On a warm spring day, you are likely to find Dr. Mike Painter inside a barn treating one of his four-legged patients rather than at his Oakley chiropractic office examining humans.

Last week, Painter spent an entire morning at Pleasanton’s Buena Amor Ranch, where he saw two regular patients: a 5-year-old gelding named Meike and a 17-year-old Arabian saddle breed called Smokey.

The chiropractor’s horse patients are as varied in their ailments as their human counterparts. Whereas young Meike suffers from injury-related neck problems, the much older Smokey is prone to back soreness.

Painter guided Meike to a grassy area near the stables and placed his strong hands on the horse’s back. The longtime chiropractor slowly built the horse’s trust, taking time to relax the muscles through vigorous massage.

When Painter got to the tender spot on Meike’s neck, the horse instantly showed signs of relief. Owner Harriet Merritt said she can always tell when Painter’s adjustments bring the young horse relaxation and spinal comfort.

“He has a very good knowledge of the skeletal structure of a horse,” the Danville resident said. “He understands animals well. He treats them as a whole.”

During his 13 years treating horses, Painter has developed a philosophy that these large animals are prime athletes and his job is to optimize their performance. After being a human chiropractor for a decade, Painter read an article in Horse Illustrated about a female veterinarian turned chiropractor who worked solely on horses.

Bringing his lifelong appreciation and knowledge of horses, Painter studied with her in Illinois and became the 33rd graduate of the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. Upon his certification, Painter made animals a vital part of his Oakley practice, devoting at least one day a week to helping them and eventually launching Performance Equine Chiropractic.

“My personal philosophy is that my equine patients are elite athletes who perform better and are stronger, faster and more coordinated in their movements when their bodies are balanced,” he said.

At least 90 percent of Painter’s horse patients ride competitively. On the other end of the animal spectrum, he also adjusts show dogs who usually need treatment for an injury or improved posture.

“I prefer large animals because I’m in an office all day and it gives me an excuse to be outdoors,” he said.

According to Painter, the only difference between his human and horse patients is that the people tell him where their pain is and with horses, he has to read their body language.

Like many older horses, Smokey gets sore muscles from all of the physical movement that he endures daily. As Painter slowly manipulated Smokey’s tired muscles, the horse relaxed, and his canter and trot later improved.

“Basically, I see two kinds of horses. The ones that need crisis care whom are lame or stiff and can’t do what their rider is asking of them. I also see a growing number of horses that are actively training and are striving to reach that next level in personal performance,” he said.

Painter said that Smokey is in good shape despite his age. That is key to the chiropractor, who said that his examinations should be combined with proper nutrition and exercise for both animal and owner.

“The biggest deal with these horses is you have to be in the same shape as your horse,” Painter said.

Knightsen resident Kathy Fagan said horses are just like their human owners, who sometimes get out of shape and overweight, and they need to stay active and fit. Fagan’s quarter horse Lady was bucking her off and suffering from performance problems before she saw “Dr. Mike.”

“What impressed me the most was how he handled her,” she said. “I observed his gentleness with her.”

After watching Painter work on Lady, Fagan has incorporated some of the massage techniques into her regular horse care. Painter knows the horse’s vulnerabilities, she said.

“He is listening when he is working with them. He watches how they are responding to his touch,” Fagan said.

Painter’s technique includes an evaluation of the horse’s spine and supportive connective tissue. His goal is to adjust and balance those areas of the horse’s body.

“It is not only their bodies but how the riders sit on the saddle,” he said. “If the rider is not balanced and in shape, it will affect the horse.”

The dedicated doctor is constantly updating his skills and knowledge through seminars and study. He said his continued education is the difference between his practice and some so-called “animal adjusters” with just a few hours of weekend training.

After a morning at the stables, Painter returns to his Oakley office to see at least 25 to 30 human patients. He savors the fast pace and diverse nature of his practice.

“I like being busy,” he said. “It makes the day go by faster.”