In Part 1 of this two-part series on Tom Meyers and equine physiotherapy, we learned how Meyers got his start, how he and Olympian Steffen Peters started working together, and how much credit Peters gives to Meyers for the health and happiness of his horses, including Udon, who was Peters’ mount when he won Team Bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. To read Part 1, click here. Equine physiotherapist Tom Meyers has spent the last 25 years learning all he can about various therapies for horses, from cold laser therapy, pulsed magnetic frequency (PMF) blanket therapies, massages, traditional Chinese medicine, acupressure, and more. He has taken courses, learned from other top experts, and studied with veterinarians for both small and large animals. But how does equine physiotherapy help the horses, especially those who experience the rigors of travel, and what advice does Meyers give to owners and riders?
Meyers first described how a treatment might work and what he does for great results. “The laser and PMF therapies increase blood flow through dilation of the arteries and help move edema and other toxins through the lymphatic ducts,” he explained. “This increases blood flow without increasing heart rate. Once this is accomplished, I check the muscles for any unreleased muscles or spasms and use direct pressure or massage strokes to complete the job.”
Meyers said that the cold lasers will relax horses about 99% of the time, whether it is a two-year-old racehorse or an 18-year-old dressage horse. “Light energy from lasers, if it’s in the infrared spectrum, has an amazing effect quickly on getting a horse totally relaxed and the endorphins, the natural chemicals in the brain, kick out to calm the overall situation,” he said.
Part of the knowledge that Meyers has is from working on so many horses. A typical day for him includes traveling to a client’s barn or to a horse event in California, and he sometimes travels up to 600 miles for a client. “I travel all the time,” he said. “I put on 30,000 miles a year on my car traveling California. Then there is the international work, the WEG and Olympics are always big years for the grand prix horses. Or I tour with the team horses to compete in Europe. I really do not mind the travel as long as I get some breaks at home on the farm in Rough and Ready, California."
"I love my work so much, it's not a job to me. And I travel, and people say, 'You haven't been on a vacation in 20 years.' Well, when you can go to the Olympics, you can go to Europe, you can go to Aachen, Florida, whatever. These are always nice experiences, nice horse events. I just feel really at peace."
And while Meyers travels quite a bit for competitions, so do his equine charges. He discussed what the effects of travel are like on a horse. “It’s physically just like a human traveling that much,” he described. “I personally think it takes a bit out of any athlete, horse or human. They can handle it pretty well, but it takes a toll. There’s no doubt that with a lot of traveling and being away from home in a new land and a new environment that the horse loses a little bit of energy here and there. So they’re no different than us. We get tired, and they get tired.”
Meyers adds that proper management of the horse is key to help them when traveling from show to show, especially if it involves international travel like it does with all the top dressage horses. Of course, since each horse is different, it can get tricky.
“You’ve got to have the proper breaks in between competitions. Some of them handle traveling better than others, but I would say most of your top horses, when they are put together in a situation like this, I think that they handle it quite well, because we are doing everything we can to keep the horse happy and fit and fed.”
The “we” Meyers refers to is the team of people that travel with the top competitors, such as the rider, the owner, the groom, the veterinarian, the farrier, the physiotherapist, and perhaps an equine chiropractor or others who are trying to optimize the horse’s health at an Olympics or WEG or a European tour.
When the team starts to notice a horse having a hard time with the rigors of the competition season, Meyers may do an extra therapy session so the horse can relax and de-stress. Or an extra vitamin or supplement may be needed, or the horse may need bloodwork or to have his metabolism checked to see if something physical is going on. Or a horse might get some time off if needed, especially in-between a big show season.
While Meyers refers to all that the team provides for the horse, he described the role the owner plays. “I haven’t met an owner yet that isn’t giving everything to their horse first before themselves,” he said. “The owners I have worked with seem to want to give to the horses first in life and to that horse’s needs, whether it be the feed, shoeing, having an extra body work or massage, a good supplement, good health care, good nutritional work ups. I think horse owners in our country and in our discipline, of that I’ve been mostly working in dressage the last 20 years, are just amazing and super in looking out for the best welfare they can give their horse.”
Meyers says it can take a while to build a working relationship with the owner and the team. He is quick to talk about the great communication and relationship he has gotten to develop from working with Steffen Peters for the past 20 years and with Akiko Yamazaki for the past 12 years. Yamazaki is the owner of the horses that Peters rides.
In the spring of 1995, when Peters called Meyers up to work on his horses, Meyers said he didn’t even know what dressage was. But he said he stuck with the discipline because of how dressage riders are so dedicated to the training of the horse and moving a horse up through the levels, whether it ever becomes a grand prix horse or not. Through Peters, Meyers has met and worked with Olympians Kathleen Raine, Guenter Seidel, and Debbie McDonald.
And slowly, as more information came out about the effects of physiotherapy on horses, many veterinarians started to embrace it, as did the competitors. “When you got results, and people did better or if they were at a very high level, and let’s say this kind of work on their horse started giving them an edge, then the word gets out. People started trying me out and using me, and I think too in that, it’s kind of a natural thing that if you’re a top competitor and there is a physio that can help your injury or give you some good tips on rehabbing. Most athletes, when they’ve had an injury, boy they want nothing more than to get back to that level and compete again.”
While Meyers has had a lot of success with the therapies he uses, he said he knows that it isn’t a miracle cure for every horse. “I might have some disappointments sometimes when I can’t pull some magic out of my hat and completely fix the horse where they are 100% sound or they can’t perform at the highest of their capabilities,” he shared.
He offers some advice for young riders and amateurs who are getting into the sport of equestrian. “My biggest advice I can give to an amateur or a young rider that is going to be serious about the sport of equestrian is to really, really educate themselves, not just on their riding, but on the complete care of the horse, because the more you know about your horse, every inch of your horse, how that horse feels when you are under saddle, how he feels when you’re off of him, how his personality is, how his mental state is, how to pick up on a physical problem that is starting to occur and you can feel it under saddle, that kind of information is invaluable to not only yourself, but to the other people concerned that are working with your horse.”
He advises that horsemen and horsewomen ask plenty of questions of their veterinarian or their trainer. He stresses that owners should understand horse health care and anatomy, “how a horse ticks,” and have an awareness about their horse on an ongoing basis.
When Meyers isn't working, he spends time on his 10-acre farm with his wife, Sami, as well as a 25-year-old Quarter Horse ex-racehorse, a 14-year-old gelding that was too big to be a reiner, 30 head of Southdown Sheep that his wife breeds and shows, some French Alpine dairy goats, two rescue ponies, and 20 feral cats that the couple rescued. He said he isn't much of a rider, but he does enjoy a trail ride now and then. His wife is a hunter/jumper rider.
"I'm really, really happy," he said. "If I can keep doing this, I just turned 62, and you know I can't see retiring. What would I do? When I come home and I get down time, I love being on the farm. I love getting out there and working on the weed eater, or the tractor, or the mower. I muck a lot of stalls between sheep and horses. To me, that's a day off. I like to watch the grass grow, and I like to watch the animals eat it."
And since Meyers has no plans to quit with his equine physiotherapy, that means a lot more horses will have the chance to feel better and be happier. And the next time that one of Steffen Peters’ horses steps into the ring and takes a ribbon, Meyers may be nearby, waiting to help that horse recover better and faster. Or he may have already had his healing touch on the horse. Either way, Meyers is an integral part of that horse’s team.
For more information about Tom Meyers, please visit www.tsmequinetherapies.com.