By Laura Newsome
Securing his cowboy hat over his loose white hair, Dr. Jay Komarek greets his new patient with an air of familiarity. He places one hand between the horses’ ears, stroking its mane, while the other hand gently pats its muzzle. In a single act of defiance, the horse bucks its head, breaking contact. Undaunted, Komarek moves closer, wrapping both arms around the animal’s large neck. Soon, there is a popping sound followed by a guttural neigh. The horse’s demeanor shifts from one of rebellious irritation to docile pliability. Komarek clearly has a way with animals.
As a child growing up in Texas and Philadelphia, Komarek was steeped in the two forces that have come to define his life—animals and Chiropractic. “My father and his two brothers were chiropractors,” he says. “They were all very passionate about what they did, so I grew up surrounded by the philosophy.” Komarek was just 8 years old when he watched his uncle adjust a racehorse. In that moment, he was hooked. “We always had a dog or a cat in the house, and my connection to animals has certainly increased over the years,” says Komarek. “It takes a deep level of connection to adjust animals like horses.”
Eager to follow in his family’s footsteps, Komarek graduated from Portland’s Western States Chiropractic College in 1977. Though the profession was still breaking into the mainstream, Komarek was already dreaming of an era when Chiropractic would breach another realm—adjusting animals, as well as people. Undaunted by the roadblocks ahead, Komarek acquired a horse skeleton from a rendering plant and studied each vertebrae and spinal curvature. His first live patient was a horse that had been lame for two years. After the mare made a full recovery, Komarek was inspired to ply his trade at a Philadelphia racetrack, where he adjusted thousands of racing and performance horses.
“With performance horses, the animal is being treated like a professional athlete, and veterinarians would often refer horses with lameness or arthritis issues to me,” says Komarek. “Whether you are adjusting a human or a horse, the principles of Chiropractic are the same. The job is to correct the subluxation. I don’t make any claims about curing horses, but any living thing is better off with a free-flowing nervous system.”
Though the proportions vary, Komarek believes the basic structure, function and ailments of the spine are the same in every living thing, whether human, feline or equine. Unlike humans, who often experience upper and lower back pain, horses typically experience subluxations at the base of the skull, due to the unique curvatures of their spines, as well as peripheral nervous system problems caused by the gait-altering shoes, saddles and bridles associated with horse riding.
“Animals do very well with adjustments,” says Komarek. “Animals don’t understand the placebo effect, so they either get better or they don’t. Watching an animal get adjusted is seeing the beauty of Chiropractic in its purest form, unclouded by the complex mental and emotional processes a human experiences.”
While Komarek has racked up thousands of Dr. Doolittle stories during his 35 years as an animal chiropractor, his most difficult case involved a wild elk that was injured at one of the many elk breeding farms that once populated the Rocky Mountains. “I’ve also adjusted an iguana that fell out of a tree and injured its tail,” says Komarek, with a hearty laugh. “After the adjustment, the tail became the same color as the rest of his body, as if everything was whole again.” Rounding out his Noah’s Ark of animal patients, Komarek has adjusted pigs, cats, cows, rabbits, dingoes, ostriches, hamsters and dozens of stunned birds that flew into windows.
“Animal adjusting is so interesting because there is such an immediate response when they feel better,” he says. Komarek remembers one instance where a horse trailer plunged off a cliff. Two of the horses died and the remaining horse had a fractious nervous system. “It was pretty remarkable because there was nothing else that was likely to correct the problem,” he says. “Chiropractic helped normalize his system, and after a few months, he went from being unapproachable to responding to training and riding.”
Early on in his career, animal adjusting was met with great skepticism among the rough-and-tumble riding crowd. “I used to see it all the time—these old cowboys who would look at me like, ‘What are you doing?’ But the truth is hard to dispute when you see an immediate change in an animal and you have to say, ‘Wow, that adjusting really helps,’” says Komarek. “So many people have an idea of what they think Chiropractic is, but they have no idea until they watch me. My mission has always been to help everybody realize the power of Chiropractic, and for some reason people really get it after watching an animal get adjusted because they immediately respond to the experience.”
When he’s not traveling to ranches and horse shows to adjust 30 to 40 champion horses at a time, Komarek works at his practice in Gunnison, Colo., adjusting horses, dogs, cats and, of course, humans. Just like his father’s generation, Chiropractic permeates the modern-day Komarek clan. His wife has a practice in Crested Butte, Colo., and his son recently graduated from Life University. Komarek also shares his profession with the four-legged members of his family, including two cats and three dogs. “The love of an animal is different from any other,” he says. “They have no expectations of you and that’s a wonderful, beautiful feeling you can’t get elsewhere. Some of my animals have lived to 16 and 18 years old, and I attribute their long lives to adjustments and the normalizing of the spine.”
Throughout his career, Komarek has lived up to the quote that decorates the homepage of his website, “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” Having transformed from an animal enthusiast and a novice chiropractor to a consummate professional, Komarek is entering a new phase of his career, defined by being a master teacher and leader. As a thought leader who passionately spreads his message, Komarek shares his expertise through teaching, writing, lecturing and guiding young up-and-coming chiropractors about the techniques and benefits of animal adjusting.
In addition to numerous media appearances, including a feature on the “Today Show,” Komarek shares his message through his book, “The Simplicity of Living Life More Fully,” and an inspiring new documentary film about his life’s work called, “Life, Adjusted: The Heart and Hands of Dr. Jay Komarek.” “Service in general is a way to keep your head on straight,” he says. “Service in Chiropractic is powerful because there’s truth in restoring the energetic flow of the spine. It’s easy to stay inspired when you’re helping people feel better, and Chiropractic helps people discover their own innate healing ability. Many people have never been told that, and it helps to remove a lot of fear, sickness and anxiety.”
Komarek is securing his legacy as a thought leader for the next generation through Life University’s Institute of Animal Adjusting, a new 220-hour certification program for DCs, senior chiropractic students and senior vet students. Held at Indian Paint Brush Ranch near Colorado Springs, Colo., and at Life University’s Marietta campus, the program will cover everything there is to know about animal adjusting, including animal biomechanics, neurology, subluxation patterns and anatomy.
“This program is happening because of Dr. Riekeman’s interest in providing the newest and very best Chiropractic has to offer to the students at Life University,” says Komarek. “My job is getting the program off the ground, making sure the proper certifications are in order and ensuring the program has a great skill set.” While Komarek is busy hammering out the details of the curriculum, he’ll also do some teaching and hands-on work with students. “I want to see LIFE’s program get off the ground, and I want to be a thought leader in the capacity that one day, every chiropractic school will have an animal adjusting program.”
Since witnessing his first animal adjustment at the age of 8, Komarek has come a long way in fulfilling his childhood dreams. “The first time I traveled through Colorado, I had this dream of living in the Rockies and I decided that was where I would end up,” says Komarek. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a man with a passion for animals now lives in his dream state, surrounded by a host of horses, ranches and work dogs always in need of an adjustment.
“Animal adjusting is incredibly fulfilling,” he says. “The beauty of Chiropractic in animals and people is that you are helping to restore their health. I’m so satisfied and grateful that I get to make a wonderful living and have the deep satisfaction of helping others. I want to see Chiropractic recognized worldwide as a powerful form of wellness care that has numerous untold benefits.”
Whenever he’s away from the wagging tails and galloping hooves of the office, Komarek likes to spend time in the high mountain country with his wife, three grown children and his menagerie of pets. “I like to play guitar and ride horses whenever I get the chance, but other than that, I just love being at home, spending time with my family.” And by family, Komarek is referring to his entire brood, loved ones of both the two- and four-legged kind.