Photos by Libby Rogers
Championfit Equine’s motto is “Building Stronger Horses,” and since their doors opened a year ago, that is what they do. Do you rodeo? Race? Show horses? Does your horse need conditioning, endurance, boarding, or physical therapy? If you answered yes to any of these, you and your horse may greatly benefit from the training and expertise at Championfit Equine. Amber Jones is the head equine therapist, with over 30 years of experience in equine therapy. Accompanied at work by her daughter and barn manager, Kassidy Lovell, these women have something special that lights up their eyes when they talk about the importance of developing a relationship with each horse—passion. They beam in conversation about the personality and story that is unique to each animal, and the special care and attention that must be given to each to make the most of their time at Championfit Equine. Boarding facilities with a track and walker are also available to rent on the facility grounds, and constant maintenance is performed to keep the facilities sanitized, safe, and top quality for the horses.
The doors are open for the day at Championfit, and the morning chores are finished: feeding, cleaning stalls, and updating charts, to name a few. New horses are checking in, a process which consists of a few steps: evaluating health papers and documentation, filling out an evaluation form (any wounds, cuts, under/overweight, etc), and taking “before” photos to compare to the end result and visually monitor progress. Trainers guide horses between stations, and the employees inside the barn greet me with warm smiles. Inside the office is Amber Jones, finishing up her morning duties before a long day of training begins. Amber is the main physical therapist at Championfit and works alongside her daughter, Kassidy Lovell. The energy of the summer workouts buzzes around us, and I know that when I leave today, it will be too soon. As a former equine science minor for 3 years at SHSU, I was especially looking forward to this engagement and viewing a side of the equine industry unfamiliar to me. We start inside the barn at a large dry erase board, color-coded and organized by day. Each day of the week has a training plan laid out for each individual horse checked in to Championfit, based on their personal needs and vet recommendations. To give an example, she points to China’s plan for the week; China is here for a hurt back and under special vet care. A pink “T” for “treadmill” is on her agenda today.
Every horse has a different purpose, and the conditioning they receive is to increase their ability for that specific purpose, whether it be racing, pleasure, halter, or rodeo. “What we do here is just as mental as it is physical, because sometimes horses don’t have confidence in themselves. Take Luna, for example. A few weeks ago, she was terrified of the pool, and now she loves it—she can’t wait to get in,” Kassidy says while she and trainer Shauni Prihoda guide Luna into the swimming pool for her morning lap. The pool is especially helpful for pregnant mares, providing a method of exercise that is low-impact and low-stress to their bodies during this fragile time. While most do only one, some horses build up to two laps. The pool is also a great relaxation to horses, because there is no pressure of competing involved.
Seven horses just came off the walker, their first workout of the day. This is a free walker, meaning the horses necks are not tied, which is less dangerous and preventative to neck injury. It’s time to get their feet cleaned before entering the pool. Some also get their tail braided in order to use tail support, a method used to improve back strength. A clip is attached to the braided tail, and the trainer lifts the rope to help lift their rear and improve posture, ensuring they swim evenly. Tail support is especially helpful to horses recovering from a neurological disease and those who have lost significant muscle tone. Each horse is guided through the pool at their own pace, led by 3 encouraging trainers every step of the way. Roaming around the ground amidst a sea of horses is a baby calf lovingly named “Sirloin” by a trainer. Amber took Sirloin in because his mother refused to feed him, and he has hung out with the horses ever since, firmly believing he is one. He walks around curiously between the gentle giants, neither minding the other. “He has managed not to get kicked yet,” Kassidy says with a laugh, as Sirloin walks behind a horse they call Dennis the Menace, who enjoys stealing Kassidy’s cell phone, among other things.
It’s time to dry off the horses and rotate this group to their next activity. Roughly 40 horses a day are worked at Championfit, rotated through the facilities one group at a time, paying special attention to each one. After the pool, some horses will use the pacer, a treadmill with walls that go to shoulder height on a horse.
The water level can be adjusted to provide different levels of resistance based on what that horse is conditioning. Amber and Kassidy tried running in the pacer once with a medium water level to get a feel for what the horses experience, and laugh as they explain how exhausting it was for them. With an average speed of 6 mph, 60 minutes of riding is equivalent to 15 minutes in the pacer. Amber chose this specific pacer with safety in mind—it keeps the horse at ground level and does not require them to walk down into a machine, preventing injury and providing ease for injured horses. Safety and comfort are their first priority when selecting treatment methods, machines, and facilities. Amber and her team pay great attention to detail in order to provide a trustworthy, safe environment for every horse. The barn is insulated, and the temperature of both the barn and pool are monitored to keep the horse’s body temperature normal.
Of the nine horses in this group being rotated, only one today requires the cold water spa, and Shauni invites us over to watch the process. The horse is led into a level tub that does not require walking down into for safety reasons, and she will be using the cold saltwater therapy once a week, because her back leg is swollen. A shoulder level door is closed behind the horse and seals in order to fill with water. The saltwater spa is a chilly 32 degrees and is useful for increasing blood circulation to help swelling, aches, and pains. The soak is a brisk 10 minutes before the water begins to drain, and the horse adjusts quickly and does not seem bothered by the bath. Some enjoy it and proceed to play with the bubbles foaming on top of the saltwater. As with humans, the salts have similar healing effects, and the water level does not go above the heart in order to keep the body temperature safe. In the winter time, blankets and heaters are used to warm the horses up afterward and provide maximum comfort. Kassidy leads a horse over to the Theraplate, one of the therapeutic machines used to help with blood flow. The vibrating plate gently hums under their feet and gets the blood circulating, which can result in faster healing. This experience is very relaxing for the horses and provides relief as the motion breaks apart lactic acid in the muscles. As he stands there relaxed and content, Kassidy and Shauni are talking about how they keep in touch with the owners of the horses, sending video and photos of progress. “We keep in touch with a lot of people who want to see their progress. Kids especially like to see their horse often, so I’ll text some of them every day with videos. They love it,” Shauni adds.
Amber next tells us about respiratory treatments and laser therapy, although neither are required yet today for this group. A mask is placed over the mouth and medicine administered the same way we use breathing machines. The respiratory treatment can be used to help relieve allergies, mend bronchial infections, and help lung bleeding. In addition to this, they offer on-site laser therapy. Laser therapy can aide with over 300 conditions, such as soreness, torn ligaments, and open wounds. “The blue light kills bacteria, and the red light increases blood flow, which increases the rate of healing. It also releases endorphins.”
We conclude the tour, and I ask Amber to tell me a little more about herself and her family, also very involved with horses. A former school principal, she decided to part ways with a job she loved in order to pursue her passion for horses outside of weekends only. “I really love to barrel race,” she says, eyes lighting up. “There’s just something about the speed.” Now, with nearly 40 years in the horse industry and 30 years of equine therapy, she says this is what she’ll always do. That same love for horses was passed onto daughter Kassidy, and then onto Kassidy’s 3 year-old daughter. Championfit is not only a top-notch equine therapy center—it is backed by dedicated employees who love the animals they take care of and a family with some of the best experience in the industry. Some happy customers of Championfit are “Sanceo” (Multi-winning Dressage Champion, Hanoverian Horse of the Year, U.S. Team Gold Medalist), Joe Beaver (PRCA 8x World Champion), and Nancy Cahill (1996 AQHA Horsewoman of the Year, National Quarter Horse Trainer).
2757 Derby Lane
Madisonville, TX 77864
Office: (936) 349-6869