Calgary Stampede horses get help in the form of yoga, massage and reiki

Horses at the Calgary Stampede can be considered high-performance athletes, so it follows that there is also a lot of specialized support available for them behind the scenes - help that wasn't always there before.

Treatments are similar to those given to elite athletes

How to adjust a Calgary Stampede horse

9 years ago
Duration 2:44
Lauren Lauder, an equine osteopath, demonstrates how she treats horses competing at the Calgary Stampede.

Horses at the Calgary Stampede can be considered high-performance athletes, so it follows that there is also a lot of specialized support available for them behind the scenes – help that wasn't always there before. 

Treatments these days include massage, horse yoga, reiki and acupuncture, says Stampede spokesperson Bonni Clark.

Equine osteopath Lauren Lauder gives a quick treatment to Mud Chute as chuckwagon driver Jamie Laboucane looks on. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

"Just as alternative medical therapies have been found beneficial for humans and pets, [they are] also beneficial to performance athletes like horses," she said.

"It's really picked up in the past 10 years or so."

Lauren Lauder has been working as an equine osteopath for the last five years. Her job is to check in with race horses before and after competition to work on their joints and muscles.

"And one thing I think that amazes people a little bit about working on these horses is how little force it actually takes to do an adjustment," she said. 

"You see this great big animal and you think you're going to have to be — you know — seven feet tall and a bodybuilder to be able to pick these horses up and do stuff, but it actually it's more about specific angles and just almost letting them do the adjustment."

Lauder grew up in the sport of chuckwagon races and rodeo and has always been around horses. 

"This type of stuff I have been doing my whole life, that's kind of where I got the passion to do this as a career," she said.

'Horses really enjoy it'

The goal is to keep the horses on top of their game.

Lauren Lauder grew up around horses and has many family members in the chuckwagon and rodeo industry. Her boyfriend, chuckwagon driver Jamie Laboucane, is pictured at left. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

"I mean it's no different than any professional sport. You know, you got hockey players that have their trainer and therapist that come in," said Lauder. "We are exactly the same."

During the treatment, she starts at the back and checks every joint in his body. If something isn't moving right, she takes a closer look.

The treatment includes stretching and massage, and Lauder says the horses really enjoy it.

"Race horses tend to be a little bit higher-strung then some of your normal horses. Sometimes you'll come in and start working on them and they're a little bit antsy and worried and they don't want to stand still."

But she says usually halfway through the appointment the horses usually take a big breath and relax.

"They are just happy to comply and work with you. They are very smart, they are very in tune and they realize they are feeling better. They all quite enjoy it."

Therapists also work closely with veterinarians to make sure the horses are up to competing in "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth."

"The biggest [goal] ... is injury prevention. That's the name of the game. You want to keep them healthy and happy so that they can do what they do — which is run."


Rachel Maclean

CBC reporter

Rachel Maclean is an award-winning journalist who has worked with the CBC Calgary digital team since 2011, specializing in social media and visual storytelling. She also reported on climate change for The Weather Network.