ZOLFO SPRINGS — Jessica Landa, DVM, ran her hands over a horse’s hip, trailing the anatomy carefully before inserting a thin needle. The horse didn’t flinch. She placed another. And another.

Acupuncture for horses.

“I’ve seen great results for pain,” said Landa, noting that barrel racers, ropers and jumpers can get “back sore.”

Sometimes the horse is in such pain, it fights the treatment at first.

“They get very resentful; they kick at you. But once (the needle) stimulates the point, they relax, they lick and chew, their head drops and they almost go to sleep,” she said.

Landa, who works for Ridge Large Animal Veterinary Services in Zolfo Springs, is the only veterinarian specializing in chiropractic and acupuncture in the area.

The 32-year-old is a graduate of the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and has been practicing for five years. She received her chiropractic certification a year and a half ago in Wellsville, Kansas.

As she stood on hay bales in order to get into position, Landa adjusted the heel of her hand on another horse’s spine, placed the other hand on top and manipulated it with quick pushes, using all of her body weight.

“You are having an effect on the nervous system,” she explained. The spinal cord runs down the spine. When a restriction in the nerves running through those bones is corrected, it frees the nerves up to work properly and improves blood flow, she went on.

Jessica Landa (DVM '10) performs chiropractic adjustments on one of her patients.
Dr. Jessica Landa uses chiropractic hands-on techniques as a regular part of her preventive care and treatment of her patients. Landa enjoys being able to cure patients and improve athletic performance without the use of drugs. (Courtesy of Highlands Today/Clix Photo)

Landa said many of her patients are performance horses competing in rodeos, but not all of them.

“I’ve had amazing results with chiropractic. We’ve had horses that come in with lameness. You can’t pinpoint exactly which joint or know that, well, he’s sore in his knee or in his hock. But you know he’s off. He’s not moving correctly.”

“I’ve adjusted those horses, and they go back to being 100 percent sound,” she finished.

Landa has experienced the benefits of chiropractic herself.

As a bodybuilder since 2007, who recently won the women’s lightweight division at the Iron Eagle Natural Bodybuilding and Amateur Figure Classic last year, Landa said she does not think she could compete without her regular chiropractic adjustments.

A native of Virginia who grew up in Texas, Landa worked at Ridge as part of her veterinary studies program, and when she came back the second time was offered a job as the main mobile veterinarian.

Most of her day involves travel, including widespread travel to areas like Tampa and Ocala to build her rapidly-growing chiropractic and acupuncture practice.

“I’ve always been interested in wellness and preventative medicine. I hate having to give drugs to treat problems. I want to try to prevent it before it starts-- keeping (the animals) healthy, not putting out fires when they get sick,” Landa said.

She pointed out that with animals, who cannot speak to tell you what is bothering them, chiropractic can give an indication that something is wrong before it causes serious problems for the animal.

“One of the horses that is on a regular schedule with me with chiropractic, I’ve always adjusted the same thing on this horse. I went to adjust her and everything was different,” Landa explained.

Surprised, Landa began to investigate what might have changed. “She was getting ready to tear one of the tendons in her leg. I caught that and got her treated,” she said, saving the animal pain and downtime and the owner the expense of treating a more serious injury.

Jessica Landa (DVM '10)
According to Landa, hands-on chiropractic care can help improve athletic horse performance significantly. (Courtesy of Highlands Today/Clix Photo)

Landa recalled the moment she knew she wanted to take her professional career in the direction of chiropractic: she was giving a talk at a 4H equine seminar shortly after graduating veterinary school. Dr. Mark D’Amato, a human chiropractor from Sarasota, was there as well, demonstrating chiropractic on horses.

“The horse was nervous and acting up when he first started. By the end, the horse was so relaxed, he was almost asleep,” she said.

Because she’s been so busy with work, Landa hasn’t been training for any bodybuilding championships, but the lean, strong young woman said she’s shooting for the fall.

That means she’ll be bringing her cooler to her “house calls” filled with lean meats, vegetables and brown rice, and her clients will tease her about not being able to accept their food offers.

But in the meantime, Landa is happy to be focusing on her large, quiet patients, who give instant results and don’t “hang onto their pain” the way people do. Landa added, “The best part is being able to help these horses, these athletes, reach their peak performance with just my hands.”

“I’m so glad I’ve done it.”

This article was originally published in Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune, on April 20, 2015.