Anyone serious about polo will know that the ponies take center stage when it comes to performance.
A massive industry has sprung up around the sport—from fashion to specialized equipment. But unlike other equine disciplines, most polo ponies receive little or no consideration with regard to maintenance and rehabilitation.
Only the enlightened few have recognized the value of regular maintenance during match season or training of young horses coming into the sport from the race course or breeders.
Petra Sones, also known as FIT4POLO, has set out to change this in her quest to offer an affordable mobile service and reintroduce Faradic Impulse Therapy as an alternative and/or complementary treatment for hard-working polo ponies after observing the successful treatment of an older polo pony on loan to her daughter when nothing else seemed to restore the mare to soundness.
As a result, Petra became an inspired student of the treatment based on Rhythmic Muscular Contraction, which is based on common sense physiotherapy. Muscle action already assists nature in the repair of injury due to the muscles’ capacity to contract and relax with all the benefits of increased blood flow, lymph, and venous return. The treatment for humans was first placed on a scientific basis by Sir Morton Smart, and the treatment for Equines was established after WWII by Sir Charles Strong, physiotherapist to the British Royal Family who was asked to help the treatment of not only the polo players but also their ponies.
He produced a machine he called the Strong Box, which was developed into the first Transeva machine. Results of treatments were published in the Veterinary Record, where 88/100 lame-performance horses were shown to be treated and able to successfully return to their relevant disciplines. After continuous optimization, the Transeva is still being manufactured in South Africa to date.
These days, more and more Thoroughbreds are used in polo. Although the Criollo is hardier, the speed element is very much an additional consideration for players. Thoroughbreds are more sensitive to polo injuries that are mostly impact-based, leading to bruising, soreness, and tight muscles with loss of form and restricted movement (short gait), as well as dipping of backs and unexplained recurring lameness. Rental ponies quite often display such symptoms due to inexperienced riders or heavy workload.
Faradic Impulse Therapy treatments are valuable in identifying injured areas, too, which are clearly indicated by the horse’s pain responses (some more violent than others). It may not always be apparent by observing movement as most horses are extremely adept at using alternative muscles to avoid becoming lame, an instinctive reaction of a flight animal. This natural response to pain makes it even more important to check all the main muscles when treating a horse, not only the area where an adverse reaction is observed.
A typical session always starts with the preparation of the treatment areas which are where the main muscle groups join and along the back.
The tolerance level of the patient is tested and, during treatment, continuously adjusted to keep pain responses to an absolute minimum. It is essential to maintain a connection even when the horse pulls away. Once the painful or tight muscles are identified, treatment invariably is concentrated in this area but needs to remain within the tolerance of the patient and cannot, therefore, be rushed or healthy contractions will not commence, rendering treatment ineffective. Needless to say, that experience in handling the equipment and the horse is essential for the operator’s health as the equine patient will always win!
The treatment is not painful to healthy muscles or tissue, but as the sensation of a relaxing pulse changes to a sharp jab at the injury site, an adverse reaction is invariably to be expected. Depending on the temperament of the patient, it can be excessive. However, the usual reaction of pulling away and turning down the intensity of the Transeva is sufficient to continue treatment.
Faradic Impulse Therapy is only making a slow come back in the UK, as it is difficult to obtain and maintain the equipment needed. Only sheer persistence and having seen the astonishing results of the treatment successes have, maybe in a small way, contributed to the fact that in the last few years, attitudes to regular maintenance of polo ponies have slowly begun to change as more professionals and some of their patrons have noticed that ponies that receive some form of additional treatment, be it regular checks by a vet, chiropractor, or physios, keep playing better and longer with fewer injuries caused by the neglect of one of their main body structures:
The muscles, which support every joint and facilitate the equine performance, requires them to not become a machine, but a living breathing athlete giving their best—therefore deserving the best in this fast-paced, exhilarating sport we all love!