Working with horses

How can an animal as large as a horse be adjusted ?

To answer this, it is important to remember that the entire horse isn't being adjusted, but rather a specific joint in the skeleton.

Traditionally, horses would have lived on the open plains, constantly on the move, always grazing therefore always with their heads lowered. The main form of locomotion is the walk or trot, only using gallop as a method of fleeing predators, or in play. In domestication, humans have forced confinement in the stable or in the small paddock on to these horses, curtailing the ability to graze little and often, and only feeding them at mealtimes. We then expect these animals to perform a specific task, carry a rider, and perform to the best of their ability. All these factors reduce the desired optimal performance that we require from our animals. Due to this altered life-style, we have found numerous reasons for injuries which come under two headings: Macrotrauma and Microtrauma.

Macrotrauma is the build up of little disturbances throughout the body. Examples are; riding out on a road with a camber, poor foot balance, saddle fit, unbalanced rider, working on hard surfaces, continual circling, uneven bedding, large slope in the stable floor, poor conformation, and such like. These continuous repetitive mini strains will eventually cause the subluxations and fixations throughout the body that the chiropractor can find and correct.

Microtrauma is construed as the major trauma that can affect a horse, such as a trailer accident, slips, falls, getting cast in the stable, soft tissue injuries to limbs like ligament or tendon strains will influence the system significantly. This is an example of how the system can be affected.

In practice, back problems, leg injuries and muscle damage are often inter-related. An example of this might be an acute lower limb injury causing the horse to alter its gait and carry the affected leg abnormally.

The abnormal weight-bearing and altered gait can subsequently overwork or injure associated back muscles. Back injuries can result in increased forces to the joints, resulting in lameness, or gait alterations in the feet and legs, as the animal tries to protect its sore back. Unless the primary cause of the back pain is identified and treated, most horses will have recurring back pain when returned to work after a period of medication and or rest.

What is Chiropractic

Chiropractic is a manual therapy, which can be used for many health and performance problems. Chiropractic focuses on the biomechanical dysfunction of the spine and its effect on the entire nervous system throughout the body. Chiropractic treatment does not replace traditional veterinary medicine; however, it can provide additional means of diagnosis and treatment options for spinal problems as well as biomechanically related musculoskeletal disorders. Chiropractic can often eliminate the source of acute or chronic pain syndromes. The horse’s spine is a very complex structure consisting of bones, ligaments, muscles and nerves. It fulfills various functions in the body providing.

Numerous muscles are attached to the vertebrae enabling the spine to move. Even though individual vertebral joints have little mobility, the back and neck as a whole is very flexible. Without this flexibility a horse cannot move fluently, jump obstacles or perform properly. The spinal cord runs through the vertebral canal in the centre of the vertebrae. Nerves branch off from the spinal cord and leave the spinal canal in pairs. These nerve branches (called spinal nerves) leave the spinal canal through small paces formed by adjacent vertebrae (called intervertebral foramen – IVF). Nerves transfer information between the brain, spinal cord, organs, muscles, and other parts of the body. As the central nervous system monitors and controls all organ and tissue function, the transmission of information to and from it must flow freely to allow proper function. Chiropractors look for a vertebral subluxations complex (VSC) within the spine, which can be defined as: the functional misalignment of a vertebra or the limited mobility of its facet joint. If a VSC exists, the horse loses normal flexibility of its spine, affecting the performance, and resulting in stiffness and muscular tension. Reduced mobility between two vertebrae can affect the nerves that leave the spinal cord between these two vertebrae. Negative alteration in the nerve’s function can lead to interference in the flow of stimuli or information, which is necessary for smooth muscle contractions. Every movement, from a slight twitch of the tail, to the complicated Piaffe in dressage is made possible by synchronizing many muscles. If the function of the nerve fibres, which innervate these muscles is altered, co-ordination deteriorates. Small disturbances are usually only caused by a slight interference; however they can keep the horse from performing at its best in demanding exercises. Missteps resulting from lack of co-ordination may cause injury to other joints and tendons or ligaments in the legs. An animal with a VSC will change its posture to compensate for the restricted mobility of its spine and to avoid pain. This triggers increased mechanical strain on other parts of the spine and extremity joints, causing secondary restrictions and deterioration in condition. Different equestrian disciplines can cause specific VSC patterns. For example:

  • Dressage horses with VSC’s in the lumbar spine have difficulty bending correctly and executing lateral movements. Further consequences include poor engagement of hindlimbs and a lack of suppleness.
  • Show jumpers with VSC’s in the lower thoracic and lumbar regions have difficulties rounding their backs. They often land in cross canter and then have problems changing the lead in canter.
  • Gaited horses with VSC’s of the sacro-iliac joint have unleveled gait rhythm and difficulty with transitions. They also have a tendency to lean into the bit and run off. Their backs may be tense, muscular atrophy may also be evident.
  • Endurance horses with VSC’s in the thoracic and cervical spine often demonstrate soreness in the back and an unleveled gait rhythm. Further effects are a noticeable drop in performance as well as a stiff neck.
  • Driving horses with VSC’s in the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae often drop one shoulder, move on two tracks and tend to pull or show gait abnormalities.
  • Western horses with a restriction in the lumbar vertebrae and the sacro-iliac joints have difficulty bending laterally and show single-sided problems in turns and spins, as well as undefined lameness in their forelimbs.