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Written by

Charlotte Hofton, Features Writer,

Isle of Wight County Press

Since this article was written in 2001, the General Chiropractic Council have banned the use of certain terms with the word 'chiropractor' and so the wording of this article has been changed slightly, shown by the square brackets.

"YOU wouldn't catch me that close to the back of a horse," observes the photographer, focusing his lens at a respectful distance from Vav Simon as she advances upon Monty's rear end.

The CP's snapper doesn't actually look as if he'd be too keen on getting over-friendly with the front of this beast either. Yet even the more horsily-inclined might flinch from tackling Monty's hindquarters with quite the directness that Vav employs.

Vav Simon adjusts a horse's hip joint "I'm going to lift his hind leg, quite high," she announces as she pushes her strength against his flanks. And then Monty's leg suddenly whooshes out and up at a most extraordinary angle, and you think, uh-oh, this is going to be one mad horse, being launched on a career as an acrobat without so much as a by-your-leave.

But Monty isn't at all upset. He just stands patiently on his other three legs, his eyes calm, his body still, as Vav works methodically around his whole anatomy, feeling for those places which need her healing skills.

There is between these two an understanding which goes beyond Vav's scientific and physical expertise as [a chiropractor working with animals]. Animals respond to her, trust her, seem to sense that her hands are healing hands and that she will do them good.

"I think animals are more intelligent than we give them credit for. There are very few vets who have time to show animals real respect," says Vav. "I approach them gently and respectfully and then they see what I have to offer. They're not stupid - they know what is good for them."

Vav Simon has been doing good to animals since she was a child. "I was recognised as a healer," she says. "I would be given things to heal." She speaks quite matter-of-factly, as if healing were the most natural thing in the world. And, of course, as far as she is concerned, it is.

But behind her words there is, if not exactly defensiveness, a sort of guardedness. Vav believes unashamedly in the more esoteric aspects of her work. It can, however, be a wearisome business when you tell people that you are a healer, particularly when your work brings you into contact with the pragmatic tendencies of more orthodox practitioners.

Nor do you have to be entirely hard-nosed to be sceptical about such things. There are so many people searching for magic buttons and so many people ready to gull them into believing all sorts of nonsense, that it is tempting to dismiss anything beyond the scientific as mere hocus-pocus.

There are undoubtedly an awful lot of charlatans about and an even greater number of people ready to be duped, especially in an increasingly secular society. "If people stop believing in in religion they don't then believe in nothing, they believe in everything," wrote G.K. Chesterton.

Vav is unforthcoming about her religious beliefs, but she definitely doesn't believe in everything. And it is her clear-headed, unsentimental account of her work that does much to persuade you that, yes, this is a woman who should be taken seriously.

Her qualifications speak for themselves. Brought up in Scotland, her early career rocked around in some interesting directions - potter, bank clerk, dancer - before she decided to build upon her natural gifts as a healer. She trained in massage and physiotherapy, and then went on to take a degree course at the McTimoney College of Chiropractic in Oxford, followed by a post-graduate course in [chiropractic for animals].

As one of just 35 [chiropractors qualified to treat animals] in the country (only 22 of whom are actually in practice), she has travelled all over the world. She still gets referrals from the mainland and abroad, but since coming to live on the Island with her family, she carries out much of her work locally, treating both people and animals.

"Rue the day she ever leaves the Island," says Tricia Collins, district commissioner of the IW Pony Club. "To me, Vav is magic."

There are many others who have seen Vav's rapport with animals, have watched her move her hands over a creature's body without actually touching it, and believe that Vav has magic in her. Does she believe it too? "Sometimes people say, 'wow, what are you doing'? And I tell them I'm an old Scottish witch," she says. You can't quite tell if she's joking or not. But if she is a witch, there's nothing airy-fairy about her.

"It's important to me to have a fine balance between what comes naturally and the scientific. What I do has a scientific base." She believes that what complements the mechanical skills that she uses when she manipulates patients is a less easily defined but valid part of her holistic approach.

"I have tried to find out what healing is and I can't really explain it. My feeling is that we are a group of cells held together with vibrational energy and that healing is a form of vibration that we all have the ability to perform."

The most cynical will struggle to empathise with this, but such things were seen as perfectly normal before science barged in with its clinical demands for clear-cut explanations. "Our scientific upbringing has lost us knowledge, but we are beginning to come back to the old methods.

"I see medicine as coming full circle - after all, modern medicine is only about 100 years old and the things we look on now as alternative used to be the norm."

Vav Simon commands the respect of many eminent scientific minds that are prepared to investigate further the complexities of the healing process. Some, however, remain sceptical, even about less controversial aspects of alternative therapy. "I spent many years trying to convince doctors and vets that chiropractic has a large place in daily medicine. But you just get fed up with trying, so I did my own thing and let people draw their own conclusions."

One of her patients had formed his own conclusions from the start. "He was a farmer, whose wife sent him to me after he'd been kicked by a horse. He didn't believe in what I was doing and when I'd finished the treatment, he said, 'That was a bloody waste of time, you've done bugger all'." Some time later, the sceptic returned to inform Vav that he had "never felt so good. Bloody amazing." Reasonable evidence, surely, that alternative therapies are not necessarily "all in the mind".

Of course, the most stubborn will argue that people just get better anyway, with or without treatment. But there is logic and clear-minded professionalism in the way Vav describes what she does that is hard to dismiss.

"My treatment takes several parts. I take a case history, watch how people and animals use their bodies, look for tension." She will then palpate her patients to discover the underlying cause of their problems, and go on to use her massage and manipulative skills.

She may then use those more undefinable, healing skills which have been a part of her life since childhood. "I never heal on humans unless I am specifically asked to. And when I am working with an animal, I ask its permission." This, she stresses, does not constitute some soppy, anthropomorphic chatter. It seems, as you watch Vav in close contact with an animal, to be an intuitive process that has its roots in skills that have been largely lost to the clinical approach of modern medicine.

She would never claim to be a miracle worker. "I can't cure cancer, I can't cure arthritis. But I can ease sufferers, make their bodies more comfortable, make their symptoms better."

And she can recognise the inevitable. When a woman brought her a pheasant which been run over and had its leg torn off, Vav tactfully said that the bird was clearly in shock. "Then I took it in and wrung its neck. The woman came back later to ask how it was, which was a bit unfortunate, because by that time it was hanging on the back of the door."

Vav is a realist, but a realist with intuition as well as practicality, treating her patients with holistic skills that respect their minds and bodies. "I would like to see a whole system for people and animals that respected them and integrated the wonderful scientific knowledge that we have with alternative, original medicine, and made a whole system which works. What we have on the NHS doesn't work."

As she completes her treatment on Monty, Vav gives a kiss, just as she does with all her animal patients. And that gentle, healing kiss is as much a part of his cure as all the physical work that went into the manipulation of his anatomy. The sceptics might scoff, but Monty looks as if he could teach them a thing or two about what really works.

In The Press:

Vav's Healing Touch Sealed with a Loving Kiss