Where horses get TLC in Penn Valley | TheUnion.com

Where horses get TLC in Penn Valley

Facility manager and equine therapist Alyssa Mayo, left, and therapist Cedar Hatch lead Beamer, a four-year-old cutting horse, in the AquaPacer for conditioning at West Coast Equine Sports Therapy in Penn Valley Thursday morning. AquaPacer is like a treadmill under water used for injury recovery and conditioning.
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union


West Coast Equine Sports Therapy

Cathi & Alyssa Mayo, Owners

19600 Kneebone Court

Penn Valley

(530) 432-9531


In 2007, Cathi Mayo realized her dream of buying a young Quarter Horse colt talented enough to compete in the most prestigious cutting events.

Cutting is a physically-demanding competition in which a horse and rider team “cuts” a calf from the herd and then is judged on how well the team blocks the calf from returning to the herd.

“My horse’s right foreleg toed out slightly, which made him susceptible to tendon strains,” recalled Cathi, noting that cutting horses are elite athletes that endure bone-jarring stops and sharp, lightning-fast turns. “When he would hurt himself, the vet would prescribe six weeks of stall rest followed by six weeks of hand-walking. We did that three times, and it was frustrating.”

About that time, Cathi received in the mail a promotion for the AquaPacer, an underwater treadmill used to heal injuries and condition horses.

“I thought, ‘That would be the perfect thing for my horse’ and I wished my trainer had one. Then I thought, ‘Forget the trainer. I should get one!’” she laughed.

And so West Coast Equine Sports Therapy (WCEST) was born. Including the initial investment in an AquaPacer, the Penn Valley facility now boasts more than a half-million dollars’ worth of state-of-the-art equine therapy equipment. The business is co-owned by Mayo and her daughter Alyssa.

“The most common injuries involve tendons or ligaments,” explained Alyssa. “Unfortunately, those types of injuries are typically bilateral, meaning the opposite leg ends up getting hurt when the horse favors the injured leg. With our therapies, we’re able to heal the existing injury helping prevent compensatory injuries.”

In addition to the AquaPacer, another device that is used to heal injuries and condition horses is the panel walker, a unique twist on the traditional spider-like mechanical walker that leads horses in circles. The panels keep horses contained as they walk, which prevents them from spinning or lunging sideways and causing further injuries.

Other treatments include InfraVent, a device that uses infrared lights to create what amounts to a deep-tissue massage.

Several of the facility’s treatment options are portable. The TheraPlate boasts a vibrating platform that transmits energy to the horse’s musculoskeletal system when the horse stands it. The horse’s muscles contract and relax dozens of times each second, and the therapy is said to do everything from increase bone density to heal soft tissue injuries.

EQultrasound is sonography that uses sound waves to develop ultrasound images of what’s happening inside the horse’s body, detecting and treating injuries while integrating deep-heat therapy.

GameReady Equine is a cold compression system that employs dry “sleeves” instead of traditional ice packs; it can be used immediately after surgery to reduce swelling. Another type of sleeve is the Equi FlexSleeve, a step up from the basic standing wraps used to prevent horses’ legs from swelling. “It is well-documented that these therapies are effective. There have been controlled studies and the AquaPacer’s positive results have been reported to the American Association of Equine Practitioners,” said Dr. Scott McIntosh, whose private veterinary practice is based at WCEST.

“We’ve had several horses referred from UC Davis after stifle surgeries, which is the equivalent to surgery on the human knee,” he continued. “You don’t want the horses to just stand around, but they can be very difficult to hand walk because they’re quite full of energy. So the panel walker controlled-type of walking, along with the AquaPacer, is a great combination. And of course I’m there to follow up with ultrasound and x-rays.

“Traditional equine rehab consists of stall rest and hand-walking,” Alyssa said, adding that therapies used at WCEST can cut recovery time after surgery to 50 – 60 percent. “Because horses are working animals, this tends to make them bored, neurotic and depressed. It can lead to explosive reactions while being hand-walked and boredom-related injuries in their stalls.” WCEST has treated nearly 100 horses since it began offering integrative healing and conditioning therapies a decade ago. For 15 years prior, the ranch was called Maple Leaf Stables because of its long, maple-lined driveway. The current incarnation of the business offers boarding, training, and riding lessons, plus it hosts several events each year such as fund-raisers for local charities, tack swaps, and vaccination clinics.

The workhorse at the 20-acre facility is the AquaPacer.

“It’s better than traditional hydrotherapies such as swimming. When you swim a horse, you have no control over the speed or depth,” explained Cathi, who noted the AquaPacer water is a balmy 95 degrees. “We can adjust the speed of the treadmill — usually about three miles per hour. We want a nice, long stride, but no trotting or running. We can adjust the depth of the water appropriate to the injury — lower if it’s a lower leg injury, and up to chest deep if it’s a hip injury.”

Depending on the depth of the water, the AquaPacer can support up to 60 percent of the horse’s weight. Horses receive a low dose of a sedative while they are being trained to use the AquaPacer. Depending on their temperament, some horses receive the calming agent throughout their treatment while others are weaned off the sedative.

Most therapy sessions last 20 to 60 minutes and cost $20 to $35. There are also customized packages offered that combine various therapies and services. Dogs are welcome, too.

WCEST employs five full-time and four part-time staff members. Each is trained on all the equipment except the EQultrasound, which is only operated by Cathi, Alyssa, and Dr. McIntosh. Clients are welcome to use Dr. McIntosh’s on-site services, or those of their own veterinarian. Even more expert help is available: Alyssa is certified in Equine Kinesiology Taping, and is training to become an Equine Massage therapist.

“The staff is wonderful,” reported customer Valerie Robertson of Penn Valley. “They have used the TheraPlate on my 14-year-old gelding to improve his circulation and treat his arthritis. The treatments have also helped improve the quality of his hooves, which are prone to cracks. I also have a miniature horse that had a mild case of colic, and snapped out of it after being treated on the TheraPlate. It’s an amazing machine.”

Kristi Kedie of Lake Wildwood is another satisfied customer eager to tell the story of her 13-year-old Quarter Horse mare.

“A couple years back she hurt her leg, and it required surgery at UC Davis. Afterwards, she did her rehab at West Coast on the panel walker. It was painless, controlled, steady exercise on soft ground,” Kedie said. “She came along beautifully. By the time the vet cleared her to be ridden, she was in such good condition that we started at a trot, not just walking around.”

And what became of the young cutting prospect — the one prone to tendon strains — who was one the first horses to use the WCEST AquaPacer?

“He’s been solid ever since,” smiled Cathi.

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.

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