By Christie DeBernardis
On my first trip to the Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center, better known as KESMARC, I was actually there to see a Jack Russell Terrier receive a hyperbaric chamber treatment. Troy Hamilton, who operates the chamber and oversees around 1,000 treatments per year, was kind enough to explain the process to me and describe the chamber’s many benefits. He also regaled me with tales of some of the greats he had the pleasure to work with, such as Blame and Stephanie’s Kitten. I only met owner and founder Kirsten Johnson for a few minutes, but as I listened to her describe other ways she could help my friend’s four-legged companion, I knew I needed to learn more about this amazing facility.
I visited the Versailles-based equine rehabilitation center again on my next trip to Kentucky and as I toured the facility with Johnson, I was mesmerized. As soon as you walk in the front doors, you are greeted by the automatic walker, which had several occupants out for their daily exercise. To the left, is the circular swimming pool and I was able to watch as a good-looking bay horse was led down the ramp for his morning swim. Next up was the cold-water spa, where another bay horse calmly enjoyed the spa’s soothing effects. As we left the spa to head to the hyperbaric chamber, Johnson stopped to greet consignor James Keogh, who often brings his horses over to use the facility’s many amenities.
“I love the staff at KESMARC,” Keogh said. “They are extremely compassionate and take a real interest in all of the horses over there. They have a tremendous, quality, core group of people there. When they go back to the races, they cheer for them like they are their own horses. I swim horses there from time to time. They introduced me to Thera-Plate. I also use the cold-water spa for some of my hunting horses.”
We concluded the tour with the Aquatred, where Modesto Rodriguez supervised an eager dark bay horse, who seemed to be a pro on the treadmill. The center also boasts lush paddocks full of Kentucky’s famous bluegrass, a jogging track, the aforementioned Thera-Plate, a Bemer and a Flexineb.
We returned to Johnson’s office, where we were greeted by longtime KESMARC employee and horsewoman Marsha Glass. The walls were covered in photos of the famous racehorses–like Kitten’s Joy, Roses in May and The Factor–and show horses (as well as a few dogs), who have passed through KESMARC’s doors. Glass joked about how Johnson never sits at her desk, which did not surprise me given her dynamic and energetic personality, as well as her hands-on approach to her business. Johnson and I headed to conference room for our interview and on each chair hung the halter of one of the facility’s famed patients, just more evidence of the pride Johnson has in the work done by her team.
“I started doing equine sports medicine and rehabilitation almost 30 years ago,” Johnson said. “It all started because I thought that stall rest, hand walking and turnout for a high-end, D1 athlete was maybe not the only answer. It’s not what they did in human medicine. So, I applied that thought process to the horse and that’s how this all started.”
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