WHO’D A THOUGHT the day would come when stem-cell therapy would be used to improve the healing of tendon and suspensory ligament injuries in horses? I had the privilege of learning more about it through Sequim’s Neon Rider 4-H club member Ruby Coulson when I interviewed her after placing third in the Individual Presentation Contest for her slide-show performance on “Equine Regenerative Therapies” at the Eastern National 4-H event held in Louisville, Kentucky Nov. 4-6.
Wow, we’re talking about a 17-year-old, from a small rural town, making it all the way to the 4-H Nationals and placing in the top!
Her chosen topic, Reaching for Regeneration, is based on a method of healing that encourages the body to self- heal. One method is stem-cell therapy, which she said is often thought of as the most like cutting edge field of equine medicine. While it’s been shown to have good results, it still tends to be too expensive for the majority of horse owners.
The reason Coulson was drawn to the subject was because her own horse, at just 11, developed a level 2 lameness. She was still ride-able, so Coulson began researching her options to prolong her horse’s years as an athlete. She delved into learning more about muscular skeletal damages and healing therapies for soft tissue and joint injuries.
Her opening slide includes the statement: As horse owners, we often have to deal with the burden of deciding the best treatment for our horse…we have to weigh up our pocketbooks as much as their well-being, and sometimes they come at an expense of each other. But what if there was a future where it was different, where your horse could be healthy and happy for longer, and you could save money?
“I went to Churchill Downs [well-known as a premier Thoroughbred horse racing track where The Kentucky Derby is held] when I was in Kentucky, because I’m pretty sure that’s one of the few places that is actively using stem cell regenerative therapy in their race horse,” noted Coulson, “So far research is typically only being used on racehorses, Olympic jumpers and other top sport horses. So far, it’s proven very effective.”
“How does it help?” I asked.
“Well, traditional stem cell treatment collects stem cells from within the horse. And when those cells are injected into the treated area, it uses stem cells and cells in the horses damaged area to improve cell architecture and fiber biomechanical characteristics,” she said. “It takes damaged and weak cells and makes new, freshly processed cells, which strengthens the damaged cell tissue in that area so it can be restored back to its initial quality.
“Regenerative therapy physically changes the biomechanical characteristics of the cells within a horse, permanently, and it can’t be undone unless there’s another injury.”
Compare that to damaged cells which develop scar tissue, which heals a wound over but doesn’t regenerate new cells. Scar tissue is not flexible and often leads to tightness, limited movement and pain — a pain which can get more painful over the years.
“Sounds as if stem-cell therapy would benefit anyone with an injury,” I commented.
“More funding is needed for research, but I’m hopeful as it becomes more recognized and requested it will soon become more affordable and available in areas like Sequim,” Coulson said.
I can only imagine how proud her parents, Jodi and John Coulson, were while sitting in the audience at Nationals as she was handed her award, and rightly so. I found Coulson to be well-poised, charming and one who enjoys working to attain he goals.
Next year she’ll attend college on the West Coast where she plans on majoring in biology or biological sciences, and minoring in a humanities-based science like public policy or sociology or psychology just to get like a well- rounded degree.
“Wow, you’ve got a really thought-out plan and goals!” I said. “This is the first time I’ve spoken with you, yet, I already feel proud of your accomplishments and future goals!”
For those involved in 4-H past and present I’d like to set the record straight regarding my thoughts on 4-H, because I did get a bit of feedback after my Oct 8 column featured the Ranahan Pony Club and included, which was felt, two negative quotes about 4-H from those who felt Pony Club was “far superior” to other youth equestrian groups, specially 4-H.
I included the quotes because in a way it’s true, in that Pony offers solid stepping stones to improving horsemanship skills. The downside is that is also cost more money. There’s money spent on good instructors, events are more costly, as well as the time and money spent on traveling to, and staying, events and shows.
4-H clubs are designed to be affordable to its community, as well as educational, and to hopefully help produce good leaders who, as adults, have come to realize the importance of helping out in their own community.
For instance, at the 2022 Clallam Fair 4-H show the pre-entry costs for Friday Dressage/Jumping Show was $10, for not just one class but all the events in the rider’s age group that day. Saturday’s game show? Pre-entry cost was $10 for all the 4-H gaming events held that day. And all the 4-H shows are held locally.
4-H clubs have meetings once a month where items such as good recording and goals are discussed, and they usually end with treats and time to mingle together. At practices the club leader, or 4-H alumni or two, help the rider to improve on whatever skill or discipline the rider is working on — all for no extra fee. It’s included in the low cost of joining.
If the rider chooses to be a club member and take outside lessons – wonderful. The more knowledge obtained hopefully equates to better riding skills for that individual. Yet, outside instruction is not required, neither is owning a horse. Sometime club leaders have an extra horse, or will know someone with a horse they are willing to lend (with the 4-H paying for the horse’s expenses (food, care and show costs.)) Leasing a horse is always an option for anyone who rides.
I’ve a friend who’s now a semi-retired school teacher. She shared her students that were in 4-H were a joy to have because they were more respectful and tried harder to apply themselves. Quite the testament, I say, to the merits of having your child involved in 4-H.
US Pony Club offers a higher form of discipled riding than 4-H, but it does cost more money, which is often unattainable to the average 4-H member. Yes, Pony Club is a wonderful organization, with some members going on to compete in Olympic Events. 4-H is also wonderful and is an asset to the local communities it serves. To learn more about 4-H clubs in your area, contact Melanie Greer, 4-H Program Coordinator for Clallam County, at (360) 417-2398/(360) 912-2062 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Online at https://extension.wsu.edu/clallam/4h/.
In Jefferson County contact: Sarah Pederson, 4-H Youth & Families Coordinator, at (360) 379-5610 x 208 or email@example.com. You can learn more online at https://extension.wsu.edu/jefferson/youth/.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Saturday of each month.