When a chiropractor or veterinarian, professionally trained in chiropractic, identifies a subluxations, we aim to correct the misalignment of the spine and restore mobility to the facet joints. Realignment is made via a quick, short thrust along the plane of the joint. This is called an adjustment. The adjustment is a very specific, high-speed, low-force maneuver that moves the affected joint within its normal physiological articular range of movement, without exceeding the boundaries of anatomical integrity. It is done by placing the hands directly on the vertebrae (previously identified in the examination). Only subluxated vertebrae are adjusted.
Even though horses have a very large, thick muscle mass over the spine, the vertebral joints are flexible and relatively easy to manipulate with minimal force. If the correct technique is used the ligaments are not adversely affected.
‘Straigthening’ the spine by pulling on the legs or tail is ‘non-specific’ as it affects a number of joints before reaching the vertebrae (i.e. when using the leg as a lever the fetlock, hock stifle and hip joints will all be affected). Non-specific techniques, if not done properly, can damage the ligaments and joints, so it is important to avoid unspecific procedures in favour of safe methods of treatment. A complete chiropractic treatment also includes the examination (and if necessary) of limb joints and the temporo-mandibular joint.
One question often asked of us is “How many treatments will the horse require?” This question must be answered on an individual basis for each patient. In most cases, a single treatment is not enough to eliminate the problem. The goal of chiropractic treatment is to address neurological dysfunction in the spine and restore mobility. It is then the task of muscles and ligaments to support the spine and maintain this new re-aligned position.
This process and the role of the chiropractor is similar to that of an orthodontist. The orthodontist applies braces to the teeth and over a period of time makes regular adjustments and corrections to realign teeth, so that in time they will maintain their correct position. A chiropractor adjusts the spine to restore normal motion in the joint. This may need to be done a number of times, until the body accepts this as normal position and the muscles and ligaments support and maintain that motion.
Most horses show significant improvement after one to four treatments. Chronic problems usually take longer to resolve requiring more chiropractic treatment, whereas horses with acute problems will often respond more quickly.
Qualified chiropractors are trained to recognise and treat vertebral subluxation complexes. However, riders, trainers and horse owners can monitor whether or not their horses have spinal problems. Inspecting the spine before purchasing a horse is just as important as inspecting the legs. Your own observations: consider your horses recent performance and demeanour:
Examining mobility: the horse should be able to move freely in all directions without tension, with or without rider:
Feeling the muscles:
Examine the horse’s main muscle groups for pain, tension and asymmetry. The muscles of a trained horse should be symmetrical; feeling firmly elastic but not too hard or too soft. If you place the muscles under moderate pressure, the horse should not show signs of being in pain.
Feeling the spine:
Feel the spine from the withers to the tail, paying attention to any elevations and protruding areas of bone. Compare the two sacral tubercles (jumpers bump region of the pelvis), these should be level. Look for any protruding areas of bone in the neck.
The proper functioning of the back and neck is an important basis for maintaining the horse’s performance. For this reason, health care should be high on the agenda of any horse owner.
Conformation and build
When selecting your horse for a particular discipline, you should always pay particular attention to the horse’s build. Many breeds have been selectively bred for years to achieve certain goals and are therefore suitable for particular disciplines such as dressage, jumping or western riding. Horses with long backs often have a tendency towards muscle and ligament injuries, whereas horses with an upright shoulder often have problems in their forelegs.
Massage encourages circulation and metabolism within the muscles, promoting the supply of nutrients and removal of toxins. Massage relaxes tense muscles enabling them to function better. It can also promote healing in muscular injuries by loosening muscle-fibre adhesions and increasing the flow of fluid and toxins from the tissue.
Horses have an increasing tendency to subluxate and damage the spine if ligaments, tendons and muscles have not been developed to cope with the demands they are placed under. Interval training, suitable warm-up procedures and a variety in training can help optimally condition sport horses.
Equipment and saddle
Ensure that your saddle fits your horse. If a saddle fits correctly, no thick padded cloth/numnah or additional pads are necessary. Check your saddle regularly to see whether the flocking is evenly worn, there is asymmetry of the panels or tree and that the saddle tree is intact. Any dampness under the saddle area after riding should be even in distribution.
It is practically impossible for a poorly shod horse, or a horse with ill-fitting shoes to have or maintain a spine that functions properly. Heels that are too high or underrun, toes that are too long, or uneven hoof wall length can negatively affect the mobility and posture of the horse. For the limb and spinal joints to function properly, it is necessary for the horse to be correctly trimmed or shod.
Many horses are forced into a desired frame with side-reins, martingales, draw-reins and other auxillary reins. Used correctly, some of these aids can help in training; however, in the wrong hands they do the opposite. If a restriction in the spine already exists, these aids can make the problem even worse. Continual jerking and pulling on the lead rope or chain, especially with young horses, can lead to tension in the poll and neck area.
Most sport horses are still kept in stables with limited space in which to move about and turnout is often restricted. The more time a horse spends in the stable without freedom of movement, the worse the co-ordination becomes. Its natural balance suffers, leading to an increased danger of injury. Bucking and rolling are your horse’s natural means of mobilizing the spine, make sure they get enough exercise.