I was setting up Meditech equipment in a Psychiatrist’s office the other day and as I was enlightening his staff on the science of Photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT), the doctor came in and shared his experiences with musculoskeletal issues and how PBMT helped him out. Out of nowhere, he said something like “if it could help a horse, it could do anything!”
Whaaa? Here I am trying to explain the scientific merits of PBMT, defending its efficacy and safety and gently guiding it away from the world of miraculous, it can do anything, faith-based healing and the doctor just said it could heal even a horse. Turns out there was a story behind his proclamations.
No one doubts that PBMT could be used in mammalian tissue in much the same way as we use in ours, we are mammals after all. Plus, all these findings regarding PBMT applications all basically stemmed from its initial experimental use in other species of animals. So it comes to no surprise that veterinary use of PBMT is just as efficient and safe as human medical use. The story goes that Austrian Canadian billionaire, politician and member of the Order of Canada Frank Stronach, who is into thoroughbred horse racing and breeding and owns Stronach Stables, purchased a horse that won the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Fillies Stakes Race in 2010. The horse is Awesome Feather, foal of Awesome Of Course and Precious Feather and famous enough to merit her own Wikipedia page. She has never lost a race during her initial 2010 season leading to the Breeder’s Cup and was purchased for $2.3 million 2 days after her historic Breeder’s Cup win by Frank Stronach.
She went lame after the purchase. It was discovered afterwards by her new trainer Chad Brown that she had a left foreleg tendon injury (bowed tendon), the same injury that ended the career of Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another. There are always exceptions to the rule, and Awesome Feather was just that.
Frank Stronach was no stranger to PBMT. Not wanting to retire such a precious horse early in her career, Awesome Feather was treated with PBMT, overall, 40 treatments over a 3 month period. “She’s a special horse, she’s got special owners,” said trainer Chad Brown. “The Stronach family, they were presented a difficult situation. I’ll tell you, they handled it with class and optimism. They never complained one day about it,” he added. “They just told me, ‘Look forward. Don’t look back. Keep the filly.’ She stayed in my care the whole time. She never went to the farm.”
The patience of Stronach, trainer Chad Brown and jockey Jeffrey Sanchez paid off. Rehabilitation training was started, and soon after, Awesome Feather rejoined the races where she left off. Winning the Le Stew stakes at Belmont Park almost a year to her injury, she beat the competition by two lengths. She continued her winning streak to win at the Gazelle a month later and went on undefeated to the Sunshine Millions Distaff at Gulfstream Park. She remained undefeated earning almost $1.7 million. She completed her 3-year reign capped with a final win at the Nasty Storm Stakes at Belmont Park.
Chad Brown remarked that “Too often these horses are retired early, and it’s unfortunate, but here’s a filly that they preserved with and kept her in the game. She’s a fan favorite and I commend them for keeping her in training. I’m very grateful for it. I don’t think anyone was more confident than Mr. Stronach.” The ever-awesome story of the Eclipse Award for Champion Two-Year-Old Filly of 2010 was completed with her retirement in December 2012, when she was sold to Katsumi Yoshida of Northern Farms in Japan for $ 1.9 million.
We all suffer from overuse of joints. We often call people who do mostly manual labour workhorses. Actual workhorses are not meant to outrun every other horse in a field, but those that do, probably strain their joints far harder than most. No one was actually sure if Awesome Feather was born with a damaged tendon, but running at top speed probably did not help. This case goes to show the proper way of using PBMT for the treatment of joint injuries. Take note that we are not referring here to age related bone on bone osteoarthritis which are an entirely different matter, but an injury to a relatively young horse at the prime of her life. Oftentimes, people tend to lump everything into one container, and hope that it works (I have knee pain, this treatment worked on a 25 year old well-trained runner supported by an army of therapists and sports doctors who strained his knee, so this should also work for me, an 80 year old with chronic bone on bone osteoarthritis who stays at home and doesn’t want to take pain medications, doesn’t want surgery and is highly suspicious of medical professionals). Awesome Feather’s recovery was hastened by PBMT, but she did not heal by PBMT alone. Treatment was applied 40 times during a 3-month period. 3 months is 90 days, meaning this workhorse was treated every other day. Further, she was gently coaxed into racing again, after rehabilitation training. She did not self treat twice a day daily because she wanted to get back into fighting form, run again and compete in the races after 2 weeks so she bought a device expecting to be miraculously healed. Her rehabilitation continued for an entire year and a year after that. She became the miracle horse because of that, a combination of gentle PBMT, therapy and training. Not a miracle at all, but application of scientific principles, patience and perseverance. She was not whipped into submission then euthanized because she did not perform to expectations. Instead, she had all the assistance and patience of her owner, her trainer, and her jockey. She did not do it alone. The combination of soft tissue tendon stimulation and repair with appropriate doses of red and near infrared light using both incoherent LED sources and coherent lasers with an excellent reportable outcome for efficacy and safety and guidance, training and therapy provided by her support team, and loving patience from her owner was what led to her success. Let’s all learn from Awesome Feather, shall we?