A new equine center offers state-of-the-art therapies to rehabilitate ailing, injured and special needs horses.
Like many good ideas, the concept for Helios Equine Rehabilitation Center began as a sketch on a napkin. With years of diligent research and careful planning, however, that drawing methodically grew from an outline into reality.
Helios Equine, a 150-acre Lincolnton facility that provides rehabilitation services to horses recovering from surgery or injury and treatments to horses requiring special care, is holding a grand opening on Saturday, September 14.
“This is a dream of mine,” says Evans resident Susan Hathaway, who co-owns Helios Equine with Kirk Laney. “I’ve always wanted to be able to take care of horses.”
Her dream began to evolve from the napkin sketch she made five years ago into fruition after she found an architect, a co-owner and a general manager to come along for the ride. And also like many good ideas, this one was born of necessity.
When Susan, a retired U.S. Army major who served as a military and a civilian RN, moved to Georgia 10 years ago, she had two horses that had become ill. One had respiratory problems, and the other had post-operative colic surgery complications. “There were few horse therapies in Georgia that met the qualifications to do the therapy they needed,” Susan says.
With her initial design plan in mind, she started scouring the state for land that would meet the requirements to develop a horse rehabilitation facility. She found the Lincolnton property, a former pecan farm and cattle ranch with established pastures, three years ago.
Safety & Security
Susan, who has 21 horses – plus a baby horse in utero – of her own, always has had a strong bond with the animals. “Horses have a lot of healing properties that they give to us,” she says.
And now, with Helios Equine, she can do the same for them with state-of-the-art amenities.
Currently, the center features an 18,000-square-foot administrative building and barn, which includes offices, a conference room, a laundry room, dual tack rooms, dual feed rooms, a veterinary care room, an indoor washroom and 24 stalls.
Each stall has a 12-foot-by-12-foot indoor space and a 12-foot-by-12-foot covered outdoor shelter adjoining a 12-foot-by-16-foot run-out paddock.
“Horses in rehab can’t run, so you have to contain them,” says Ed David, general manager.
The stalls also feature ThuroBed mattress flooring, which mimics a pasture for improved comfort and traction, and 24/7 security cameras to monitor the horses.
“With a camera on every horse, we can track their behavior and make better diagnoses,” Susan says.
The building also includes circadian lighting and fire suppression, automatic water monitoring, ventilation and mud management systems in a dust-free environment.
“Safety is very important here. We stress ventilation and circulation because they are necessary for a healthy barn, and we train people to get people and horses out of the barn in case of fire,” says Susan, who also is a former firefighter. “Our water system will kick in and flood the barn, and there is a point of egress in every stall. There are points of egress everywhere. Horses are known to want to come back to their stall.”
In another precaution, Helios Equine keeps only a weeks’ worth of hay supply in the building. “Hay is extremely combustible. It’s more combustible than gasoline,” Ed says.
The property also has broken ground on an aqua center, which will include three treadmills for the horses. The treadmills will use hot or cold water to help horses increase their circulation and expedite healing. Susan hopes the aqua center will be open by the end of December.
“I think the aqua center will be a game changer,” Ed says.
Although they are not yet in the works, other future plans include stem cell therapy and a hyperbaric chamber.
Outdoors, the property, which still has pecan trees, features horse friendly landscaping. “Pecans are not dangerous for horses, but black walnuts and persimmons will kill them,” Susan says.
The licensed facility does not offer boarding services, nor is it a rescue center. “Our care is veterinary driven,” Susan says. “To come here, a horse needs a referral from a vet. Or one of our veterinarians can make a recommendation.”
The Helios Equine staff partners with its clients’ veterinarians to create individual rehabilitation programs for recovery, improved patient mobility and health maintenance through strength training.
Helios Equine services include digital thermal imaging, laser therapy, PFE blankets to increase circulation and healing, ice boots and wraps for legs, slinging capabilities and Advanced TeleSensors Vital Sign Equine Sensor therapy. ATS, which is in each stall, remotely detects equine heart and respiratory rates, heart rate variability and motion in real time without putting a sensor on the horse and transmits the information wirelessly.
The Helios staff members thoroughly document their treatment of the horses, and they develop follow up treatment plans for horses once they are discharged from their care.
“Treating people and horses is similar,” says Susan. “A lot of the medicines that horses take are human medicines, but they take them in larger doses. Wound care for horses is similar to wound care for humans. Nutrition also is very important.”
Susan says the average stay for the horses will be three to six months, depending on what’s wrong with them and how quickly they respond to therapy.
“We’re going to try to get the horses where they need to be safely and soundly with proper medical care,” she says.
Medications and therapies are not the only aspects of treatment that horses and humans have in common, however.
“The way you approach, handle and take care of a horse is similar to a human patient,” Susan says. “You have to gain the trust of a complete stranger. A human can talk to me, but a human can be just as stoic as a horse. People and horses don’t want to bother you, and they don’t let on that they’re in pain. Horses can’t answer you, but they can physically react.”
Helios Equine, a 24/7 facility with round-the-clock security, admitted its first patients in May. In August four patients receiving treatment at the center included Chance, who was there for ATS studies; Zuzu, who had leg sores and stiffness; Lilly, a mare that was mated specifically with another horse and has a high-value pregnancy, and Patches, who was being evaluated for behavioral issues.
“Horses like attention, and they want attention,” says Susan. “They’re like very large children in that respect.”
Patches, who is housed in a stall across from Lilly, might be Exhibit A. Susan says he will snort and stomp his feet if staff members go to Lilly before him.
These horses came to the center from Athens as well as Michigan and Texas, and Susan expects to treat horses from anywhere. She also believes the proximity of Aiken and Tryon (North Carolina) International Equestrian Center will draw patients to Helios Equine.
“I really want to offer the best staff for all the horses,” says Susan. “Some people have a knack for horses.”
In addition to the owners, the staff currently includes five people –Ed; horse caretakers Christine Smith and Rachel Hynes; Gabriel Hathaway, who runs the maintenance shop; and Jovica Dimovski, who oversees security.
“Everybody is very passionate about the care and rehabilitation of the horses,” says Christine. She has degrees in equestrian studies from Salem (West Virginia) College and Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre in Waverly, West Virginia. Meredith Manor is a nationally accredited equestrian college dedicated exclusively to preparing students for successful careers with horses.
Susan plans to expand the staff to 12 – 14 people for the day shift and four or five people for the night shift. Additional positions will include sports medicine, large animal veterinarians that specialize in surgery, leg injuries, neurology and internal medicine; vet techs; stable hands; a barn manager and a water therapy manager. Initially, the center evaluated horses through veterinary consultations.
“I like to be hands-on with horses,” says Susan. “I like to touch them, see how they work and see if they will do what I ask. We have to meet their physical, emotional and nutritional needs.”
And the horses, in turn, can fulfill emotional needs for the people who take care of them.
“Where else can you go and enjoy life and be happy?” Ed, who spent 30 years in the military and 18 years in law enforcement, says of the facility. “I think our society is changing, and we are losing values. The horses want to do good. It’s satisfying that they want to do better.”
For more information, visit hserc.com.
By Leigh Howard
Photography by Sally Kolar