Equine therapist Dianne Volz of Equine Therapy 502 has poked, massaged, lasered, iced, vibed, light-illuminated, ultrasounded and Chi'd virtually every square exterior inch of some of our top Thoroughbred racehorses, and she seems to agree: they've been pretty good for her, and to her.
Dianne's job is to work for top trainers like Todd Pletcher, Kieran McLaughlin and many others to keep the top stakes horses supple and comfortable. Working under their direction and interacting with veterinarians and horseshoers, Dianne and her team use equipment adapted from human athletes' sports trainers.
This month, while hard at work at Saratoga Racecourse in New York, Dianne completed a video produced this spring in Florida by Amanda Roxborough's Kylar Productions.
Things are buzzing in the morning at Saratoga, but they're really buzzing when Dianne shows up and plugs in her machines. She arrives with power packs, cords, extensions, and sensors hanging over her shoulders, and is greeted by superstar stakes winners with nods and head tosses and nickers.
They're all "baby" and "handsome" and "sweetheart" to Dianne, who coos to these legends of the turf the same way a Pony Clubber coos to her horse. Most grooms and hotwalkers hardly look up, while others are intensely interested in how the horses they care for are reacting to the sessions. Exercise riders offer comments or ask questions. In between horses or stables, Dianne keeps records, makes notes, returns phone calls.
For a session with Dianne and Vicky, as shown in this video, a horse may need a halter and a leadline, but don't expect to see lip chains or an exhibition of draconian restraint techniques. The horses are voluntary participants in their therapy. As with all things at the racetrack, it becomes part of a routine, repeated at predictable and regular intervals.
What you find in the back of Dianne's Subaru station wagon parked behind Saratoga's Oklahoma Track this month might be similar to what you'd find in a professional sports team's training center. But Dianne brings her tools to the horse and works right in the stall, where the horse is right at home.
She has quietly worked behind the scenes with leading trainer Todd Pletcher for 17 years. Her use of Equi-Tape (a variation of kinesiology tape used on human athletes adapted for use on horse hair) on the two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan made racing press headlines last month when he appeared on the training track with the tape in place.
Equine therapy is a highly specialized career option. As Dianne mentions in the video, Midway College in Midway, Kentucky offers a training program. Last week, Midway announced a re-organization of its degree programs with the establishment of a new School of Business, Equine and Sport Studies.
At Midway, students may earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Equine Studies with a concentration in Sport Horse Rehabilitation, which requires courses in equine rehabilitation, exercise physiology, clinical integrative performance, eastern medicine, and nutrition/pharmacology in addition to core equine studies courses such as anatomy, behavior and farm management.
Equine Therapy 502 will be pulling out of Saratoga soon. Dianne returns to Churchill Downs and Keeneland for the fall Kentucky race meets, and to prepare the elite runners training there for the Breeders Cup in November. Victoria Rose will be doing the same for the fall meet at New York's Belmont Park. Veronica Caravella works Monmouth and Belmont and Jane Turner works Saratoga and Hot Springs.
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