California Riding Magazine • May, 2014

Circle Oak Equine
Drs. Jack Snyder and Sarah Puchalski enable pioneering sports medicine and rehab facility to offer world class services and treatments.

by Kim F. Miller

Dr. Snyder and his dog Nora Jones

Dr. Sarah Puchalski

Human athletes don't think twice about seeking out a sports medicine specialist, whether for injury treatment and recovery or for preventative measures and performance enhancement. Circle Oak Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation is making big strides toward establishing the same norm in the care of equine athletes.

Since Carrie Schlachter, VMD, signed on as veterinary medical director in 2010, the Petaluma facility has met its initial goals and is reaching well beyond them. The first objective, "Dr. Carrie" explains, was to make the most of cutting edge diagnostic and therapeutic equipment and highly trained staff by establishing treatment and care protocols used at veterinary hospitals. COE codified that goal by becoming a certified veterinary hospital, also in 2010.

A resident enjoys the vibe plate.

"Next came making it a place for education." Reviving the owner-geared Horse Course and staging annual Health Fairs allowed the public to see how Circle Oak's equipment and knowledge could improve their horses' lives and performance.
Five-time Olympic vet and acclaimed surgeon Dr. Jack Snyder encouraged Circle Oak to think even bigger. "He made us start to think about what it could mean to the veterinary world, if we, as one of very few veterinarian-run and governed rehab facilities in the country, could do research and provide education for vets everywhere," Dr. Carrie explains. "It could be very meaningful in their daily work, and not just from the perspective of the 'fancy toys' we have, but in terms of helping make advances in equine sports medicine."

Nicole, a registered veterinary technician, shock waves this horse's stifle.

With Circle Oak Equine owners Ron and Sara Malone fully on board, the expanded vision is already materializing. Most notably, Dr. Snyder retired from his 30-year-plus post at UC Davis to bring his practice to Circle Oak. Noted radiologist Dr. Sarah Puchalski also left her teaching position at UC Davis and will establish her practice at Circle Oak once she finishes a stretch of work, and competing as a high level amateur jumper rider, in Wellington, FL.

In addition to this powerful trio of veterinarians, Circle Oak Equine is in the process of building its own surgery center and is adding a standing magnetic resonance imaging machine, one of very few in the country, to its arsenal of high tech diagnostic and therapeutic equipment.

Digital Gastroscopy looks for stomach ulcers. Photo by Janice LeCocq Photography

"After working at UC Davis for 30 years, it is clear to me that Circle Oak is providing the state-of-the-art equestrian facility for advanced medicine and rehabilitation," says Dr. Snyder. "Circle Oak is also going to provide the academic environment for students and post-graduate training that will further advance the facility and the veterinary profession."

Expertise + Equipment

Circle Oak's three veterinarians represent a rare gathering of knowledge and experience. An expert surgeon, Dr. Snyder has treated horses at the highest levels of international sport and has earned a reputation for determining that first step in treatment, an accurate diagnosis, in especially difficult cases.

A UC Davis faculty member for almost 10 years, Dr. Puchalski is known internationally for her skill in using advanced imaging techniques to diagnose lameness in sporthorses. A lifelong rider, Dr. Puchalski's perspective as an active competitor brings additional depth and understanding to her work.

The Functional Electric Stimulation machine.

Dr. Carrie stepped onto a sports medicine path early in her veterinary career and expects to earn her equine sports medicine and rehabilitation board certification in August. Throughout her career, she's been both a pioneer in and a promoter of the field. She's highly regarded for the use of digital diagnostic equipment, especially ultrasound.

The only problem with being a pioneer in any field is that there's no handy model to point people toward by way of explanation. Although it's common in the care of human athletics, referrals to sports medicine specialists for treatment and rehabilitation are not yet common for equine athletes. At Circle Oak, the benefits of doing so come from a combination of equipment, veterinarians armed with the latest research and thinking and a staff that is knowledgeable and caring.
On the diagnostic side, COE's assets include sophisticated gait analysis software, ultrasound, digital radiographs, gastroscopy and, soon, the standing MRI.

The list of Dr. Carrie's so-called "fancy toys" is even longer on the therapeutic side. It's highlighted by hydrotherapy, shockwave, chiropractic, acupuncture, a cold water spa, the VibePlate vibrating floor and a free-flow exerciser. Regenerative therapies include IRAP, PRP and stem cell. All are used to carry out detailed routines for each Circle Oak patient, per standard veterinary hospital practices. This is the case for all horses in COE's care: from those recovering from serious injuries to retirees and the increasing number of show horses visiting for mental and physical "spa sessions," explains Dr. Carrie.

Prevention & Performance Enhancement

Some of the West Coast's top hunters and jumpers are becoming regular guests toward the end of their show seasons. "Instead of going home and going around in circles in the arena, they come here to stay in shape while getting a mental and physical break," Dr. Carrie explains. They might work out on COE's underwater treadmill, the HydroHorse™, be put through their paces with the Equiband from Equicore Concepts, exercise on the 70' free-flow exerciser and/or spend time in pasture.

Dr. Schlachter and her RVT Nicole performing a peripheral limb perfusion.

Reflecting the connection between carefully calibrated conditioning routines and competitive success, Circle Oak recently took on Matt Brown and Cecily Clark as sponsored competitors. Based at their East West Training Stable in Petaluma, these eventers have four horses targeting next year's Pan American Games. Each has the help of Circle Oak's counsel and equipment in the arduous task of attaining and maintaining fitness for international eventing, the triathlon of horse sports.

Having Drs. Snyder and Puchalski base their practices at Circle Oak will significantly increase the number of horses taking advantage of the facility's rehab assets. Veterinarians and horse owners throughout the Bay Area have embraced the facility for that purpose and Dr. Carrie is confident that vets and owners well beyond will continue to jump on the bandwagon. Thanks to digital technology, distance never prevents a referring vet from staying in charge of and/or closely monitoring their patient's recovery. The collective expertise of Circle Oak's staff is available to referring vets and owners to degrees of their choosing.

One of Circle Oak Equine's residents enjoying a session in their ECB cold saltwater spa!
Photo by Janice LeCocq Photography

Getting Dr. Schlachter to sign on as veterinary medical director four years ago was Circle Oak's first coup. Adding Drs. Snyder and Puchalski brings a layer of international renown to the facility, so much so that a horse owner who had never met the Circle Oak crew might be a tad intimidated by the intellectual firepower gathered. However, those who have met the three docs, the Malones and any of the veterinary technicians and other team members can attest that a shared joy in their work makes them accessible and a pleasure to deal with. Clients who come with an injured horse often get more than they bargained for: a healed horse, an immersion in compassionate care, and an infectious desire to harness all available knowledge and technology to better their horses' lives and performance.

For more information visit www.circleoakequine.com.