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From packing and cattle penning to cutting and endurance riding, Redmond rancher and physical therapist Wes Rau has spent a good portion of his life on the back of a horse. So when it comes to treating the aches, pains, deficiencies and injuries so common to riders throughout the equestrian world, Rau is empathetic.

After all, he says, good riders are true athletes.

“As a group, horseback riders abuse their bodies as much as football players and rugby players, and we often don’t get help,” said Rau, who practices at Step & Spine Physical Therapy’s Redmond clinic. “We’re taught to just buck up and get back on your horse.”

And while that toughness (or stubbornness) is common in the equestrian world, Rau is quick to point out that riders who fail to get treatment for pain and injuries are putting more than just themselves at risk.

“Eventually, you’re going to mess up your horse,” he said. “If you don’t have good core and good joint stability, or you’re dealing with pain or weaknesses that are making you ride off-balance, that’s going to put your horse off-balance, too. And that can get your horse injured.”

Such a marriage between the rider and his or her horse – a language based on balance, movement and trust – is essential, Rau said, for ensuring the health of both equestrian and equine. Poor posture, muscle imbalances, the lack of joint mobility, pain, fatigue and a general lack of fitness can work against this partnership, putting both the rider and the horse at risk.

The same issues can also prevent competitive riders from reaching their fullest potential.

“If you don’t have good core stability in the lower abdominals and the deep postural muscles in your spine – if you don’t have that strength – you don’t have the balance,” Rau said. “And if you don’t have the balance, you and your horse can’t get to the higher levels that you want.”

A physical therapist in Central Oregon for 24 years, Rau is well-known in the local equestrian community for treating a mix of ranchers, horseback enthusiasts and high-level competitors – from endurance riders to rodeo cowboys. They come to him for his ability to diagnose and treat rider injuries with an eye toward performance enhancement and the long-term safety of the horse.

His lifelong love of equestrian sports, activities and lifestyles also endear him to those recovering from unrelated ailments, injuries and surgeries who simply want to get back on their horses as soon as possible.

“I had a 78-year-old client who said he only wants to get on his horse, and that if he can’t, he doesn’t want to be around anymore,” Rau said. “People love their horses, and my job isn’t to say, ‘No, you can’t ride your horse anymore.’ My job is to make it so you can. It’s all about results.”