport endeavors. Stoney Creek arrived in February with a bowed tendon. Following surgery, he was rehabilitated to the point that his prior injury is now a distant memory.
After he was restored physically, he started learning a new job with trainers at the center.
“The whole process took four months,” Hager says. “Now Stoney Creek is cleared for anything!”
As her facility bustles with activity, she has expanded to a second facility at nearby Templeton Farms, and is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a top OTTB sport horse named Ecko. The top-performing Thoroughbred, who recently qualified for Rolex, is not injured. He is simply coming for the spa treatment, to get loosened up, and have a deep-muscle massage, she says.
Ahhhh, how nice to be a horse in the care of Angie Hager!