Horse and large-animal chiropractor Dr. Bill Ferguson pulls on Jack's tail, which he said helps work the ligaments of the horse’s spine. Horses, Ferguson says, are “rear-wheel drive.” - Bob Pennell

Tell me where it hurts

Dr. Bill Ferguson grabbed the horse's hind legs and yanked them, one at a time, straight back so they almost formed a line extending from the animal's body. The horse didn't even buck. In fact, it looked like he was enjoying it.

Ferguson is a veterinarian who performs chiropractic exams at the Rogue Valley Equine Hospital on Highway 62 in Eagle Point. He spent Monday morning working on Jack, a chestnut colored 10-year-old Russian Arabian.

Ferguson began the exam by having one of the nurses lead Jack in a jog around a circular pen so that he could watch the horse in action. Ferguson quickly noticed that Jack was hesitant to put pressure on his back right leg.

After scraping dirt from the horse's feet, Ferguson rubbed along Jack's back and pushed at the pelvic muscle.

"Horses are rear wheel drive, and he's not doing that," Ferguson said as he determined the cause of Jack's pain.

The concept of performing chiropractic work on horses has been around for a long time, according to Ferguson. It started in the early 1900s, but wasn't readily accepted until later.

"People that did work on animals were looked down on," he said.

In the '80s, the practice had a renaissance.

Now, it is common place for horses that race, jump or are ridden regularly to be treated with care similar to professional athletes.

Some veterinarians treat horses with acupuncture, including Dr. Heidi Buehner-McKenzie at the Allen Creek Veterinary Hospital in Grants Pass, and Dr. Elizabeth Kraft of the Kraft Mobile Veterinary Clinic. Some perform chiropractic and acupuncture exams on cats, dogs and llamas, too.

First exams at Ferguson's practice range from $95 to $120 based on the work done. Subsequent appointments are $65 each.

Jack's owner, Tracy Carey-Weston, has spent the past few years taking classes with her horse on riding in arenas. She said she likes to take him riding on trails. In the past, the pair would ride up to 25 miles in a day.

Over the past few months, she said Jack has gotten increasingly tentative.

"Jack licks his lips when he likes what the doctor is doing," Carey-Weston said of the mannerism her horse frequently displayed during the visit.

Ferguson continued his examination of Jack by pulling firmly on his tail. Then the doctor bent Jack's left hind leg up underneath the horse's body for about a minute. He repeated the maneuver on the other leg.

"This is a stress test on the hock and the stifle joints," Ferguson said, "and to a lesser extent the knee."

Ferguson moved away from the legs and started to work on Jack's neck and back. He grabbed Jack's head and pushed it so that his nose touched his side.

Then, he took Jack's head and placed it on his shoulder and thrust upward. The horse's neck let out a soft pop.

He quickly massaged from the neck all the way down Jack's back, before returning to each leg and firmly pulling on it.

"What we do shouldn't be painful," Ferguson said. "And if it is, we should be doing something else."

One of the main problems with practicing chiropractic on horses, according to Ferguson, is the ease in acquiring certification. Anyone can get certified in horse chiropractic with a weekend seminar.

"That's where people run into trouble," he said. "Some chiropractors do a lot of unnecessary work. My biggest frustration is these 'weekend wonders.'"

Shortly after finishing veterinarian school, Ferguson decided to narrow his focus to horses and other large animals. Seven years ago, when he decided to venture into chiropractic work, Ferguson spent two years taking courses on the practice.

Taina Glick of Talent was wary of people who were not professional veterinarians when she first considered having chiropractic done on her horses two years ago. Glick's daughter, Cobi Glick, rides in open show competitions around the Rogue Valley.

Taina Glick, who swears by the chiropractic work that has been done on her horses, said it is obvious when the animal isn't moving right.

"Their movements are so much more fluid after they get worked on," Glick said. "They can be a little difficult at first, but then they really enjoy it."

The Glicks were turned on to Dr. Tina Stewart, a veterinarian and chiropractor based in Eugene, by Cobi's riding instructor. Stewart travels into town about once a month to work on horses in the area, including Cobi's 6-year-old, Ryder.

According to Glick, Ryder enjoys his exams, and needs them on a regular basis.

"He's just a goof," Glick said. "He bucks and plays. Some horses just seek out ways to get hurt and he's one of them."

Following Jack's appointment, Ferguson worked on two other horses. He does about three chiropractic examinations on horses each week.

Jack's pain, according to Ferguson, was centralized in his hocks, equivalent to the human ankle, and wasn't a chiropractic issue. But working on its back can make the horse feel better, he said.

Of the three horses he examined on Monday, only one had problems that could be alleviated by therapy.

Ferguson said he would advise anyone considering chiropractic to have their horse undergo a lameness exam from a veterinarian first.

"If they find subluxations, then chiropractic can be a very valuable tool," Ferguson said. "It's important to get things properly diagnosed."

Reach intern Bob Albrecht at 776-8791 or e-mail

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