Galloping to recovery

Dr. Rosemary Ganser, left, and Carol Mitchell flank Danika.

Good health and overall fitness are important to Carol Mitchell.

The Putnam Valley woman has, after all, black belts in three martial arts disciplines. She is also an instructor at Mountain Stream Budo, the martial arts school that her family owns and operates in Putnam Valley.

Having earned her doctorate in physical therapy (DPT), Mitchell also works as a physical therapist for the nonprofit Visiting Nurse Service of New York.

That job finds her traveling to work with patients throughout northern Westchester, helping them regain their mobility and recover from medical issues.

So when Mitchell’s horse started having health concerns, she was not about to ignore the problem.

With the aid of a trusted Fairfield County veterinarian, Rosemary Ganser of Georgetown, Mitchell has helped return her horse, Danika, to full strength and looks forward to the 2014 amateur show season.

On a recent afternoon at Northfork Stables in Putnam Valley, where Mitchell boards her 7-year-old Warmblood, she took a few moments to reflect on the path she and the horse have taken since she bought her a couple of years ago.

“This was my dream horse,” she says, remembering when she spotted the then 4-year-old.

“She had just had a foal,” Mitchell says. “She was out of work for a year.”

Before she fully bounced back, Danika suffered some sort of injury.

“You know… horses play out in the pasture,” Mitchell says.

But Danika’s horseplay was of concern, as the horse clearly was not at full strength.

“She started to have back soreness when I was riding her,” Mitchell says.

As she would with any person she is treating, Mitchell knew the problem needed to be identified and addressed.

“You can use the same principles,” Mitchell says.

A preliminary examination with a veterinarian ruled out spinal issues and any viruses or disease, so Mitchell turned to a veteran who she had worked with years ago.

Ganser, who has had her own practice for the last nine of her 23 years in the field, took full stock of Danika and what might be wrong.

As Mitchell tells it, with a burst of a laugh: “She said to me, ‘Listen. Your horse is crooked and weak.’”

Ganser remembers the diagnosis pretty much the same way. A horse’s “top line,” she says, should be flat as and straight as a tabletop.

“To be blunt, she looked like an old lady,” Ganser says of the suffering Danika.

It was a tough time for Mitchell, she says, as she finally had a horse but it was in need of quite a bit of attention.

“I’m an amateur rider,” she says. “It’s not like I had a trainer to do all this.”

And it also took an emotional toll.

“I lost weight. I couldn’t eat. I was a mess.”

Working closely with Ganser, Mitchell implemented a regimen of exercise – and some muscle relaxers – that in time saw Danika improve.

“She’s always been the kind of horse who knows I’m trying to help her,” Mitchell says. “She was very receptive to it.”

Mitchell says the horse remained willing to work through the problems and never gave her trouble.

“If a horse wants to buck you off, they can buck you off,” she says.

She would work out with her, helping the horse with a prescribed routine of exercises.

“It’s like little horsey sit-ups,” Mitchell says of one move, while there were also other stretches.

Leg circles, she notes, ideally manipulate the horse in circles as big as a dinner plate.

“We started out as a tea cup she was so stiff,” Mitchell says.

Over time, the exercises plus shoulder massages – and as important, Ganser’s combination of acupuncture and spinal manipulation (chiropractic) therapies – turned things around.

“The pain had decreased significantly,” Ganser says.

With a small setback – a cut to her leg last year – Danika was moving beyond her problem.

“She was ride-able again,” Mitchell says.

Today, Mitchell looks forward to the show circuit, where she often competes from spring into October in Northeast venues, including Sussex, N.J.

“I don’t go to Florida,” she says with a wry smile referencing the major circuit down there. “I wish.”

But for Mitchell, having Danika is a rewarding return to a hobby she first found in her early 20s.

“My first husband had horses,” she says. “I fell in love with dressage.”

After her divorce, Mitchell didn’t ride for years.

“I really wanted to have a horse again.”

She began easing back into that world thanks to a patient who asked her to ride her horse.

“I felt like it was kismet,” she says. “I was so nervous because it had been like 20 years.”

But it all came back to her once Danika was hers.

“It was perfect,” she says.

And having Danika back in form has been nothing short of rewarding.

“I told Carol two years and we’re coming to the two-year mark,” Ganser says.

Indeed, the progress has been amazing, as the pair approaches the dressage season.

“Now I can really sit on her,” Mitchell says. “It’s fabulous.”

As Ganser says of Mitchell, “She’s a very dedicated rider.”

And one who wants the best health for all those she cares for.

For more on Mountain Stream Budo, visit mountainstreambudo.com. For more on Visiting Nurse Service of New York, visit VNSNY.org. To contact Dr. Rosemary Ganser, email her at drrdganser@aol.com.

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