BY NINA FEDRIZZI
Tucked away on 800 acres in the heart of Lexington, Kentucky’s bluegrass country, Spy Coast Farm makes a strong case for being a horse. On most days of the year, the facility’s broodmares and their progeny can be found dotting the landscape, enjoying the farm’s rolling green paddocks, lined by miles of fencing for as far as the eye can see.
In addition to being the summer home of Shane and Ali Sweetnam’s Sweet Oak Farm operations, Spy Coast’s Lexington location offers breeding services and stands several competitive stallions at stud. The venue also houses a quarantine facility, sprawling indoor and outdoor training rings for its Young Horse Development Center, and brand new this year, a state of the art Rehabilitation and Fitness Center, complete with some of the most cutting-edge therapies available.
“Thanks to the success of the breeding program and the development of the young horses, there was the need to think about conditioning and also, a place for horses that got injured along the way that we are trying to bring back into the fold and back into competition,” says Dr. Duncan Peters, a leading authority on locomotor pathology, diagnosis, treatment, and sport horse management who will be overseeing Spy Coast’s 32-stall rehab facility.
Spy Coast owner Lisa Lourie has made a study of turning various facets of equestrian sport into solid financial investments, and bringing services that she was already utilizing on her own horses in-house—breeding, quarantine, and now, rehab and fitness—is one way to do that. Lourie is the first to admit that the new center makes solid business sense, but her reasoning doesn’t end there.
“I decided that not only could it become a profit center, but it could also start to answer some questions we have about horse development,” Lourie explains, adding that the facility will work closely with the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center to collect data on rehab and conditioning. “I was very interested in the proper training of horses—at what time should we start conditioning them? How can we turn a horse that might otherwise go to market as a 1.40m horse into a 1.50 horse?
“One of the other big reasons why I’m doing this is not just to develop young horses, but to improve the longevity of the older horse. Top horses are so expensive, you certainly can’t afford to cast them aside if they have a suspensory injury, or something like that.”
Along with the more common rehabilitation therapies available for soft tissue injuries—x-rays and diagnostic and therapeutic ultrasounds to identify, treat, and monitor injuries; vibration plate and solarium therapies to increase blood supply and elasticity in muscles; and electromagnetic therapy to accelerate healing—Spy Coast will offer Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT), an Equinosis system to measure lameness, and cutting-edge laser treatments. The latter includes a Multi Radiance laser, which stimulates cell regeneration to reduce pain and stimulate healing; and the new Sound Smart RLT laser, which has been proven to help repair serious ligament and tendon injuries and to reduce the formation of scar tissue.
“We’ve come to realize that stall rest isn’t necessarily the best thing for these horses, nor is just getting them out in a small paddock,” says Peters. “Really, the idea of rehab has changed in terms of being more proactive, and trying to regain normal function and range of motion—as well as working through a little bit of the pain that’s involved with that—rather than just giving the horses time off and seeing what happens when they come back.”
For sport horses returning to work after an injury, or those owners looking to supplement their training program with more modern conditioning therapies, the Center will also offer acupuncture services, cold saltwater spa hydrotherapy, and water treadmills. Some of these therapies are available now to Spy Coast horses and clients on a limited basis, though all will be offered when the new facility opens in late August/early September.
“I’d say, more and more, the sport horse industry is used to using these modalities in their training programs,” says Spy Coast veterinarian Sarah Mouri. “I think we’re lucky that we’re situated near the Kentucky Horse Park, so that those who are here showing for two weeks at a time, or may be stabling at the Horse Park for extended periods this summer, will have the option of shipping in and putting their horse in the cold water spa, or on the aqua treadmill.”
The Rehabilitation and Fitness Center will also work closely with Spy Coast’s quarantine and breeding operations to achieve what Lourie likes to call the ‘one-stop-shop’ effect. First, keeping stallions that are on the farm to be collected fit and competition-ready during their stay. Second—and for those clients who are interested—the farm’s veterinary reproductive team can also collect stallions that are recovering from injury on the premises, or take an embryo from rehabbing mares.
Both Lourie and her team stress, however, that any treatments a horse receives from the vets at Spy Coast will be on an individualized basis, while working in close conjunction with the horse’s vet, trainers, and owners at home. “The intention will not be to send your horse here and have us take over everything,” says Mouri. “Duncan and I, both, are very into communication with your regular veterinarian and referencing their records and sending images and photos about how your horse is progressing, or not, in order to keep consistency of care.”
In fact, it is this veterinary oversight, in conjunction with the more modern therapies available, that Peters feels is the most important aspect of the rehabilitation process. “Unfortunately, an owner may not have the background or training to be able to tell when things need to change or to be able to know exactly how [an injury] is progressing,” he says. “Being able to have good communication and to benchmark progress along the way [is essential].”
According to Peters, at Spy Coast, the same process can continue as a rehabbing horse comes back into work. “We’ll also have controlled exercise programs that will involve riding, and we’ll have some riders that can bring horses back and can return horses to their owners or trainers at whatever level that they would like them to go back. If they want them ready to go into the show ring, we have that option,” he says.
For Lourie, the ability to meet a horse’s needs from conception and birth, during training and conditioning, and even through injury, rehab, and return to work—should any of them be needed—are all part of the farm’s larger purpose.
“Spy Coast is known for being in the forefront and for taking care of high-end equine athletes,” says Lourie. “We know how to do it, and now, we’re trying to utilize that knowledge to make these services available to others.”