When Theresa Gilligan’s Hanoverian mare, Noty, developed inflammatory airway disease and suffered from severe allergies, the mare was treated with the usual vet-prescribed medications. At certain times of the year she was fine; other times, she became angry and underperformed due to breathing difficulty.

Theresa’s daughter Marlee’s Welsh Cob pony also had trouble breathing and would cough during allergy season. When Theresa’s veterinarian told her the regular treatment options would eventually stop working, she sought out alternatives.

With a degree in International Business and 14 years in the financial industry, plus more than 25 years’ experience riding and training horses, Theresa left her corporate finance career to establish Neachai Equine Ayurveda in 2010, the first equine Ayurvedic practice in North America.

Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems, developed more than 5,000 years ago in India, based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a balance between the mind, body, and spirit. “Ayurveda is a complete medical system. In India there are Ayurvedic hospitals, where the doctors start with an MD licence and complete what’s called a BAMS, Bachelor or Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery. It’s a comprehensive practice over there; however in North America, Ayurveda is a part of an integrated practice with Western medicine,” Theresa says.

“Originally I had never heard of Ayurveda, but the fundamental values and practices resonated with me when looking for ways to help my animals,” Theresa says. “Combining my education in animal sciences as well as my Ayurvedic medicinal education, I was able to develop protocols for horses based on the traditional Ayurvedic science.”

Her company name ‘Neachai’ is a combination of Noty’s initial and ‘eachai’, a word of Irish origin meaning equine. Theresa’s education is through Kerala Ayurvedic Institute (in India and California) her board certifications are through the National Ayurvedic Medical Association. She is now working towards her doctorate in Auryveda.

According to Ayurveda, there are three primary forces in the body called doshas that bind together the elements of space, air, fire, water and earth: vata, pitta and kapha. The Sanskrit word dosha translates to “that which can cause problems/disturbance” – where there is imbalance, there is illness or disease.

The concept of the doshas is unique to Ayurveda but is not dissimilar to the Western idea of basic body types: ectomorph (lean and delicate), mesomorph (compact and muscular) and endomorph (stocky). In Ayurveda, vata types are lean with small frames and are nervous and fearful; pittas have medium, strong physiques and are sharp and intelligent; kaphas have heavy builds and are calm and affectionate. Each dosha is influenced differently by environment and other factors.

“When you can identify the dosha, you can identify the disease pathology,” says Theresa. “The gut is ground zero for dysfunction in the body. That’s where it starts, with the ability to uptake nutrients.”

Dosing is the key to efficacy of any medicinal or nutritional products, says Theresa, and how effective it will be is dependent on gut health, the foundation of Ayurvedic medicine, and now studied in western medicine institutions around the globe.

Theresa bases treatments on the animal’s inherent constitution or dosha, then creates a specific herb treatment. All of Theresa’s blends are pre-packaged in daily bags so they are easy to administer and to ensure the horse is getting exactly the required dose. No loading dose is necessary.

Her treatment is multi-faceted, incorporating bodywork. Theresa, a certified Animal Neuro Myofascial Practitioner, begins with an assessment of a horse, identifies its dosha and does some hands-on fascia work to gets a sense of where the tension lies within visceral organs. She also looks at a horse’s feet for clues to its health or alignment.

“Sometimes when there is stagnation in the horse’s body it will show as issues with flexion and stiffness in particular areas. I use moxibustion on marma points (similar to the Meridian system in Chinese medicine). When I get on those points, I can get things moving, then use my hands to very subtly make changes on nerve centres, tendons and ligaments.” She also does cranial osteopathy. “Every cell in our body is a vibration and it’s about restoring correct vibrational balance.” She always includes pulse electromagnetic therapy into every treatment to stimulate endorphins, and help with cellular respiration which alleviates pain and inflammation.

Theresa travels across the province from her stable in Fort Erie and charges $150 for an assessment/treatment. She’s also goes to Florida to treat clients’ show horses and has clients she evaluates by video in Italy, South Africa, Denmark, Ireland and other countries. She works in collaboration with veterinarians, as well as other practitioners such as chiropractors.

Theresa also takes on behaviourial and lameness cases and treats them at her stable. One case was a huge Oldenburg mare that was unruly and unrideable to the point her owners considered having her euthanized. Theresa used several different therapies over the course of two months and successfully rehabbed her and the mare went on to become an eventer for the owner’s 11-year-old daughter.

Theresa has also had success with kissing spine, using special oils on the spine and bodywork to reduce inflammation, then starting rehab. One 19-year-old horse was able to return to a show jumping career; she’s also had multiple success stories with tendon injuries.

“I think I get a call every day about Fecal Water Syndrome/watery diarrhea,” she says. “I identify the dosha, change the horse’s diet and put it on a mono diet so it takes zero energy for the gut to process, so the immune cells can work on removing the pathogen.”

As for Theresa’s original equine patients, her own Noty and the Welsh cob?

“My mare that was facing euthanasia is now 22 and competes in dressage. She used to be on medication spring and fall if she started to get allergies and now she’s not on it at all. The pony is 30 and living his best life.”