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Dr Lawrence Chan takes out his kit of acupuncture needles and considers his patient, a beautiful chestnut thoroughbred mare. After donning yellow rubber gloves, he inserts 45mm to 50mm long needles one by one into her back. He works quickly. He has a time span of 30 minutes before the mild tranquilizer begins to wear off.
In another weeks' time, he will repeat the procedure, for up to four consecutive weeks.
But most owners would prefer that he cuts down his treatment to two acupuncture sessions in as many weeks, so that their prized racing machines can return to the track and win big again. Whether in pursuit of an Olympic medal or hard cash, horseracing and equestrian sports are big businesses in Hong Kong. And they are sports that the city has been perfecting for nearly 130 years.
Chan has worked for The Hong Kong Jockey Club's Veterinary Clinical Services for 21 years. He studied veterinary science at The University of Melbourne. After returning to Hong Kong, he worked for a year in a small animal clinic before joining HKJC's team.
"After I was hired, I was sent to England for six months to observe how equestrian vets worked," Chan recalls.
The team of 14 vets at the Equine Hospital is an international smorgasbord of nationalities, with Irish, English, South African, Australian, New Zealand and local Hong Kong staff headed by Dr Chris Riggs. The team is subdivided into racing veterinary surgeons and equestrian veterinary services, with the latter responsible for retired racehorses and privately owned horses and ponies in the city's riding schools.
Together, they are responsible for some 1,800 horses across Hong Kong.
As a racing vet surgeon, Chan saw that many Western medical practices were covering up injuries that some horses sustained, and he decided to look at alternative methods of healing.
"Lame horses or those with back pain are difficult to treat," he says. "Once we stop their medication, the pain returns. Medicine only masks the pain, so I thought I'd try acupuncture."
He took a night course at Hong Kong School of Continuing Education in human clinical acupuncture and received a diploma on the subject in 2003. He continued learning acupuncture specifically for horses at The University of Florida, studying under Beijing acupuncturist Huisheng Xie, who was a senior lecturer at the school.