South of the Border: Lauren Lauder Brown: Equine Diplomat of Osteopath (EDO®)
November 27, 2019
Columnist's note: In prior columns I've written about folks making interesting contributions from their homes in the Sweet Grass Hills. Lauren Lauder Brown came to the Hills from Canada. She married B.J. Brown who grew up on a ranch in the east shadow of West Butte. The couple lives in the Oilmont area where B.J. does ranch work, Lauren works at Marias Veterinary Clinic in Shelby and does osteopathic work in both Canada and the U.S. Together the couple has a beef cattle herd. I met Lauren at a function at the Whitlash church several months ago. That's when I learned of her unusual training and practice as an equine osteopath-she described her work as "like a chiropractor for horses."
The first school of osteopathy was started in 1892 in Missouri by a Civil War surgeon. This "holistic" approach to treating humans was soon introduced around the world. Dr. Dominque Giniaux, a French veterinarian, started developing principles applicable to horses. Giniaux collaborated with other Europeans using the new methods and began to train veterinarians and others as Equine Osteopaths (EDO®). To receive the EDO® designation an individual must meet several prerequisites to begin the three year course of study and successfully complete the accreditation process.
Lauren completed her training in 2010 through the Vluggen Institute in Texas. Based in Germany, the Institute is the only school in the U.S. offering equine osteopathic training leading to international certification as an EDO®. Per the International Association of Equine Osteopaths (IAEO) registry, there are currently about 30 certified equine osteopaths in the U.S. It's a very specialized and small group of professionals in the U.S. and it seems Lauren is the only one in Montana at this time. Here's some of what I learned about equine osteopaths, their preparation and the work they do.
Preparation to become a certified equine osteopath (EDO®)
Lauren Brown grew up on a farm near Okotoks, Alberta. Her family still has a commercial cow operation and her dad also trains horses. She said, "I grew up around animals my entire life and enjoyed learning how to look after them and care for the sick and injured ones." She added that she liked spending time with vets and as a child "wanted to be a vet when I grew up." She has ridden horses competitively since she was a youngster.
After high school Lauren completed a Bachelor's of Science in Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan with a major in Animal Science, Health and Nutrition. That course of study touched on everything from animal nutrition to anatomy and physiology for both large and small animals. Her coursework included veterinary genetics, large animal clinical science and animal production, all of which related to her ultimate interest in equine osteopathy.
To begin the four-year equine osteopathy course at Vluggen Institute students are required to be a licensed veterinarian or hold a bachelor's degree. Entrants must also have taken equine anatomy and pass an entrance interview to verify they have enough experience and knowledge to complete the course. Of the students in her class, Lauren said, "Everyone had an extensive animal background, either as trainers or very experienced horse owners. Some had massage certification and some, like me, had college degrees." She added, "There were roughly 20 students when we started and I believe only eight of us graduated. The course was very rigorous."
At the Institute a typical day started at 8 am with a focus on classroom work followed by hands-on experience with the animals and another hour of class at the end of the day. At night students could opt to watch/assist with horses brought to the Institute for treatment. The classes were broken in to week long modules and a test had to be successfully completed before a student could begin the next module.
Lauren noted, "There was an incredible amount of depth in anatomy, physiology, nutrition, reproduction, palpation, handling, along with the principles and history of osteopathy." There were also four mandatory dissection projects to help students see on the inside what they were feeling/manipulating on the outside."
Once the classes are completed, a student takes the exam for international certification. That's a written and practical exam in front of three certified osteopaths, two of whom must be licensed veterinarians. After successful completion of the exam, a student is a 'junior osteopath' and can work only under the supervision of a certified osteopath. A thesis or series of case studies must also be completed. To keep one's certification 30 hours of continuing educations is required every three years.
Working as a professional equine osteopath
Lauren Brown has worked since 2010 as a professional osteopath, with most of her clients in Canada. She noted "I've worked in every kind of weather imaginable in places all over Canada." Her work has involved her with professional rodeo athletes (horses), race horses and Chuckwagon horses. While her work involves all aspects of treating horses (from sore muscles to nutritional issues) much of what she does is manual osteopathy. That involves "treating animals on a functional level-manipulating joints and muscles, work that looks similar to what chiropractors do with their human patients." (You can see a short video online of Lauren 'adjusting' a horse. Type "How to adjust a Calgary Stampede horse-CBC Player" in to your internet browser).
Asked about an ideal future for her professionally, Lauren said, "First, I'm working to develop more clients in the U.S. now that I'm a resident of Montana." An ideal situation would be to set up a rehabilitation facility where I could treat injured equine athletes and do post-operative rehab." She's already working as a mentor for future osteopaths and believes she would enjoy teaching as well.
Summing her passion for equine osteopathy, she wrote in a note, "I enjoy the opportunity to treat all horses whether backyard pets or high performance athletes. I really enjoy working with athletes to make them the best they can be and to keep them healthy and injury free." She likes to treat horses as a 'full package,' considering their exercise and conditioning programs as well as nutrition since it is all interconnected to equine performance. She summed her view of her profession this way: "I want to utilize all my education treating horses since it really is all interconnected."