How to tell if your horse has a problem and may need Chiropractic Treatment
Indications shown by the horse that there is a problem or an injury that may need treatment by a chiropractor include:
- Unlevelness, especially behind
- Uneven wear of shoes
- Asymmetry, such as stiffness on one rein or a disunited canter
- Sore areas along the spine, being cold backed
- Unexplained deterioration in usual performance
- Uncharacteristic changes in behaviour or temperament e.g. rearing, bucking and refusing fences
- Lameness after a fall or other accident, where alternative causes have been eliminated
Common problems and causes:
- trauma is the most obvious cause such as getting cast in the stable
- a fall, half-fall or slipping while cornering or jumping
- horses can also damage their backs by falling off the side of a ramp while being loaded into a horsebox or trailer
- slipping on ice or smooth roads and yards
- badly fitting tack - tight rollers, ill-fitting saddles or harnesses, tight brow bands
- sore mouths will cause the horse to work with the head raised and twisted or hollow its back to get away from the pain
What is a Chiropractor?
A chiropractor is a therapist who manipulates the spine and joints of the body in order to realign the skeletal frame and to relieve associated muscle spasm. Chiropractic treatment helps to both restore and maintain health, soundness and performance and works holistically to eliminate the cause of a problem, not just to treat the symptoms There are several schools of chiropractic which train students to treat people, but the McTimoney Chiropractic College also teaches a postgraduate course in Animal Manipulation. All their practitioners will seek veterinary approval before they commence chiropractic treatment on any animal
How a McTimonay Chiropractor works with a horse
Initially the horse will usually be assessed on straight-line movement at walk and trot, and then on ability to turn tight circles and on backing up. The chiropractor may also want to see the horse being lunged or ridden under saddle before checking over chiropractically. The horse is then assessed while standing square in an area of level concrete or flooring - this is very important in assessment of the position of the pelvis, which makes up the hindquarters of the horse. The chiropractor uses their fingertips to 'palpate' or feel the incorrectly aligned joints of the spine and pelvis, which contribute to areas of muscle spasm and cause compensatory actions in movement. These problem areas are treated using the hands of the chiropractor to produce precise and rapid manipulations which will correct these misalignments and reduce muscle spasm. Treatment is done in the horse's stable on a bed of shavings or straw. Aftercare usually includes rest and/or limited exercise for a few days. Several treatments may be required and yearly or six monthly check ups are advised to help achieve optimum work performance.
What is the difference between Phyisiotherapy/Equine Sports Massage and McTimoney Chiropractic?
McTimoney Chiropractic is a technique used to manipulate misaligned joints throughout the whole body but particularly in the spine and pelvis, which produces an effect at that joint and to any muscles, which are attached to that area. It is used in the treatment of 'back problems' and associated injuries such as sacroiliac strain and some lameness in horses. Both physio for horses and equine massage are treatments which are used to treat muscle and tendon injuries as well as back problems in horses. Physios will use a variety of machines, ranging from ultrasound, magnetopulse and laser treatment, to aid in the recovery of torn muscles or strained ligaments, and to prevent muscle atrophy following an injury. Some physios will also use manipulation of the joints and massage techniques as a part of their treatment. A therapist specialising in equine massage uses massage to increase circulation, enhance muscle tone and relax muscle spasm thereby increasing the level of performance. In the event of injury, massage can be used to aid recovery and to prevent muscle atrophy due to the animal compensating in its movement while injured. It can also be used as a preventative treatment to release general muscle tension and to aid mental relaxation in the horse.
What can be done to prevent problems in the horse?
- Most obviously is to act on getting treatment for a horse which has had a recent accident or trauma
- Get treatment yourself as a rider if you have a problem and following a course of chiropractic treatment use it on a regular basis as preventative treatment to reduce the chance of your pain recurring
- Make sure tack fits correctly, the bit is not too big or too small, the brow band is not pinching, the saddle is wide enough and is fitted by a reputable saddler
- Rugs and rollers not pinching, girth and numnahs are regularly washed to prevent dried sweat causing sores
- Have teeth checked every six months to prevent sharp teeth or wolf teeth causing problems
- Use a reputable farrier to make sure the feet are balanced correctly before shoeing. Incorrect foot balance will cause the horse to compensate in his limb movement and weight distribution, putting stress onto different muscle groups
- It should be remembered that a back problem in a horse is usually a secondary effect from another problem, such as those mentioned earlier. As well as treating the problem chiropractically other changes should be made to prevent the problem reoccurring.
How the rider can identify that they need treatment themselves?
One cause of back problems in horses, not mentioned so far, is the rider themselves. Horses did not evolve specifically to carry weight on their backs and disciplines such as show jumping, eventing, polo and dressage put even more strain upon their skeletal structure. A rider who suffers with pain in their own back will change their riding position to compensate for their own discomfort and thereby put more stress onto certain areas of the horse. A rider who regularly suffers with low back pain, sciatic pain down the back of the leg, neck and shoulder tension, should seek treatment for themselves, whether it be low grade constant pain or intermittent acute episodes. The McTimoney Chiropractor would work along the whole spine using quick, precise adjustments, which are gentle and comfortable to receive. The pelvis, which makes up the hip region, is very important in being correctly aligned in the rider. The sitting down bones on the underside of the pelvis are in direct contact with the saddle and any uneven weight distribution will be relayed through the saddle to the horse causing him to have to compensate in his own movements, particularly on circles.
THIS ARTICLE AND THOSE RELATING TO SPECIFIC DISCIPLINES REPRODUCED
BY KIND PERMISSION OF MCTIMONEY CHIROPRACTOR
DIANNE BRADSHAW BSC (HONS) MC, AMC, MMCA
Dianne had always wanted to work with horses, and studied a Degree in Animal Sciences at Wye College, Kent, before finding a career as an animal chiropractor. Initially she qualified to treat people in 1986 and then to treat animals in 1993. Her work as an animal chiropractor involves 90% horses and 10% dogs, with occasional cats and some farm animals.