Not to put too fine a point on it, Al’s all about keeping horses happy and pain-free
If you’d visited trainer Al Barnes’ Marburg stable yesterday you’d have discovered one of the secrets of his success.
His horses weren’t getting through any special trackwork to get them fit, or exercising on a treadmill or walking machine.
No, they were standing quite still, almost asleep, with dozens of tiny needles sticking out of them.
And if Vasari can win at Redcliffe on Wednesday night in his first start for Barnes, it’s this acupuncture, rather than anything else that he’s done since the horse arrived from Sydney, that might get the credit.
Yesterday, Barnes gave up his scheduled round of Sunday golf to be at the stable to get 14 horses treated by visiting Sydney expert, former trainer Jason Proctor.
At $100 a pop he knows it’s pricey but in this stable no stone is left unturned to make his horses happy.
Whereas many other trainers concentrate on trying to educate horses and playing round with different gear to stop their bad habits he’s all about making them happier - by being pain free.
And Barnes believes his ability to keep an open mind about alternative treatments is one of the reasons he’s been successful with older horses.
Next week it will be the turn of the chiropractor and massager.
Barnes knows there’ll be plenty of people who poo poo the unorthodox treatments but he’s had too many positive results from acupuncture to dismiss its benefits.
“I haven’t had one horse who hasn’t responded after it.
“We had a horse here yesterday who couldn’t put his foot on the ground - he had an infection but you’d have sworn he had a broken leg.
“He had acupuncture and today he’s running round his paddock.’’
When Barnes bought (Miss) Blue Glory from Lincoln Farms last year, in a package deal with Lincoln Road, she could hardly pace when she arrived.
Barnes says his son Hayden kept trying to teach her to steer.
“But she was so sore in behind I told him until we fixed her pain she wouldn’t steer properly.
“After she had acupuncture she paced like a machine and started running halves in 55.’’
When Barnes stopped acupuncture on Miss Blue Glory after two months she went sore again.
It didn’t take Barnes long after Vasari arrived to detect that the 14 hour float trip had affected him and he was feeling a bit off.
“He was happy and friendly around the stable but when he got out onto the track, even jogging on the lead, he was angry and fierce.
“When I washed the horse or scraped him his muscles were tight and sore and he’d flinch.’’
But that’s nothing new for Vasari who has been bothered by stifle problems throughout his career which have been regularly treated, including work by chirporacters and acupuncturists.
Barnes says he can already tell that Sunday’s acupuncture session has taken away the pain in Vasari’s hind muscles.
“I’m not saying he’ll just come out and win on Wednesday. It’s an even field, he has to improve to win, and he may need the hitout, but I’m confident he’ll do a good job up here.’’
Barnes is also confident that the next time we see Trojan Banner he’ll drive a lot straighter.
Lincoln Farms’ three-year-old, who is unbeaten in five starts for Barnes, is having a couple of weeks off before a prep aimed at the Queensland Derby in July, but he too, had acupuncture yesterday.
“You might have noticed when he won the other day he turned his head out and wanted to get in on the point of the turn. You can lose a couple of lengths when that happens because you have to steer the horse, rather than giving him his head.
“He did that when I drove him in New Zealand too and Ray (Green) had a pole on him. It can get to be a habit.’’
Barnes detected Trojan Banner was really tight through the back end in his off side hind muscles and anticipates he will be much freer when he resumes.
Barnes says it’s amazing to watch the needles do their thing in the sessions which can last for up to half an hour.
“He can use 50 to 70 needles but they’re so fine it doesn’t hurt them. You get a response initially but within ten minutes they stand there quiet and relaxed.
“Sometimes the needles go in like into butter, other times they go in only a couple of ml into the muscle. But if you come back five minutes later they go in easily.’’
Barnes says you need the right person performing the procedure and its not just veterinary acupuncture that targets pressure points over the back or the stifles.
Full body acupuncture creates a current that stimulates blood circulation and by using needles in the feet it gives the current somewhere to go.
“You can stand there and see the body push the needles out where there is a problem - they actually bend. It’s like popping a pimple, it releases all the pressure in the muscles.’’