New Year brings new adventure for local vet—in China
By Karen Brainard
Next year will bring a new experience for a Ramona doctor who, in what would seem to be a turnabout, has been asked to perform Eastern medicine in China.
“It’s a unique opportunity for me,” said veterinarian Dr. Jon Matthews.
Matthews, owner of Matthews Equine Services Inc., has created a form of diagnostic acupuncture that is sought after in the U.S. sport horse industry.
“There’s an emerging sport horse industry in China as the Chinese become more westernized,” said Matthews. “Things that are prevalent in our western society are becoming more attractive to the Chinese.”
China, he said, is planning to use its 2008 Olympic facilities in Beijing for show jumping.
“I have been asked to go there because the problem is they have this emerging industry but they don’t have any vets because the typical Chinese vet is either a food animal vet or a small animal vet,” he explained.
Matthews said he has heard there are 120 jumpers in Beijing, and half of them are lame.
The request to treat the horses came from the mother of a client, Matthews said. The client—a Chinese woman with wealthy parents living in China—brought her Grand Prix jumper from Germany to the U.S. so Matthews could treat the horse’s chronic lameness.
When the client’s mother heard of Matthews’ work, she flew over and asked him to travel to China to prepare horses for competition.
Matthews said he will spend about two weeks in April and another two weeks in October to treat the horses for competitions, and will be accompanied by his wife, Robin.
Although it might seem unusual for an acupuncture-practicing American vet to be needed in China, Matthews said a lot of acupuncturists were driven out of China in the 1970s and came to the U.S. to practice.
“Acupuncture became less prevalent in China where it was originally discovered,” he noted.
Matthews said he didn’t start his veterinary practice using acupuncture techniques. In fact, he did not even plan on becoming a vet when he started college, even though he grew up on a thoroughbred racing farm in Valley Center and several family members were vets.
Majoring in art, Matthews changed his career choice after a teacher told him that he would need to live in Los Angeles or New York. He wanted to live in a rural area, and so he turned to veterinary science and earned his doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of California Davis in 1989. He did not give up art completely. Many of his paintings are displayed in his home.
Acupuncture first became a hobby for him—to see what it was and used for, he said.
“Basically about 20 years ago I was treating a horse with abdominal pain and it seemed very severe, like the horse was going to have to go to surgery,” he said.
Matthews stuck a needle in the belly of the horse to draw a sample of fluid. When he did this, it seemed that he hit a spot that caused the pain to disappear. Matthews said the horse changed from trying to roll around and get away from the pain “to where she was completely comfortable and was looking for food, all within about 10 seconds.”
When the client asked what happened, Matthews said he looked at the needle and thought, “The only thing this can be is acupuncture. And if this is how profound it is, then this is something that I have to know something about.”
It started him on a quest.
Although he doesn’t have any formal training, he researched acupuncture and understands the basics about traditional Chinese medicine.
“It was just trial and error over about a 20-year period,” he said. “I built the system in response to the results.”
According to Matthews, a lot of veterinarians use acupuncture but his procedure is different.
“From what I know…there isn’t anyone who does what I do, which is a diagnostic form of acupuncture,” he said.
Matthews said he will observe the horse in motion and then use acupuncture to determine where there is imbalance or pain. Certain points are directly related to certain joints, he said. Based on how the horse reacts, he can tell where the pain is coming from and can treat that area. Treatment could then be acupuncture, chiropractic therapy, or an injection.
“It’s like a perfect union of Eastern, Western medicine,” said the vet.
He has found his procedure has been successful in treating lameness. Growing up on a racing farm, he knew lameness was a real problem for racehorses, comparing them to football players leaving a game injured or experiencing soreness.
“It was a big huge desire of mine to basically fix this problem,” he said.
He deals mostly with jumpers and racehorses now, and 80 percent of his work is between Del Mar and Los Angeles. Most of the horses he sees are boarded at large equestrian centers, and after he treats them, they can usually exercise the next day. Matthews is assisted by Shelly Meyers, also of Ramona.
“What I do is so cost effective because it’s super quick and super accurate, that people get a lot for their money,” he said. “It’s a very cost-effective way to keep up a performance horse at his optimal condition. It’s really cool because the results are so positive. It’s an affirmation I’m on the right track.”
Matthews and his family have lived in Ramona for 23 years and his sons are Ramona High School graduates. While son Weston is a biophysics major at University of California San Diego, son Bryce is planning to join the family line of vets. Acupuncture is not the only innovative treatment that Matthews performs. He has been a pioneer in embryo transfer and dry land distemper treatments.
Additional information is at Matthews’ website, matthewsequine.com.
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