Riders across the country are glad to see Dougie Hannum driving his car into their driveway or walking down their barn aisle at a competition. When they see him, they know their horses are about to feel much better.
Hannum has been a therapist to horses at the highest levels and to horses just starting out for almost four decades, at six Olympic Games and at competitions from New Jersey to California. And his mission hasn't really changed.
"It's hard to really say what I do. But what we try to do is to give the horse the best opportunity to give the best performance. We try to set a horse up for his maximum performance," said Hannum.
That means that he looks at the whole horse, not just parts of the horse. And if the horse appears to be sore in his hindquarters, Hannum tries to figure out why. In the meantime, he treats the symptoms too, with treatments like cold-laser therapy, magnetic-blanket therapy, specific pain- or inflammation-reducing topical products, and, especially, handwork and manipulation.
"Across the board, in all the disciplines, it's body soreness that we treat—muscles and soft tissue," he said.
"We try to teach people about a good management program for their horses so that they can help us maintain their horses as athletes," added Hannum. "And it doesn't really matter what level the horse is competing at. Sure, the higher the level, the higher the risk, but it all comes back to the same things. I mean, a horse is a horse."
If you ask Hannum to evaluate and work on your horse, he'll be willing to listen to you describe what you're feeling or what your horse's symptoms are—but mostly because he might hear a clue to the problem. No matter what you say, he's going to examine your horse in the same deliberate fashion he examines every single horse—he's going to run his hands over him from poll to tail, on both sides of his body, to see what he feels.
And along the way you might see him wince, you might hear him let out a sigh, and you might even hear him whistle. When he does any of those, it means he's found something, and there's a good chance that what he's found isn't what you were expecting.