They say you can become an expert at anything if you do it for 10,000 hours. If that’s the case, the people at Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center can pretty much write the book on hyperbaric chamber therapy for horses.
Late last month, the Maryland facility passed 10,000 sessions on the odometer of its equine hyperbaric chamber. At an hour (plus) per session, that’s a lot of oxygen and a whole herd of equines – mostly Thoroughbred racehorses, but plenty of eventers and show horses too. Relatively new in horse sports, hyperbaric therapy involves a horse-sized pressurized tank, oxygen and a control panel that runs the whole thing. The horse goes in, the tank is pressurized, 100 percent oxygen is pumped in and the horse spends an hour in an oxygen-rich environment while monitored by a technician. Hyperbaric therapy is used in a variety of ways:
– To help horses recover from hard races or workouts.
– To help horses with lung damage or bleeding problems.
– To help horses recover from severe cuts or wounds.
Installed in 2008, Fair Hill’s hyperbaric chamber is utilized by horses on the grounds and by outside clients who ship horses to the facility for specific treatment.
“It’s predominantly the performance horses who use it on a regular basis – racehorses, eventers and things but we’ve also seen pleasure horses with lacerations and cuts and wounds,” said therapy center founder Bruce Jackson. “It doesn’t make them run any faster or jump any higher, but it does help them recover. It’s also really helped horses with lung issues, horses who tend to bleed. It can help heal delicate lung tissue.”
A typical course of hyperbaric treatment involves three to five sessions. A horse might go in three days in a row after a hard race, then every other day for four more days. More acute cases, usually involving laceration or wounds, require far more time but hyperbaric therapy speeds up the healing process dramatically – as evidenced by a host of before/after photos Jackson keeps at the ready.
“That’s the most visible thing it does,” said Jackson. “The healing it promotes is the proof. Seeing those types of wounds and how they heal, you can imagine how internal damage can heal as well. The best results come from horses that use it on a consistent basis.”
The 10,000th session was Julie’s Love, a graded stakes placed mare owned by Bobby Flay and partners trained by Graham Motion. The 6-year-old, an earner of more than $400,000, is a regular customer, a milestone and an example.
Horses normally require a mild sedative on their first trip to the chamber, but then grow accustomed to it. To the horse, it’s a round, rubber-padded stall that might seem a little strange at first. Technicians regulate the pressure from a temperature controlled room outside the chamber, watch the horse on video or through a small window and otherwise run the treatment program. While the chamber doesn’t quite run around the clock, Jackson said it’s common for treatments to begin at 4 a.m. and run until 11 p.m. He estimated the number of individual horses it took to reach 10,000 sessions at 800 to 900.
When the therapy center, a barn complex within the 300-acre Fair Hill Training Center, opened Jackson and his team considered many options. The hyperbaric chamber was high on the list, based on the science, though it was also a risk.
“It was a huge expense initially to do,” he said. “From the research we’d done, and the more people we talked to, it was something we felt could help horses and provide a good service and be good business. It’s not paid for by any means but we’re working our way toward that goal.”
Jackson and Floridian Buddy Jones are partners in the therapy center, while Fair Hill-based veterinarian Dr. Kathy Anderson is also a partner in the hyperbaric side of the business. While not common, there are other horse-sized hyperbarics in operation – at Hagyard Equine and KESMARC in Kentucky, the New Jersey Equine Clinic in Millstone Township, Cecil Veterinary Clinic in Port Deposit, Md. and Pegasus Training Center in Washington among others.
“We’re all looking for ways to improve the husbandry of the horses and to help them in any way we can,” Jackson said. “We have no real plans to expand at this location, but there’s certainly room within the industry to have more of them, especially if we’re going to get away from some of the medications we’ve been using. This is a way to help horses without medication and it’s proven to work.”
For more equine hyperbaric, see:
Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center website.
Hagyard Institute explanation about the science behind hyperbaric therapy.