Ancient and Modern, Eastern and Western, these are the combinations of medical practices used by an integrative practitioner. I spoke recently with Dr.Usha Knabe, an integrative veterinary practitioner, about her practice and her treatments for horses.
What got you started with integrative medicine?
I was qualified as a veterinarian and had always been interested in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. The turning point for me was my dog Tess. She had a herniated disk in her back and was paralyzed. She had surgery and came back from that and did well in rehab. But then another disk caused paralysis and she was now 14 years old . I did not think I could put her through another surgery. A client of mine had a German Shepherd that had responded well to acupuncture so I took Tess to her vet who was qualified in Eastern medicine and acupuncture. He treated Tess . She fell asleep and when he was finished, she stood up, did a whole body shake and walked off! She had three or four more treatments combined with Chinese herbal treatment and she was fine. I thought “Oh my God! this is incredible! How do I do this?”
What training did you do?
Other vets had recommended the Chi Institute in Florida for training and qualification in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine.
The Institute offers modules geared to working vets. I did the five modules which are a mix of online and onsite. So I travelled to Florida for the onsite and did the online lectures and labs as well. At the end of each module I had to write a test. The last module there was a physical exam involving acupuncture for dogs and horses . There was also a three hour written exam. In order to pass the exams I had to submit case studies and achieve a 75% or better result. This gave me a CVA which is Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist.
I also took courses in the study of the Chinese herbs and qualified as a certified veterinary herbalist. There are some animals who will not tolerate acupuncture so the herbs can help as they work on the same channels or meridians as the acupuncture. I did the Institute’s course in Tui-Na which is the Chinese medicinal massage. This is a very ancient practice and is also good for animals that will not tolerate acupuncture.
When you think about it Western medicine is very young compared to other medical traditions. And it is the herbs and the needles that are working on the animals. Animals cannot react to a placebo effect as humans can.
Have you had success with treating horses with integrative medicine?
Yes! When I had been working as a vet for four years I was introduced to Sharon Willoughby’s work in chiropractic in Chicago. She was frustrated by the fact that traditional veterinary medicine, at that time, had nothing to address problems above the horse’s limbs. She trained as a human chiropractor and transferred this to horses and had success. So I took the Chiro course, “Options for Animals”, and took all the modules. Sharon Willoughby did the lectures and would educate the human chiros and give them exposure to working with horses and the vets on the theories and practices of chiropractics. In the labs the vets and chiros would work together and help each other.
Initially regular vets were very dismissive but the clients would be happy when the animals would get better. Very early in my practice of chiro I had an amazing success.
I had a client, who had a Thoroughbred racehorse, that had got his leg caught in the starting gate in a race. He wrenched his pelvis backwards and the vets said they could not fix him. I said to the client: “I’ve just learned chiro for the back end of the horse. Let me try to see if I can help him. If he makes it back then you can pay me.” After the first treatment he went out and rolled, which meant he was more comfortable in his back. The pelvis started to get more motion and a month later, when I went to treat him, he was not there. He had gone back to the track! Down at the track no one knew about the chiro treatment. He started to workout and got better and stronger. Sooner than I would have liked the owner entered him in a race!
I was so nervous I had to watch the race on a screen in the canteen. At the start he didn’t gallop out of the gate. The jockey was so nervous that he might get a leg caught again he just had him trot out. Then he canters. Then he gallops and catches the back of the field. Then he gets to the middle! Then he gallops to the front of the field and he wins! I was leaping up and down. I was crying. And do you know what this horse’s name was? It was We’ll Fool ‘Em All.
He went on to have a successful career. The word got around and I was interviewed for the Discovery Channel. That was the start and chiro became more acceptable. I also got called in to look at Wando, who was the Canadian Triple Crown winner in 2003, and then I got interviewed by the National Post and Lloyd Robertson for CTV. Then chiro for horses really took off.
I thanked Usha for her time and…..just for the record…..she does chiro work on my horse Biasini and I consider it to be an integral part of his maintenance.