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Windsor Farm re-launches horse water therapy program

April 23, 2018 GMT

WINDSOR, Conn. (AP) — The town of Windsor has a rich history of harness horse racing, from informal races down Palisado Avenue in the late 1800s, to thousands of spectators gathering for organized events at the half-mile Sage Park track in the early 1900s.

The track is long gone and you’d never expect to see a horse race down Palisado Avenue’s paved two-lane road these days, but the neighborhood still shows vestiges of the town’s connection to harness racing.

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At River Meadow Farm and Rehabilitation Center, 25 to 30 trotters and pacers from around the country spend their winters training and exercising on a 5/8-mile track near the Connecticut River, after spending the season racing once a week at Yonkers and Saratoga Springs in New York and Plainridge in Massachusetts.

The horses and their trainers, who also live there, use the track even on snowy days, once the racing area is cleared.

The horses also get their medical needs seen to by Dr. Mike Stewart, who has owned the farm and operated Stewart Equine Clinic there since 1997. Stewart and his wife, Lisa, purchased the farm from original owner Robert King, who operated it as King Stable since the late 1970s.

The Stewarts have made use of King’s barn pool — a specially designed 15-foot deep concrete swimming pool with a long ramp for horses to enter the water — to help rehabilitate injured horses.

The pool was a big hit in the equine community in the 1980s, with more than a dozen horses a day using the pool for aqua therapy.

“The thing works similar to what happens with people,” Stewart said. “It’s weightless.”

The therapy is considered beneficial to helping horses build muscle and tendon strength, and improves their cardiovascular and respiratory systems. It also provides injured horses confined to a stall with outside stimulation.

“It keeps horses in good shape and works on flexibility,” he said.

By the early 1990s, though, only about half that number of horses were using the pool. King, citing the need to increase revenue, applied for a permit to operate a golf driving range on the infield of the track.

By the time Stewart bought the farm, the pool and track had gone into disrepair. The aging pumps and filters needed to be replaced, but the pool was used between 2000 and 2008.

Then the economy tanked; in 2015, the barn roof collapsed under the weight of snow.

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It took Stewart a year to repair the roof, and he is now hoping to revive the aqua therapy operation, which has been open on a limited basis since last fall. There is also a smaller pool for dogs that has not yet been reopened.

This week, Stewart ran 60-degree water from a hose into the pool to raise the temperature in preparation for an aqua therapy session for a horse named Tag, a standard bred horse who is rehabilitating from an injury to his hoof.

Tag, who has been swimming since March, was led into the barn and hosed down so that the water in the pool wouldn’t come as a shock. Then he was led down the ramp and, after a couple of hesitations, he took to the water. Mike Stewart’s wife, Lisa, and son, Clayton, held ropes that kept Tag from getting too close to the edges and walked around the circumference of the pool while Tag swam about two-dozen laps.

When he emerged from the pool, Tag was breathing heavily from a cardiovascular workout that didn’t risk reinjuring his hoof.

“I’m trying to improve my game rehabbing horses,” Mike Stewart said.

But there are challenges, especially during winter months, when the cost of heating the pool to a suitable temperature and maintaining that warmth can be prohibitive.

“To make it viable we’re going to have to get on solar,” Stewart said. The plan is also to use a wood-burning stove and well water instead of MDC water, which is also expensive.

Stewart estimates that the upgrades may take two years and cost up to $100,000.

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Online: https://cour.at/2HG4ABl

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Information from: Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com