To qualify a horse to point-to-point, the horse needs to have completed seven days hunting, so it is possible that they may have suffered hunting injuries even before their racing career begins. In National Hunt racing the horse is raced over hurdles or steeplechase fences, as a result of this the horse will be faced with varying degrees of stress on their joints, depending on the type of jumps used. In both these disciplines 75 per cent of performance problems will be related to tendon injuries. This is not a surprise, bearing in mind a horses weight over a hurdle at 35 mph, which will put a great deal of strain on the front legs.
In flat racing horses are not so prone to tendon injuries, but suffer more with joint problems, particularly in the younger and under-developed two and three year olds. Any degree of lameness caused by either tendon or joint problems, will have an effect higher up in the horse's spine, due to the compensatory action the horse will adopt to avoid the acute pain in its limb. Consequently back problems can often be related to a period of lameness, and preventative chiropractic treatment would be beneficial to prevent its onset.
Low grade fractures are more common in flat racing and are usually small chips of bone within a joint which can be removed by surgical procedures (eg slab fractures of the knee, where small slices of bone break off from the carpal bone in the knee joint). More severe fractures will occur due to physical trauma (eg a fractured shoulder due to a kick or falling onto it during a race, falls while jumping can cause fractures in the legs and the pelvis, and fractures to the neck vertebrae can occur in a head first tumble). The younger horse undergoing intensive training regimes can commonly suffer hairline fractures, which can result in a complete break while out on the morning gallops. As in the case of tendon and joint injuries, fractures will also cause varying degrees of lameness, which may result in a secondary back problem. McTimoney Chiropractic would be used strictly under veterinary supervision and at a time when the fracture has healed sufficiently to allow the treatment to be beneficial.
Falls over fences or on the flat can also cause subluxation of the cervical vertebrae in the neck of the horse and misalignment of the withers and pelvis: these are ideally treated by McTimoney Chiropractic. More commonly half-falls while jumping or slipping on heavy going, are the usual reasons for a chiropractor to be brought in, to check a horse after racing. These will result in the pelvis becoming "twisted" or misaligned, and tension building up in the lumbar vertebrae (the region located just behind the saddle), causing the horse to move in a way to compensate for this discomfort. Young flat racers may also suffer pelvic problems related to coming out of the stalls at speed at the beginning of a race.
As in all disciplines, problems with badly fitting tack and an unbalanced rider will add to musculoskeletal problems in the horse. In flat racing half-tree saddles and lightweight jockeys are used to reduce the weight on the horses back. However, these saddles allow the rider to sit directly on the spine of the horse, hence the reason for jockeys riding with short stirrups. Any unnecessary "bumping" down onto the saddle will cause calcified lumps to form on the spine as a result of inflammation and damage to the area.
In National Hunt and point-to-point the horse can he expected to carry a rider of up to 12 stone, depending on the type of race. As a result, saddle weight is dependent on the weight of the rider and can be half or full tree, depending on the choice of the trainer.
Often in the racing industry a saddle is used on several different horses ridden out by one jockey, so it is not specifically fitted to one horse. This can lead to saddle rubs and pressure points on some horses causing them to work with a hollow back, and leading to back pain.
When jockeys ride with short stirrups they are directing their whole weight towards the wither and over the forelegs of the horse. Bearing in mind 60 per cent of the horse's own weight is on the forehand, it requires extra balancing on the part of the horse, and will cause more stress around the shoulder and wither muscles. Short stirrups will also accentuate any unlevelness in the jockey's own pelvis, being directed through his seat bones and legs onto the horse's back.
If a rider is suffering back pain he will undoubtedly be compensating for this in his riding position and transferring his problem down through the horses movement. Similarly a lazy rider can give a horse a sore back, by not making the horse work his muscles effectively. The riders who take up any form of racing must be very fit in stamina and strength, particularly for jumping hurdles, to prevent their weaknesses causing problems that the horse will have to compensate for. The solution lies in McTimoney Chiropractic treatment for both horse and rider to allow both to perform to their best ability.