Physical Therapy for Horses at WEG Tryon 2018

World-class physical therapy is available to the equine competitors at the World Equestrian Games.

The Equine Physiotherapy veterinary team at WEG Tryon 2018 included, from right, Dr. Juan Carlos Garcia de Brigard, head of the team; Dr. Launa Gutierrez Cepeda from Spain; and Dr. Maria Fernanda Pardo from Colombia. Not pictured are Dr. Steve Adair of the University of Tennessee and Dr. Celina Tarantino from Brazil. Kimberly S. Brown

Dr. Juan Carlos Garcia de Brigard is an official FEI veterinarian for all disciplines except Endurance. He is also the head of the Physiotherapy experts at WEG Tryon 2018. All of those persons are equine veterinarians and FEI Permitted equine physical therapists. This is his third WEG and he has served other competitions from regional events to Olympic Games.

De Brigard said that he helped put in place all of the physical therapy services offered at WEG, from getting top-qualified physiotherapists to having the equipment they need to do any type of work. He also coordinates the services with the teams and treats horses himself.

De Brigard, who is originally from Colombia, has a private practice that takes him all over the Americas.

With the change in the FEI rules this year (see FEI Now Requires Cards for Equine Therapists), equine therapists must receive a card from the FEI in order to treat horses with most therapy modalities.

He said the problem had become that lay people were using machines they were not qualified to use on horses. 

“For the fairness of the competition and the wellness of the horses, they put in the new regulations,” de Brigard said.

He noted that the treating therapists need to know about all of the disciplines if they want to do a job like this. He personally does all of the disciplines except Endurance. “I go to very little Endurance,” he said of his normal practice.

Part of his role at WEG is to help the Veterinary Commissioners identify physical therapy devices that are being used or that teams want to use. He knows which belong to which category of use and how they are regulated by FEI. “I know which is the least invasive to the horse and the least harmful to the horse and people,” he said.

He said some machines are restricted during FEI to only veterinarians and some to only carded physiotherapists.

“All of the horses that get into WEG are top horses,” he said. “Some are the creme de la creme; the top 10 competitors. Some are the top horses for their area and are good enough to make it to WEG. But every one has aches. 

“We want to help them come to their actual capacity,” he said. But, he acknowledged that when a physiotherapist works with a horse over a long period of time, that he can do more for that animal.

“When you see a horse for the first time at this level, you have to be cautious because all of the animals don’t respond to therapy the same way,” de Brigard said. “We have a team of exerts to know how much to do and when.”

De Brigard said his team works with veterinarians from each team, especially if they didn’t bring a physiotherapist with them or their physiotherapist lacks knowledge or a device to help the horse appropriately.

“We have a booth of medical devices that everyone can borrow if they are qualified,” he said.

“We want to make every horse, before and after competition, feel as good as possible,” de Brigard said. “We want to help them meet their competition expectations.”

The four veterinarians working as physiotherapists at WEG are Dr. Steve Adair of the University of Tennessee, Dr. Launa Gutierrez Cepeda from Spain, Dr. Maria Fernanda Pardo from Colombia, and Dr. Celina Tarantino from Brazil (who was one of the physiotherapists for the Rio Olympics).

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