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Animal adjustment

A controversial chiropractor demonstrates how to manipulate a horse’s joints to relieve pain and strain.

[Times photos: Mike Pease]
Travis Myers, far left, holds a horse's head and Bill Hagn, right, pushes against the animal's hindquarters as chiropractor Dan Kamen of Illinois demonstrates how to adjust the hips of a horse during a seminar Wednesday in Odessa.

By JACKIE RIPLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


ODESSA -- They came from as far away as Lakeland to learn from Dan Kamen, chiropractor to the horses, who -- with a bale of hay and a bag of tricks -- can teach just about anybody the ins and outs of hands-on horse adjusting.

photo
Ferron the dog watches as Kamen uses a small-scale horse skeleton to explain the horse anatomy during the seminar.
"If a jaw is misaligned, it will feel harder," Kamen told about a dozen equestrians who watched as he gently palpated the jaw on Stonewall's Red Fury, an American Saddle Bred boarded at Avalon Riding Academy in Odessa.

"I'm cheap and I'm easy folks, so ask me now."

And ask they did as the nearly dozen seminar participants took advantage of Kamen's advise during a crash course on animal chiropractic manipulation, hosted by the horse farm on Van Dyke Road.

Running their hands over the heads, necks, backs and hindquarters of three horses there for demonstration, students wanted to know everything from how to find muscle and stress points to how to count the vertebrae on a horse's back.

"These are all veterinarians or trainers," said Jodi Davidson, a trainer at Avalon. "They're pretty serious about what they're doing."

Kamen, too, is serious, despite the jokes and one-liners that peppered his daylong demonstration. In fact, Kamen, who has written three books on animal chiropractic, recently gave up his human practice in Illinois to devote all his time to animals.

"These animals are equine versions of highly trained athletes," Kamen said. "And like any athlete, they're susceptible to strain or injury."

Kamen's practice, however, is not without detractors. He said veterinarians in Nevada, Washington and Arkansas have tried to stop his seminars, saying it is dangerous for laymen to practice chiropractic techniques on their animals.

"He's a thorn in the side for some of the states," said Craig Smith, a veterinarian and staff consultant for the American Veterinarian Medical Association. "He has been told to cease and desist in Nevada, and he has defied them."

Kamen scoffs at his critics. "They'll have to put me in jail to stop me," he said.

He contends that his years of experience with human and animal manipulation not only qualify him to practice chiropractic on animals but also to teach it to others.

Smith said each state differs in the way it views animal chiropractic. He said in some states, it is considered veterinary medicine and can only be practiced by a licensed veterinarian. In other states, chiropractors can work on animals if they are working under the supervision of a veterinarian. And in others, there are no statutes at all covering the practice.

In Florida, rules require that a chiropractor working on animals do so only under the supervision of a veterinarian, said Donald Schaefer, executive director for Florida Veterinary Medical Association.

Kamen was not under the specified supervision of a veterinarian during the seminar in Tampa, but he was not manipulating animals. Instead, he was showing others how to find trouble spots on demonstration animals.

"It's a very contentious issue," said Smith, adding that he hopes Kamen has the benefit of the animals at heart but that "he is using methods that are totally inappropriate."

Kamen seems to thrive on controversy, though it had little place at his Tampa seminar. Participants were eager to learn as much as they could in a short period of time.

"They have to start somewhere," Kamen said. "It's like a condensed can of soup."

Kamen said some people take his $325 seminar two or three times before they're comfortable manipulating their animals.

"It's pretty cool," said Zephyrhills massage therapist Mary Bartlett. Bartlett said she took the seminar so that she could practice massage therapy on horses belonging to a friend who owns a horse farm in Lakeland.

"They're much bigger than humans and more stubborn, but if it works on people it can work on horses," Bartlett said. "We do holistic healing with massage. We're the same as horses."

Bartlett's friend with the horse farm, Vin Laura, who also attended the seminar, said he has spent nearly 80 years around horses and was eager for Bartlett to start putting her newly acquired knowledge to work.

Chiropractic manipulation "makes it easier for horses to run and jump," Laura said. "But it's nothing that hasn't been done for hundreds of years by cowboys and Indians."

That may well be. But for Kamen, chiropractic manipulation is a well-honed science as well as a study in kindness.

"A lot of times people think their horse is misbehaving, but maybe they're trying to tell you they're in pain," Kamen said. "Some owners will slap their faces when what they need to do is relieve their pain."

In fact, chiropractic is an integral part of the growing holistic trend in animal health care, a movement that particularly interested holistic veterinarian Robin Cannizzaro, who wants to incorporate chiropractic into her St. Petersburg practice.

"I have an acupuncturist and want to include chiropractic," said Cannizzaro, who relies on traditional medicine for diagnosis but for the past six years has opted for natural alternatives in her treatment.

And Dan Knapp, a chiropractor in a holistic health clinic in Sarasota, said he plans to add four-legged animals to his list of patients.

"There's a great demand for it," Knapp said. "People are spending more money on alternative health care. They're looking for other answers for themselves, and they're looking for other answers for their animals."

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