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Behind the Barriers With: The Acupuncturist

Natural therapies, such as massage, acupuncture, herbal medicine and Ayurveda, have fast become commonplace inclusions in our daily lifestyles. But did you know many trainers also incorporate natural therapies into their horse's routines to provide an holistic approach to their health and well being?

*Acupuncture provides the same benefits to horses as it does humans.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, all living beings are a road map of energy conduits that carry energy around the body. Any interference to that energy flow can disrupt normal function, leading to ill-health. Acupuncture involves using thin needles to stimulate specific points to detect and reopen 'blocked' energy flow along these conduits, therefore re-establishing normal body functions. This can alleviate pain and many physical and mental conditions.

On a recent visit to Rosehill Gardens in Sydney, I caught up with Rachel Wilkinson from RW Equine Acupuncture to find out a little more about this alternate therapy.

What benefits does Acupuncture provide a horse?

Horses are natural born athletes and Acupuncture helps relax muscles and help overcome soreness. Horses get energy blockages along their meridian lines and Acupuncture encourages qi (energy) to run through the body as it should. There are a variety of points to help with issues such us muscle tie up, laminitis (hoof tissue inflammation), hip, joint, knee and back problems, as well as hormonal imbalances.

How long have you worked in the racing industry and what first attracted you to working in it?

I've been involved in the racing industry for quite some time, as both my parents were jockeys. My mother gave up riding when she had me and my father stopped race riding after he had a bad fall. After a few years off, he obtained his trainer's license and had a small number of horses in work. I would go and observe them working in the early mornings in the freezing climate in Tasmania!

After completing high school, I worked at a local cafe in the mornings then helped my father in the stables in the afternoons. Our family eventually moved to the Gold Coast and I was soon working for trainer Gillian Heinrich. It was here I had the pleasure of working with well respected veterinarian Dr Tanya Geisel BVSc. I spent a lot of time holding horses as she treated them with Acupuncture, and found myself intrigued and impressed with both the practice and results.

What sparked the interest in practicing Equine Acupuncture?

I have always been interested in the veterinary aspect of the racing industry and probably through luck I found myself associated with Dr Geisel who was very informative and always willing to pass her knowledge onto me.

For 5 years, I've been based in Sydney working for trainer Gerald Ryan. My relationship with Tanya has continued throughout this time as she regularly flies down to treat the majority of the stables horses as well as mentor myself. Tanya has been treating horses with Acupuncture for over 20 years and after a discussion with her where she mentioned that one day she would want to wind her operation down and suggested I would be a more than capable of taking over from her. It was here it became obvious that something I had an interest in, could also provide me with an alternate way to earn a living.

I've been studying acupuncture ever since (both the theory side and practical side) and considering my passion for the thoroughbred, what better way to to help a racehorse than learn and practice a method that will assist them to reach their potential physically. I will look to take over from Tanya in the near future and I get a great sense of personal satisfaction in seeing the reactions you get from the horses themselves and also from the people riding them!

What kind of training is required to become an Equine Acupuncturist?

There is a lot of study involved in learning to Acupuncture horses as you have to learn both the anatomy of the horse, as well as learn the meridian lines and how to feel for the points on a horse and insert the needles correctly.

Looking at a diagram of where a point is and then locating and treating that point on the horse itself are two very different things, but as they say, practice makes perfect, and it does come become second nature.

If not performed correctly, what kind of affects or injuries can occur?

Obviously the horse will still be sore if the Acupuncture has not been performed correctly. There must be a very good understanding of the anatomy of the horse so the needles are in no way near any areas that may cause any damage. There are some Acupuncture points you would not work on if a mare was in foal or if you suspect a fracture or break as it can make matters worse.

How do the horses react to having needles stuck in them?

Every horse is different and each individual will accept the process differently. Most horses will enjoy it, but first timers can have adverse reactions as muscles spasms, which may cause them to kick out or be a little uncomfortable to begin with,but they all seem to get used to it relatively quickly.

You have a young child - how do you juggle the unusual and long hours of the racing industry?Whilst I don't have any of my family in Sydney, I'm very lucky to have my very supportive partner Sterling, as well as great close friends who all love to help out where they can and get behind me and my new business venture. I've also got a babysitter who assists with the early mornings and is happy to help work around some of the unusual hours that are involved. I also wouldn't be able to juggle my main work duties, study and practical Acupuncture without the ongoing support and encouragement of my boss, Gerald.

To find out more or arrange a consultation for your horse, contact Rachel directly via Facebook.

*A selection of horses Rachel is currently treating on a regular basis at Rosehill, Sydney.

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