‘Small-town guy’ impresses international equestrians

By Karen Brainard

Sitting on his expansive porch, gazing out at a box canyon studded with purple wild lilacs, Dr. Jon Matthews described himself as “kind of a small-town guy” who is still trying to grasp that he is being sought by key players on the world equestrian stage.

Dr. Jon Matthews of Ramona relaxes on his porch between trips to Beijing, where he is treating horses for an international show jumping competition. Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard

“The whole thing is mind-boggling,” the Ramona veterinarian said.

By summer, he will be working on three continents: North America, Asia, and Europe.

Matthews and his wife, Robin, recently spent eight days in Beijing, China, on an all-expense paid trip so that he could treat show jumping horses for an upcoming international event in Beijing. The couple has been invited to return to Beijing April 10 for the show.

“It’s going to be an incredible opportunity,” Matthews said of the April show. “The first trip was an incredible trip because it was like a Chinese vacation.”

Matthews, owner of Matthews Equine Services Inc., has created a form of diagnostic acupuncture that has been successful in treating horses, especially jumpers and racehorses. His rise to international notoriety came after a client brought her Grand Prix jumper from Germany to the United States for Matthews to treat. The client, Mei Mei Zhu, told her mother, Jing Zhu, a wealthy international businesswoman, how Matthews successfully treated her horse.

Zhu was so impressed with the results that she invited Matthews to Beijing to prepare jumpers for the

During a sightseeing trip, Dr. Jon Matthews stands outside the entrance into Forbidden City, across the street from Tiananmen Square. Photo Courtesy of Jon and Robin Matthews

international show that she is organizing with German Olympic trainer/rider Lugar Beerbaum.

“China is trying to be included in this huge international jumping business,” explained Matthews.

Show jumping has become a popular event for wealthy people and is becoming an extremely expensive industry, he said, noting that a couple of years ago a good jumper was valued at $1 million. Today it could fetch $8 million.

The show will be held at the former Olympic National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, and the top 10 international Grand Prix riders are invited.

One problem, Matthews said, is that China can import horses but can’t export them­, so top trainers and riders cannot bring their own horses to compete. The other problem is that China does not have equine vets, he added.

“So the reason they had me go out there was because I can quickly diagnose and treat the horses,” he said. “They needed me to get the horses ready for the show.”

Sitting on the horse is a German trainer/rider who is involved in the upcoming international show. Photo Courtesy of Jon and Robin Matthews

Europeans know more about show jumping horses than the Chinese, he said, and it appears that the horses the Chinese are buying from Europe were former good athletes.

“These horse were not sound enough to show in this internationally televised event,” he said.

Matthews was the only vet invited to Beijing and he worked on 10 horses. In fact, he said he is the first American vet to treat horses in China.

“You could tell when I was finished with them that they were top horses, they were incredible athletes,” he said. “Some of these horses were definitely World Cup and Olympic.”

Most of the horses suffered from joint problems and chiropractic issues. After Matthews used acupuncture to diagnose, he treated them with either acupuncture or chiropractic, or both, or joint injections.

Matthews not only saw a physical change in the horses, but also emotional.

Ramona veterinarian Dr. Jon Matthews checks a horse during his trip to Beijing. Photo Courtesy of Jon and Robin Matthews

“They became real joyful,” he said, smiling. “It’s like they were painless for the first time in a long time. Some of them were just jumping in the air like gazelles, they were so happy.”

The German trainers also were ecstatic.

“Germans are very matter-of-fact. They will tell you what they think. Luckily my reputation had preceded me. They were expecting miracles based on what they had been told about me. They were very impressed,” Matthews said.

When asked how he felt to be the first American to treat horses in China, Matthews paused and then responded, “I’m kind of in awe by the fact that people would fly my wife and I to and from China. They lavished us with incredible food and paid for our hotel. Jing, she went with us for almost all of our lunches and almost all of our dinners. She was an incredible host.”

Even the sightseeing trips to such places as the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square, the travel visas, and the shots were covered.

“All this was included, there wasn’t any out of pocket expense,” he said.

In addition, Matthews was paid for his services.

When Matthews and his wife return to Beijing this month, they will be staying at a 7-star hotel, across from the Bird’s Nest, and attending a corporate-sponsored invitation-only welcoming party for the show.

“I’m going to be the only vet at the party with all these international show jumping people,” said Matthews, still amazed.

After China, Matthews said he and Robin will travel to Germany at Zhu’s request and he will probably treat horses for a World Cup event in Switzerland in May. He even received a call from a woman in Holland to see if he will work on horses in her country.

The vet is amazed at the amount of money and power in the international sport horse industry.

“It’s scary almost. You wonder how valuable these horses are going to get,” he said.

Matthews said Zhu is a good businesswoman.

“She realizes the one thing you have to have in order to compete at the top level in this industry is a vet that can keep the horses sound. Luckily so far I’ve proved my value,” he said.

“My desire and my passion is really to not only bring these horses back to their optimal performance level. I can also keep the horses that are performing well at the top of the game,” he added

Describing himself as an adventurer, Matthews said the idea of doing the work he loves while seeing the world is appealing, although he wonders where it will all lead.

“I never thought it would be like this, being a small town vet,” he said, noting that he hasn’t strayed far from his roots. Matthews is a Poway High School graduate and has many clients in Poway.

After describing the urban scene in Beijing and the excitement, Matthews said, “That’s what’s nice about our place. No matter where you go in the world, and we’re going to be going to a lot of places, you can come back here and sit on this porch.”

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Snapshots of Beijing

After his first trip to Beijing in February, veterinarian Dr. Jon Matthews shared observations about his travel and the city.

•Pollution: “It’s about 10 times worse than the worst day in L.A.” Matthews said China burns raw coal for power and the smoke pours out of smokestacks that are all over the city. “The whole city is just filled with this coal smoke,” he said. “When I was over there, I realized why we have an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency.”

•Architecture: “It’s a beautiful city in that the architecture is ultra modern. The architecture and high rises are very futuristic.”

•Weather: “When we were there the highest it ever got was 45 (degrees). The coldest for a day was 26 and it snowed that day.”

•Travel: One man worked at customs in China, while about 30 people worked customs at Los Angeles International Airport.

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Posted by Maureen Robertson on Apr 2 2013. Filed under Featured Story, Local Spotlight, News, Ramona. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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