Several months ago, my local dressage GMO hosted a benefit event for our local horse rescue, the Horse Protection Association of Florida (www.hpaf.org). One of the fundraising activities was a raffle in which several horse-related services and items had been donated as prizes. The “grand prize” was a week-long stay at KESMARC-Florida (http://kesmarcflorida.com), which is an equine sports medicine facility located in Ocala, FL. One of the many therapy services they offer is the Aquatread (underwater treadmill), which is excellent for strengthening and conditioning the equine athlete. I had my eye on this grand prize, so thought I would increase my chances of winning by purchasing 10 tickets. Well, my strategy worked and I actually won the grand prize! I was so excited, because I travel quite a bit and sometimes it is hard to keep Roman (my FEI dressage horse) in shape while I am away for more than a few days. I also knew that the change in routine would be good for him, as all horses need variety in their training program for both physical and mental reasons.
I must say I was a little nervous about leaving Roman for a week, simply because he can be a little sensitive to changes in his environment. But the manager, Lee, made me feel comfortable about bringing him and didn’t seem to mind when I insisted on bringing his own feed for the week. She also offered to let me watch as they trained Roman to the Aquatread for the first time. This made me feel more comfortable; I definitely wanted to be there to make sure he handled this new experience well.
When I arrived at the beautiful facility (the property was formerly a Thoroughbred breeding and training farm), I was greeted by Brittany, Roman’s “person” for the week. All horses at KESMARC are assigned to a specific person who will groom, feed, and pay extra attention to them on a daily basis. I was relieved find out that Brittany was a 2nd year veterinary student at the University of Tennessee, and I felt like he’d certainly be in good hands. After unloading Roman’s feed and going over my long list of instructions (I admit it, I am an overprotective horse owner), we were ready to hit the treadmill. We headed to the Aquatread room, where I passed Roman over to the experienced staff who patiently and methodically introduced him to this big water-filled chute (the Aquatread), which he was not especially fond of at first. I was very impressed with how they approached this process, and in no time Roman was walking through easily. Once he was comfortable standing in the water on the belt, they hooked the chest bar in front of him and turned on the treadmill. It was pretty awkward for him at first (what would you think if you were standing in a pool and the ground starting moving underneath you?), but he started to catch on fairly quickly. Once he got into a rhythm, it was amazing to see how the muscles over his back were working. I took a short video of the experience, and I am happy to share it here!
I left that day feeling comfortable that Roman would be in good hands. I let Brittany know that I’d like to get an email update sometime during the week. Little did I know that Roman himself would actually be able to compose and send me a personal update! His “update” was so clever and hilarious that I must share an excerpt below:
So…I must admit I wasn’t that fond of the idea of letting you go to Denver without me. Though as time has passed, I am “tolerating” this place more and more each day. I will graciously allow you to leave me here whenever you please!You will be pleased to know that I’m still working hard for you in the aqua treadmill each and every day. After the 15 min of hard work, the real fun begins! That’s when the girls arrive! They make our time apart okay! The girls are awesome! They LOVE LOVE LOVE me! These girls can’t keep their hands off me! They fight over who gets to hand walk me everyday! They come in hoards and stand by my stall and gawk at how amazing I am, they groom me EVERYDADY (as an excuse, of course, to put their hands on me ;-) and and and I’ve got them thinking that I’m “sooooo sad and homesick that I can’t stomach the idea of grain.” Man, grain tastes so much better when lots of pretty girls are feeding it to me out of their pretty little hands!!!!!! ;-) This is the life! I always knew I was meant to be a rock star!!!
After reading this, I knew Roman would be just fine. And I suspected that in addition to a successful veterinary career, Brittany may have a future in some type of equine-related creative writing!
When I returned a week later, Roman seemed very happy and content. He looked great, and it was nice to be able to bring him home and resume training immediately. We’re gearing up for a big show in a few weeks, so a week out of work would not have been very good for our program. But with the conditioning he received at KESMARC, we didn’t miss a beat. And I think our medium trots are now better than ever! Thanks KESMARC!!!!
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