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All in the Details: The Southern California Equine Rehabilitation Center

By Erin Gilmore

HydroHorse treadmill at SCERC

Spot had not recovered well from a recent surgery. What was supposed to be a relatively routine procedure took a very serious turn when the 13 year old Quarter Horse mare hemorrhaged in recovery and became severely anemic and septic. Her owner was facing a very long and difficult road; the mare would require constant care for weeks, maybe even months. Even then, the veterinarian’s prognosis was grim. There was only a mild chance that the top mare, a champion all around horse in western and English disciplines would ever return to regular work. The challenging recovery process would have been overwhelming for Spot’s owner; horsewoman Carol Lindsey of Westlake Village, to handle alone. But since the opening of the Southern California Rehabilitation Center in Moorpark, Carol and all horse owners on the West Coast have a new and valuable resource at their fingertips. Founded by a horse owner frustrated with rehabilitation care options, the SCERC guides horses, and their owners, onto a steady path to recovery.

Five years ago, Darci Richardson had a “light bulb” moment when her hunter pulled up with a bowed tendon, that nemesis of horse owners which would require months of careful rehabilitation. In her subsequent search for an exclusive rehabilitation service, Darci became disappointed with the availability of rehab facilities in her area, therein seeing a void that needed to be filled. She sat down with her husband Mark, a successful businessman, to draw up a five year business plan which outlined the creation of an exclusive, top class rehabilitation center: Darci left her successful career as a mortgage broker and returned to school, enrolling in the Global Equine Academy in Wyoming, where she studied equine science and management and completed a two year program to become certified in Equine Science and Management.

Next, Mark and Darci searched for the perfect property to house their rehabilitation center. The couple found 22 ideal acres in Moorpark after 12 months of searching different Southern California areas. They moved onto the property and spent an intense year renovating, building and personalizing the SCERC. No detail lost on Darci, who seemed to think with the mind of a horse as she designed the facility to levels of comfort most equines could only dream about.

Every Aspect Considered

Comfortable stalls and warm water in the wash racks are a given here. It’s the heated towel racks to hang coolers on, Stable Comfort stall mattresses and rubber lined walls with ant-cast strips in every stall, imported dust free shavings and specialized Orion lighting (designed for horses to simulate sunlight) throughout the barns that liken the Center to a human day spa and physical therapy center. Equine rehab equipment includes a custom built EuroXiser with crumb rubber footing, a high tech HydroHorse Inc. aqua treadmill, differently sized turnouts with non climb fencing, and a knowledgeable staff, at the helm of which is Darci’s exhaustive eye for detail.

The HydroHorse Inc. is a small marvel; a high tech combination of a treadmill, heated whirlpool and swimming pool designed to aid in the therapeutic healing, strengthening, conditioning and training of all types of horses. Unlike traditional swimming pool therapy, the horse can exercise in a controlled environment using its normal gait and the same muscles as it uses while exercising in it’s required discipline without undue stress or trauma.

It’s clear when Darci talks about the Center that she truly cares about the well being of every horse on her property. She designed the Center to function as efficiently and thoroughly as possible. Every procedure, change and non-change is documented for each horse: which medications were given, food and water intake and output amounts, notes on daily demeanor and exercise records. In addition to regular checks and turnouts, every horse is groomed a minimum of 20 minutes per day, which serves as a chance for Darci and her employees to examine each horse and keep close track of its physical and mental bearing. SCERC clients include show horses from many disciplines, and Darci prides herself on keeping every horse in show condition, with the aim of sending them home not only physically sound, but aesthetically ready to re-enter the competition arena.

Day to Day

However, competition was a far off goal for Spot, when she arrived at SCERC. Residual pain from her surgery caused constant colic like symptoms, and she required continuous monitoring. “In the condition she came in, she would have been lost if her symptoms weren’t caught right away,” remembers Darci. For three weeks the SCERC kept a constant watch over the mare, encouraging her to eat and drink and sometimes staying up all night with her. Slowly, Spot improved enough to begin workouts in the HydroHorse Inc., which helped increase muscle mass and gently let her cardiovascular system regain its strength.

Spot’s complications were unique to her condition, and although one would think that most horses come in for common colic recoveries or leg injury rehabilitations, Darci says that is not the case. She had 18 horses in for treatments at press time, with no two sharing the same condition. Clients come in for stem cell procedures, Ultrasound Therapy to recover from back strains, fracture recover, ringbone, and a variety of leg ailments. The list goes on to include everything other than contiguous diseases.

Working Hand in Hand

Darci always works in close confidence with every horse’s vet from beginning to end. As she says, “I’m not here to diagnose. I follow the vet’s instructions to the letter.” A stocked treatment room with non-shadow lighting is available for veterinarians to perform follow up procedures and exams.

Details small and large are truly endless. Although Darci employs a very competent staff, she is the only person to administer medications or give shots, and as an Equine Phsycial Therapist, she is busy giving treatments to the horses that need it. She also does all the follow up paperwork and consults with the veterinarians, and is at the barn 12 hours a day, seven days a week. At night she buries her nose in medical journals, researching different methods to further help her equine patients. “Our sole purpose is to rehabilitate and condition the equine athlete,” Darci emphasizes. “We set healing in motion and follow it through until the fully recovered horse is back to work and in better condition than every.”

Dr. Bradley Dygert of Progressive Equine Inc. in Camarillo, works with Darci and the SCERC when his clients bring their horses there for treatments. “They did their homework and then their work,” he says. “The facility is carefully thought out and fills a niche for Central and Southern California. Each patient is monitored as an individual with their own unique needs, and I know when I send a patient to them, my instructions will be followed.”

That Happy Ending

“Darci did everything she could conceivably do to help my horse,” says Spot’s owner Carol. “When the vets were telling me that it was day to day, Darci kept saying ‘we’re going to get her through this.’ She literally saved Spot’s life She cares so much, and the horses respond to that.”

After four months at the Center, Spot made a complete recovery and was able to return to full work. She returned to the show ring at the Scottsdale Sun Circuit Quarter Horse Show in late January.

The fancy fixtures certainly pull their weight in aiding with recovery, but it is Darci’s tireless efforts and huge heart that truly make the SCERC unique. “You have to look for what you can’t see,” she says. “Anything can happen no matter what anyone says. You can tell the horses want to work, and when they make a full recovery, you can see it in their eyes. That makes me stronger, and it makes me want to do more.”

SCERC is located at 9301 West Los Angeles Ave in Moorpark. To learn more about the Center visit www.rehabequine.com, or call 805-553-9701.

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