Saturday, April 2, 2011

Doing the Horse Story

It was a cold, January day in Ohio. I walked through the snow-covered mud toward the barn, in pursuit of my newspaper story. It was days like these that I felt lucky to be a writer; getting the chance to experience a world that I wasn’t familiar with. At the same time, I begrudged my working conditions and hoped that the snow, slush and mud wouldn’t keep everyone else at home since I had a deadline to meet.
I was there to meet Pat, a 17-year-old Founder horse who was about to receive her second round of acupuncture. The idea fascinated me. I’d never been a “horse person” and rarely came in contact with horses, so I was surprised to learn that they could benefit from medical/holistic treatments much like we could.
            Or so we hoped.
            The previous summer, Pat’s owner noticed her limping in the field. She had the farrier look Pat over, and he quickly summoned the vet. Pat suffered from laminitis; a swelling in the hoof that made it difficult for her to walk. I learned later that morning that Pat could barely even stand. If the acupuncture didn’t relieve her symptoms and help alleviate the pain, there was little they could do for the horse.
             Dr. Leick first checked Pat’s major pain spots. The horse was gentle and cooperative; much more so than many patients would be. Her pain was evident, and the veterinarian showed me the tension in Pat’s hind quarters from overcompensating for her bad foot.
            He ran his hands over her and noted tight knots that he felt on her rear hind quarter. Pat periodically raised her hurt foot as the doctor pressed and massaged her aching muscles. Then Pat started a chewing motion, which Pat’s owner told me means she’s comfortable. I swear if Pat could have articulated her reaction she would have said, “Ah, that hits the spot!”
            After Dr. Leick made some chiropractic adjustments, he checked Pat’s range of motion. He held a carrot to the right side of her head, and she followed it, bending her neck. Then he moved it to the left, and she followed it again. Finally, he baited her with the carrot by moving it down between her front legs. She bent her neck gracefully down toward him, and he finally let her have the carrot.
             “Good girl,” I cooed to her. I stroked Pat’s silky brown coat. I was quickly becoming attached to her.
            The doctor then opened his acupuncture bag and removed a series of needles -  some dry, other filled with vials of liquid like a syringe. He began inserting the needles along Pat’s legs at certain pressure points. Some went in along her hurt hoof, and some just below the knee. He stuck other needles into her rump and pulled out a box to stand on to begin work on her back.
            One by one, Dr. Leick began inserting syringes administering “aquapuncture.” These needles were inserted into deeper muscle in Pat’s stifles. She didn’t even flinch. The needles were filled with a B12 vitamin solution, and would remain in Pat’s back for about 10 minutes. Hopefully these treatments would help increase the circulation in the front legs which would, in turn, make the back legs more comfortable, too. The results would be gradual.
            As the veterinarian looked Pat over, I stroked her nose and looked into her soulful brown eyes. She seemed more relaxed already. I felt privileged to have witnessed the events of the morning, but my job here was done. The vet and I finally packed up our things and left the cold, drafty barn. I knew I would look for Pat whenever I drove by that farm. I hoped the treatment worked. Only time would tell.

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