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Published March 23, 2015, 10:09 AM

Hande Equine Therapy offering ‘jacuzzi’ hot-water treatments has waiting list

There is a family horse operation in east Dickinson, N.D., that looks normal. With corrals, outbuildings and a farmhouse, it’s an apparently typical farm-like operation.

By: Virginia Grantier, Forum News Service

There is a family horse operation in east Dickinson, N.D., that looks normal. With corrals, outbuildings and a farmhouse, it’s an apparently typical farm-like operation.

But in one barn, horses are often up to their chests in hot water. Literally.

Inside is a 12-foot-long jacuzzi for horses, an “aquatred.” The water is set at 80 degrees, and there are 16 water-jets to massage the body and a treadmill to trot on, taking the horse up to a fast extended trot. After several minutes of water aerobics, the treadmill is turned off and the horse can luxuriate in a water-jet massage.

That’s just one part of the spa treatment in a heated barn at Hande Equine Therapy, which Jamie Hande, a certified equine massage therapist, and her husband, Travis Hande, started last year.

“It took us two years to get things set up so we could make it work and finally my dream came true,” says Jamie, who grew up on a New Salem ranch, loves horses and always wanted a career involving them.

Near the aquatred is another therapeutic item called a Theraplate that vibrates as the horse stands on it — to increase circulation, reduce swelling, improve balance and so on — and often puts the steed to sleep, the Handes says.

Also, Jamie does deep massage and stretching. More services are planned, including cold saltwater therapy.

The couple’s initial intent was to offer conditioning programs that would enable healthy horses to get into even better shape — and to help injured horses heal better and faster.

Now there’s another intent: keep up with the stampede.

Jamie says the Handes’ daughter, Jorja, 3, already a horse-lover, remembers all the names of the horses that have received treatment there — which is something — because there have been more than enough of them.

Owners of some of the region’s and nation’s top horse athletes — professional rodeo barrel and roping horses, as well as ranch and pleasure horses — seem hooked on what the Handes provide.

The Handes now have a waiting list with 30 names on it. There are already bookings for January 2016. Every two weeks, the next batch of horses come into the seven-stall barn for a two-week conditioning session.

The Handes’ clients report that the program results in dramatic changes in horses’ stamina, strength, temperament and faster recuperation from injuries.

Top pro barrel racers report their horses — which run four different sprints in the course of a race — recover almost immediately after a race; that in less than a minute they’re not even breathing hard.

Britany Diaz, of Solen, one of the world’s top barrel racers, brings her horse there.

“It’s a no-brainer,” says Justin Scofield, the PRCA Badlands Circuit’s five-time calf-roping champion.

He and other pros are saying their horses are in dramatically better condition now with this aqua-aerobic exercise and massage program.

Scofield says he put his horse, Paco, the Badlands Circuit’s reigning calf-roping horse of the year, through the Handes’ program. Paco has noticeably gained more stamina and is a much calmer horse, he says.

“His mind is very different,” Scofield says. “When we go in the box (the pre-race starting area), he stays relaxed and calm.”

The two-week program costs $500 per week and up, depending on what is needed. The horse uses the aquatred daily for five days, then gets two days off, as well as the opportunity to get other services.

After one or two aquatred experiences, horses who were dubious about getting into the thing, want more — and often will load themselves into it, Jamie says.

Jamie says she always has had kind of a “sixth sense” about horses — somehow knew if they were sick, had injuries, and initially wanted to be veterinarian, but wound up getting a business degree from Dickinson State University. But then from 2004 to 2010, she attended and got certification from several equine massage schools, including schools in Montana, Wisconsin and South Dakota.

An instructor once told Jamie she was one of a handful of students that “had the gift.”

Erin Wanner, a professional barrel racer from Dickinson, says for years Jamie has come to her home to provide therapeutic massage and chiropractic care for her horses.

She says the horses, when they know it’s Jamie, will come out of the pasture, go to the barn and literally wait in line with their heads down, relaxed, for their turn with Jamie.

“They love her,” she says.

After the Handes got the aquatred, Wanner sent a horse there she thought was in condition, and it wasn’t. It was completely exhausted after only three minutes on the treadmill, she says. By the end of a two-week conditioning at Handes’, horses generally can do between 10 and 15 minutes on the aquatred, she says.

When her horses completed the program, “they literally looked like bodybuilders,” Wanner says.

“It’s been a game changer,” Wanner says. “At this level of competition, (you need) every break you can get … A hundredth of a second means the difference between a thousand dollars and none.”

Hande have the only aquatred facility in North Dakota, Wanner says.

She says some of her rodeo competitors who come up from Texas and other states have access to facilities like this in their home states. Access to Handes’ spa now helps to level the playing field.

Along with conditioning, people are sending injured horses after surgery for healing and conditioning in the buoyant water, which is easier on bones and joints. Jamie says she works closely with vets, following their protocol.

Genna Berg, 30, a Williston, N.D., farmer, says on a recommendation, she took her horse, Willie, who could barely walk, to the Handes’ for recuperation after a trailer accident and tendon injuries.

Genna says after the program, he was barely limping and her veterinarian was “beyond impressed” with recent MRI and other results that showed her horse has barely any scar tissue.

It’s expected Berg will be able to ride him this summer, much sooner than expected.

Jamie says she had wanted an aquatred for a long time, but Travis wasn’t interested until he witnessed the change it made to a horse they sent to a similar South Dakota facility. The horse, which had been stricken with West Nile disease, had lost significant weight and muscle tone. After the aquatred, she was a different horse.

“She made a full recovery and was able to be ridden again,” Jamie says.

Jamie says in the aquatred, the horse is never actually swimming, is always touching the treadmill, but there’s enough buoyancy from the water that it’s reducing the concussion while exercising the same muscles. She also can vary the water depth to change how strenuously the horse has to work.

“While indoor arenas are great to have with our winters here, there are only so many circles you can lope,” she says. “Circles are hard on horses, especially one that’s out of shape, so the aquatred is a great tool to get one started in their conditioning program.

She says among other things, the aquatred tones the muscles, gives maximum conditioning for lungs and heart, is excellent for the back and stifles, and keeps the horse in their “natural body plane,” which is much better than having them swim in an actual swimming pool where the head is forced up and the tail down.

She says it’s “a great tool for healing injuries such as bowed tendons, some fractures and other injuries and general rehabbing after surgery. When doing a massage after an aquatred session, the horse’s muscles “feel like butter in my hands,” Jamie says.

Travis, 34, who by day is president of Wells Fargo Bank in Dickinson, says Jamie treats the horses like her own.

“She’s so passionate,” he says. “She really cares for their well-being.”

“Never sacrifice the horse for the (rodeo) buckle,” is a mantra of Jamie’s, who is a past high school rodeo pole-bending champion.

In the early morning, before heading to the bank, Travis cleans stalls and feeds the horses, then Jamie takes over.

At the end of some busy, long days, the Handes can sometimes be found without a horse — getting a massage on their own. The two of them will put chairs on the vibrating Theraplate, sit down, sit back and prepare for a full-body massage.

But they can always be found on Facebook: Hande Equine Therapy.

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