The glorious blanket of roses draped over I’ll Have Another’s withers complimented his rich, red coat in the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle. His connections reveled in their moment of exultation. This year’s first leg of the Triple Crown consisted of firsts for horse and connections. I’ll Have Another was the first horse in 23 years to win the Derby after crossing the wire first in the Santa Anita Derby. He became the first Derby horse to win from the 19th gate and was the first contender for his trainer Dough O’Neil and owner J. Paul Reddam. Mario Gutierrez, hailing from a small-time Canadian track, not only rode his first Derby aboard I’ll Have Another.
Photo Courtesy of Tom Ferry
Three weeks before the Kentucky Derby, I’ll Have Another breezed six furlongs at Hollywood Park. The following day, he experienced tightness in the lumbar portion of his back and was treated with shock wave therapy to aid in pain relief.
Shock wave therapy is relatively new to veterinary medicine and has been growing into a popular treatment for multiple ailments in athletic horses. Medical practitioners began using shock wave therapy to disintegrate kidney stones in their human patients in 1971. Fourteen later, experts began venturing into research on shock wave therapy’s effect on bones.
In 1996, German veterinarians initially used shock wave therapy to treat lameness in a horse brought on by the ligament injury, suspensory desmitis (inflammation at the suspensory ligament’s point of attachment to the bone). A horse with navicular pain and osteoarthritis in the hock became the first horse in the United States to be successfully treated with shock wave therapy in 1998.
Two rather dissimilar types of shock wave therapy can be administered. The less-intrusive radial shock wave therapy (RSWT) assists in the healing process of some muscoskeletal injuries. It uses less pressure and has shallow penetration through the muscles and soft tissues. Extracorpeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) seems to be the more frequently-used treatments of the two. ESWT is focused on a very precise, small area during treatment and provides deep penetration, producing an analgesic (pain-relieving) effect and significantly increasing the speed of healing.
Regulations prohibit horses to compete for a certain amount of days following treatment due to ESWT’s analgesic influence. In North America, horses are not permitted to start anywhere from five to ten days depending on the state in which they compete, as every state has its own racing jurisdiction. However, British Racing Rules allow horses to run with treatment up until race day. Horses may be less sore after a treatment of shock wave therapy, but the injury still exists. Like phenylbutazone (commonly referred to as Bute – a drug horses are allowed to compete with in North America to a certain dosage), shock wave therapy in a sense masks the ailment and leaves the horse prone to injuring itself more severely. Precaution must be taken to ensure horses are not unknowingly put at risk, and experts advise a minimum of two day’s rest following treatment before a horse returns to work.
ESWT is frequently used as a short-lived solution to back muscle pain, as we see with I’ll Have Another. Shock wave therapy does not impact tissues between the surface and the site of treatment, and offers the best results when applied to ligaments – particularly where they attach to a bone. It is most commonly used to help resolve ligament issues including suspensory ligament inflammation. Shock wave therapy assists in the repair of tendon tears, as it improves fiber alignment as the tendon heals.
The anti-inflammatory effect produced by shock wave therapy interestingly lessens the quantity of pain-causing biochemicals. Treatment can not only enhance the formation of blood vessels, but also boost production of cellular bone morphogenic protein (BMP) influential in the bone’s healing process. One study even showed that an increased volume of shock waves weakened the protective barriers of bacterial cells, consequently decreasing the amount of bacterial cells in the horse’s system. According to Iowa State University’s Dr. Scott McClure, DVM, and leading researcher of equine shock wave therapy, treatment increases the cell walls’ absorption capabilities. (Trainer Magazine)
It can additionally be used on the dorsal sacral iliac ligaments. The sacral iliac joint is essential to a horse when coming out of the starting gates, as the energy accumulated when the horse shifts its weight to the hindlimbs travels down the back to this vital joint.
Shock wave therapy is costly and is administered via a box producing high-pressure, low frequency acoustic waves. This device is attached to a wand that is placed on the location requiring treatment. Shockwaves contain energy that is only released when they meet with tissue varying in thickness. When released from the shockwaves, the energy networks with tissue and generates natural curative systems. It also promotes osteoclasts – bone cells that help to reconstruct bones. One of the many benefits of shock wave therapy is the stimulation of blood flow, consequently reducing inflammation. Shock wave therapy must be administered with care, and should never be placed over cavities that hold gases such as the intestines and lungs.
Shock wave therapy is not the only entity that increases blood flow. Using light therapies stimulates endothelial light receptor cells to produce a greater volume of the nitric oxide generating enzyme, nitric oxide synthatase (NOS). Blood flow is promoted and surrounding nerves are affected when nitric oxide is released into the tissues. Nitric oxide is one of the multiple substances that can initiate the interruption of morphine receptors which results in pain relief. Many breeding farms use artificial lighting to arouse their mares’ pituitary gland producing the hormone that initiates follicle development and brings mares into season. There is no healthier source of light than the sun, but it has been proven synthetic lighting can not only artificially induce spring, but also aid in the health and soundness of active racehorses.
Using Infa Red lighting, in conjunction with other technological aids, Aidan O’Brien of the training empire Ballydoyle won both the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas last weekend with Homecoming Queen and Camelot respectively. It is believed some light receptors respond particularly to infa red energy. They react by increasing blood flow and removing heat from the area in focus. LED Infa red diode therapy is an effective treatment where a string of infa red diodes are directed at the afflicted area. Companies selling infa red diodes recommend positioning their product at points of acupuncture.
LED light therapy in particular has shown to be effective in the healing process of humans and animals. Navy members working on submarines are given LED light therapy to help heal injuries due to the lack of sunlight they are exposed to, causing injuries to heal slower. In one study, they healed over 50% faster than usual after treatment. LED light therapy promotes of DNA synthesis. DNA synthesis creates DNA for new cells and is also known as DNA replication because the original DNA strand multiplies into two in order to create another. Consequently, DNA synthesis stimulated by LED light helps to create new cells and hasten the healing process.
Cold laser therapy is an interesting treatment garnering positive results. Its recipients include the recent rags to riches star Blind Luck. The laser must be of the Class IV variety, as this type offers sufficient penetration through the tissues. The cold laser is supplied from a hand-held box and light is shined at the specific site of treatment for a short duration of time. Its particular light frequency stimulates adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which provides energy for the cells’ energy-consuming activities, consequently raising the horse’s cellular metabolism.
Niagara Equissage puts forth an array of products assisting in local blood circulation, reduced swelling, joint mobility, and lymphatic drainage. Likely their most popular item is the back pad sitting where the saddle is placed. The back pad sends forceful vibrations in three separate directions. The effects of the vibrations can be felt throughout the entire body and are scientifically proven to enhance the warm-up and cool-down process for racing and works. Various leading trainers around the globe such as Aidan O’Brien, Bill Mott, Dale Romans, and Freddie Head benefit from Niagara Equissage products. John Sherriffs’ horses receive this treatment on race day and Michael Matz puts it to the task before and after his horses start. Top English trainer, Ed Dunlop, stated, “I love the Equissage system. Its vibrating action promotes relaxation, reducing pain and muscle spasms, and enhances muscle activity and healing. I use it regularly on all my racehorses.”
The results clearly have a significant impact on a horse’s racing career, as proven by one mare during a three month period. Her improvement was measured by workout times, race results, Beyer speed figures, and heart rate measurements. Though track conditions vary from day to day, this mare was nearly half of one second faster in a five furlong work with Niagara Equissage than without treatment. Her post-work recovery in these breezes after five minutes increased from 71% without treatment to 85.5% with treatment.
She finished a two mile gallop after Niagara Equissage one second faster than a previous gallop while her average pace was a remarkable six seconds quicker. Considering that one second equals five lengths, the difference is staggering. Her feet traveled per beat enlarged one foot with treatment while her average heart rate was notably lower, dropping from 207 bpm to 196 bpm. Her stride size and heart rate show the obvious positive impact Niagara Equissage had on her stride efficiency.
In her two starts without Niagara Equissage, she finished seventh and eighth with Beyer speed figures of 34 and 35 respectively. However, this changed in her two outings preceded by treatment twenty minutes before coming onto the track. She finished first in both starts, winning with Beyer speed figures of 50 and 49. Normally, I don’t consider Beyer speed figures, but the differences in these ratings are tremendous.
As discussed earlier in my article, “MissionImpossible? Lasix and Conditioning”, technology is paving a path towards a brighter and safer tomorrow for horse racing. Trainers and owners can get more out of their horses with not just heart rate monitoring and high-speed treadmills, but also the aforementioned therapies that enhance soundness and lead to a more efficient racehorse. Technology gave I’ll Have Another the opportunity to be pain-free and in turn, be better prepared to give his strongest effort in the Kentucky Derby.