Karen Laidley, DVM, would like to put herself out of business.
“I want to give owners the tools to need me less,” says the equine veterinarian whose Central Oregon facility is a hub of holistic horse care and training. A lifelong equestrian, Dr. Laidley has been learning and leaning more into whole-horse thinking in recent years.
She’s not alone.
“There is more of a movement in the equine industry where owners are going to speak up more and want better for their horses,” says Dr. Laidley, a 1998 graduate of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “People are asking why their horse only has three to five years at the top of their career. Why are they breaking down earlier? The more we can empower owners and trainers to look deeper into those questions, the more we are going to have these needed discussions.”
The pandemic pushed this trend. “People have more time to spend with their horses: they are starting to trust themselves and ask questions. For so long, people were almost intimidated to ask questions. The fact that everybody was doing something one way does not mean it has to continue that way.”
After many years serving the community at a mixed animal veterinary practice, Dr. Laidley narrowed her focus to horses only. She then opened her scope of study to all aspect and ideas regarding their optimal physical and mental health.
Filling A Knowledge Void
Saddle fit, podiatry and dental care are a few of the many paths she’s pursuing. Being a rider is an advantage. “It helps me see and feel the holes that exist for horses and the ways that we can help to round out their education and improve their health and well-being. That is a void in veterinary medicine that I’d like to fill.”
Saddle fit was the crux of an early eye-opener for Dr. Laidley. It involved Buzz (aka “Snow Globe Effect”), an eventing partner the 3* rider hoped might take her to the Kentucky Three-Day Event and beyond. That dream was nixed by an injury that eluded diagnosis. While seeking to help Buzz, Dr. Laidley was recommended to a session with Master Saddle Fitter Jochen Schleese, founder of Schleese Saddlery Service and Saddle Fit 4 Life
education programs. She was sponsored by another saddle maker at the time, yet she agreed to a fitting and trialed a Schleese saddle. “My horse went from being a little off to a lot off,” Dr. Laidley recalls.
While that was the opposite of what she’d hoped for, it illustrated “what happens when you free up the horse’s back: it allows them to blossom into their real self. And it shows how much they try to hide from us because they are prey animals.” (Buzz’ injury was eventually diagnosed as a proximal suspensory tear. It was treated appropriately and has healed completed. He is now integral to Dr. Laidley’s drive to achieve her US Dressage Federation medals.)
Dr. Laidley is now a certified Schleese saddle ergonomist herself and utilizes that knowledge as part of an ever-bigger tool kit to evaluate and tend to horses in her care.
Bringing These Ideas to the Barn
Fruition Farm was conceived as a facility for the veterinarian’s own horses, not as a boarding or training business. “I was doing it for our own horses, and I did a ton of research on every aspect of the barn.” Like many savvy horse people, she prioritized flooring in the early design and budget phases.
In the flooring and bedding realm, Dr. Laidley searched for a solution to improve barn air quality from a respiratory health perspective. She also favored flooring that could be easily cleaned and sanitized. All those searches led Dr. Laidley to ComfortStall Sealed Orthopedic Flooring, by Haygain. “In doing the research, I found out about the quality of ComfortStall and that’s how I ended up with it.”
That was 15 years ago. Fruition Farm’s five 14’ x 20’ stalls are still “beautiful,” the veterinarian states. “They are as perfect now as when we put them in!” It has fulfilled Dr. Laidley’s various objectives in purchasing it: providing comfort for horses on stall rest or recovering from sedation and foaling mares. Sanitization has been as easy as advertised.
Even though Fruition Farm’s horses live outside with individual shelters and heated waterers, Dr. Laidley wanted them on supportive flooring for whatever hours they were indoors. “I wanted them to be on something that I’d want to be on.” ComfortStall’s layer of orthopedic foam provides cushion for deep rest and sleep, without the need of bedding. Only enough bedding to absorb urine is required. Reducing bedding improves stable air quality because most bedding is loaded with respirable irritants.
Bedding and hay are the biggest sources of these microscopic irritants that are the main cause of surprisingly common respiratory challenges, including inflammatory airway disease (IAD). The respiratory benefits of ComfortStall are furthered by a single-piece durable rubber top cover that seals to the stall wall. The impermeable surface prevents urine from seeping to the stall floor, where bacteria and unhealthy ammonia off-gasses can otherwise accumulate.
Setting Stage for Respiratory Health
Triggering proprioception is another benefit Dr. Laidley loves. The flooring’s slight give prompts horses to make tiny muscle movements for balance. This encourages blood flow that helps muscles, tendons and joints recover. She likens the ComfortStall surface to a full-time version of Sure Foot Stability Pads that encourage horses to find their own balance during short sessions.
ComfortStall is a perfect fit with Fruition Farm’s arena footing: Travel Right Footing. Dr. Laidley choose it for its rebound, traction, and no-dust qualities. Haygain’s High Temperature Hay Steaming is an important part of Dr. Laidley’s effort to reduce respirable irritants in the horse keeping environment. The patented steaming technology reduces up to 99% of the dust, mold, bacteria and other allergens found even in hay of desired nutrient content. She also has a Flexineb Equine Nebulizer that enables her to treat various inflammatory airway conditions, including inflammation caused by regional forest fires. Dr. Laidley’s horses and boarders’ horses benefit from steamed forage thanks to Fruition Farm’s half-bale Haygain. “One client kept her horse a different facility where she developed some serious Inflammatory Airway Disease symptoms,” the veterinarian relays.
“Her owner needed a place where the environment supported respiratory health to every extent possible. That’s why she tracked me down. Since her horse arrived at Fruition Farm, she is doing really well and is no longer coughing when she starts to work.”
Most recently, Dr. Laidley added the third “Haygain Way” product: the Forager Slow Feeder. The Forager appealed to Dr. Laidley because of its ability to provide a safe slow-feeding option, even for shod horses, and one that mimics normal grazing posture. Its durability and its ability to withstand significant variations in temperature were also a great selling point. “An added benefit is not having to worry about it being blown away with the blustery winds that Central Oregon can be known for, especially in the cold and dark winter months.”
Your Horse’s Hero
Providing and sharing holistic and cutting-edge care and training methods is gratifying work. “Shut down” is how the veterinarian describes the state of several horses that find their way to Fruition Farm. “You look in their eyes and nobody’s there. They have their head down, nose to the ground and are just getting by.”
Delivering thoughtful, whole-horse care starts a rewarding path of discovery. “The horses start to show more personality, to show you what they like and don’t like,” Dr. Laidley explains. She wants all owners to embody Fruition Farm’s motto: “Be Your Horse’s Hero.”
“Owners start to discover that there are so many other things going on with their horses.” That’s true of care and training. “I firmly believe that horses are not innately bad. If they exhibit behaviors that we consider ‘unfavorable,’ it’s likely because they don’t understand what we are asking or because they are painful or uncomfortable.” The vast realm of information can be overwhelming. Reflecting on her own horses’ injuries over the years, Dr. Laidley still feels “Oh my god, there’s so much more I could have done for them. That makes me sad, but it was also the catalyst for me to learn all that I’m learning now and to think of things on a bigger scale.”
Kim F Miller is editor of California Riding Magazine and a freelance equestrian journalist & photographer. Kim is also Partnerships Manager at Haygain and editor of TheWestEquestrian.com. firstname.lastname@example.org. Bio photo by Sherry Stewart.