HydroHorse offers conditioning and rehabilitation for horses in horse treadmill systemsHorses benefit from Hydro Horse Treadmill Therapy
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A Center For Healing

Daniel Vernay and Sandy Hersman have made a sizable investment in their Grayson County equine rehabilitation facility, but it's the horses who have really taken the plunge.

One by one, all through the day, they are brought from their stalls, hosed down, then led down a ramp onto a stationary treadmill submerged in 52 inches of water, where an atten¬dant sets the pace on the Hydro Horse machine for a brisk and buoyant 15-minute power walk.

"It's good for the tendons and good for the heart," explains Daniel, a cer¬tified veterinary technician. "Unlike swimming, this is still a weight-bear¬ing exercise - but without the concus¬sion. Walking under water takes 40 to 60 percent of the weight off their limbs, while adding resistance to build strength.

"Swimming can be good therapy, too. But because horses swim with their hind legs hyperextended and their backs arched, it's not good for injured hocks, stifles or vertebrae. And since they swim with their forefeet cupped, you don't get the full range of motion as with a treadmill."

"The horses seem to enjoy it. They're getting exercise without pain. We've had horses from the track that were really on their toes when they came here. In 10 days, they were a lot more mellow and relaxed."

The routine runs three horses an hour, six days a week. Every five min¬utes, the water recirculates through three large sand filters. In the winter, it's heated to 80 degrees.

The horses in the 20-stall barn, located in Whitesboro between Sherman and Gainesville, are mostly Thoroughbreds from the major Texas tracks, with a few from Delaware, Kentucky and other states. Most are recovering from a variety of ail¬ments—bowed tendons, knee or ankle surgery for bone chips, even colic. Eye Opening Episode, a Quarter Horse that finished second in last year's All American Futurity, was one celebrity patient. Daniel follows veterinarians' instructions for 30 to 45 days of reha¬bilitation.

When the horses emerge from the treadmill, their forelegs are wrapped and they're led outside for half an hour on a deluxe walker. The circular Equine Auto Trainer, 70 feet in diameter, accommodates eight horses at a time. They are not tethered, but turned loose into individual 27-foot runs, separated by free-swinging mesh-wire panels on each end. The walls are of rubber, and the footing is deep sand. There is no risk of injury. When the electric power is switched on, the walker rotates like a carousel, at speeds ranging from a walk to a canter, and the horses begin their cool-down exercise. Twenty-four revolutions equal a mile.

"A horse trotting in a circle tends to lean to the inside and put more torque on those limbs," says Daniel. "So we change directions every seven minutes. It evens out the pressure on the legs."

Other services offered at Equine Health Care and Rehabilitation Center include alternative therapies (laser, electrical stimulation, magnetic and ultrasound), general physical condi¬tioning, sales preparation for yearlings, and lay-ups for horses between races. Sandy Hersman's 38-acre property around the corner, which has an eight-stall barn and five-acre paddocks, is ideal for this.

Sandy had met Daniel when he managed a stable in Carbondale, Colo., where she was riding with trainer Gary Day. She had grown up with Quarter Horses on a Western Slope Hereford ranch and had ridden competitively during her boarding school years in California and Arizona.

Daniel had left his family's vineyard business in the Rhone Valley of France to come to America in 1981. Although he had studied viticulture, he was a horseman at heart. At 27, he got a job on a Thoroughbred breeding farm in Maryland and later worked at race¬tracks there and in Florida. Interested in rehabilitation, he earned a veteri¬nary technician certificate at Colorado Mountain College, then followed with internships at prominent equine hos¬pitals in Colorado and Kentucky. Ear¬nest and meticulous, Daniel acquired a broad background in equine surgery, radiology, anesthesia, dentistry, even horseshoeing.

Sandy also attended Colorado Moun¬tain College, where she earned a degree in photography and won the Kinsa Kodak International Award in 1999.

A year ago, when a property in Pilot Point with an Aqua-Tred (similar to the Hydro Horse) came up for lease, Sandy and Daniel moved to Texas and started their business. A better opportunity arose this year on a former Western Pleasure show barn in Whitesboro, and Equine Health Care moved to its new home in late August.
Daniel is the barn owner and man¬ager, while Sandy handles the office, public relations, and the adjoining lay-up facility. Hooked on reining, she's working on her non-pro card with her Quarter Horse, Kip. Also stalled in the barn are Willie, a Mr. Impressive grandson and her all-around mount, and Rupee, her first Quarter Horse, now 36 years old.

Future plans call for an additional 10 stalls, a round pen for free exer¬cise, a 24-square-foot sandbox for the horses just to roll in, a swimming pool, and perhaps a name change.

"We're thinking about Selway Center," says Daniel, "after the Selway River in Idaho, where I spent many months working on ranches in the Bitterroot Wilderness. Selway, pronounced Sal-wah in the Nez Perce language, means 'sound of water flow¬ing.' It is a very special place for me.

"But don't ask me how to say it in French!"

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