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The Power of R&R for Horses

The Power of R&R for Horses
By Christa Lesté-Lasserre
 
Sometimes rest is the best recipe for recovery
 
Deborah Hamel is in the business of rest. On a spacious farm in Normandy, France, she provides injured horses a place to recover. She tends to their needs with conservative therapies such as hydrotherapy and cryotherapy (icing), and her Phoenix Farm just won the Normandy Horse Council’s 2019 Equi-Projects Business Creation Prize for her efforts.
 
“The idea is to care for and recondition these (convalescing) horses … mainly sent to us by equine veterinary clinics that support the concept,” Hamel says. “But, of course, we also welcome those that just need a restful break in the great, green open.”
 
This kind of rest and recovery facility isn’t just attracting the attention of regional award councils. It’s representative of equine veterinarians acknowledging the importance of rest in the healing process. As veterinary medicine progresses, it brings more advanced clinical and surgical therapies for our horses. But often, our sources say, we just need to give Mother Nature the time and conditions to work her magic.
 
The Science of Healing
 
This story isn’t about simply healing injuries; it’s about healing them well.
 
“It’s like getting a gash in your hand,” says Elizabeth J. Davidson, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, ACVSMR (Equine), associate professor of sports medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square. “You could just let it heal with time, but the scar is going to be big and ugly. If you went to a doctor and got it sutured up, though, it would leave a thinner, more cosmetic, and probably more functional scar.” Scar tissue, she reminds us, is tougher and less elastic than healthy tissue, so minimizing it can help restore proper function to the injured area.
 
“Tendons, ligaments, muscles, and even bones are much the same,” Davidson adds. “The injuries are actual tears or breaks, and you want to get those tissues to heal as neatly as possible, to ensure that they not only look good but function well.”
 
Invasive techniques such as surgery and biologics injections (e.g., stem cell, platelet-rich plasma [PRP] treatments) can promote adequate healing. But so can well-planned periods of rest following ­science-based ­recommendations—­because certain body tissues heal very well on their own, says Santiago ­Gutierrez-Nibeyro, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, ACVSMR, an equine surgeon at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, in Urbana.
 
“The body has an arsenal of stem cells and other cells ready to just jump in and replace torn tendons, stretched ligaments, broken bones, and more,” he says. “Time off is us letting the body do its job.”
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