Saratoga Springs’ healing spa waters aren’t just for people—they’re for racehorses, too. At Burke Equine Inc., a therapy center at Top Rail Farm, Thoroughbreds are pampered in a special “spa barn” where they move their legs underwater on a treadmill and soak their bones in a saltwater Jacuzzi. “They all seem to enjoy it,” says Stowe Burke, a veterinarian and fourth generation horseman, who lives and works at the 104-acre farm on Hutchins Road, near the Saratoga Spa State Park.
Just like humans, horses need rehab after surgery and injuries, and at Burke Equine, the animals recover at the only vet-owned-and-operated therapy center in the Northeast that offers an AquaPacer (the treadmill), ECB Cold Saltwater Spa (exactly what it sounds like), an exercise track and 24/7 veterinary care.
Top trainers such as Todd Pletcher, Jimmy Toner, Kiaran McLaughlin, Christophe Clement, Bill Mott, Jimmy Jerkens, Nick Zito and Peter Pugh have all sent their superstars to Burke, and during track season, anywhere from 40-50 horses can be there at one time. But four-legged patients check in all year round, and not only racehorses. Burke says they see Standardbreds, show horses and barrel racers, too.
When Saratoga Living visited in June, there were 32 horses on the peaceful, woodsy property, being cared for by masked workers (due to the lingering COVID-19 crisis), who hauled buckets and pushed wheelbarrows amid tall trees and tidy white barns. When it’s spa time, a horse walks for 15-20 minutes in the water-filled AquaPacer, which in the winter is heated to 75 degrees. “The same company also makes a machine—a smaller version—for humans, that’s used after surgery, especially knee surgery,” Burke says. During the cold spa treatment, a horse stands in 35-degree saltwater for 10 minutes to reduce inflammation.
“What I love about my job,” says Burke, “is that I get to see the horses from the point of diagnosis and injury all the way to the point where they return to their intended function. And then I get to be with my family on my family farm, Top Rail Farm, one of the last working farms in the City of Saratoga Springs.” In a house on a hilltop, Burke lives with his wife, Caroline, a Skidmore College graduate and owner of design firm Top Rail Interiors, and their children, Minnie and Henry. Farming is in his DNA: Growing up, the Saratoga Springs High School grad spent weekends and summers at the farm with his grandfather, Bobby Burke, a show jumping Hall of Famer.
Down the hill, horses go to the spa early in the morning, so visitors don’t get to see them in the water. But a 9am visit may include a short walk to the half-mile track that circles through a forest. On this sunny morning, Burke watches closely as three horses jog with their exercise riders. The shade keeps their blood pressure down, he says. “The horses just love it, and it keeps them less stressed.”
At 10am, as Saratoga Living’s visit was drawing to a close, Burke donned a riding helmet, pulled fringed leather chaps over his jeans, and headed to the track. “I’ll get on each horse that’s here at some point,” he says. “This way I can be sure of their recovery.” The satisfaction that comes from being hands-on in the healing process is why he runs a rehab center for horses. “It’s amazing,” he says, “that an animal so big and strong will allow us to interact with them like they do.”