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Many people who ride horses do not consider the fact that (despite popular myth) a horse’s back is not actually designed to carry a load. Most horses are suffering from mild to severe back pain when carrying a human rider.
From quarter horses to ranch ponies to arabians, when our favorite equine friend carries a rider, it must use its muscles and balance in unnatural ways. Ideally, horses are schooled in a way that strengthens their muscles, and the rider rides in a way that helps the horse balance.
Unfortunately, this is frequently not the case.
A horse that is poorly balanced and misaligned can experience back pain, which is often expressed through undesirable behavior.
While good riding and a properly fitting saddle are instrumental in caring for our horses’ backs, many horses (and riders) benefit from chiropractic treatment, as part of holistic care. Almost all animals from dogs and cats to horses and cows benefit greatly as well.
Chiropractors focus on the skeletal structures of the horse, and use manual manipulations to bring these structures back into their proper alignment. Even spinal decompression has been used successfully on horses.
If your horse is experiencing any of these symptoms or behavior issues, chiropractic treatment may be helpful:
Difficulty bending or flexing
Obvious back or neck pain
Difficulty picking up leads at a canter
Signs of resistance such as bucking, rearing, swishing tail
Difficulty with gait transitions
Uneven shoulders or hips
Crabby while being groomed
Holding the tail to one side
Becoming under or over flexed
Lack of impulsion
Difficulty maintaining collection
Cold backed or cinchy
Will not stand on three legs when hoof cleaning or for the farrier
Short strides at the trot or canter
Refusals at jumps and being ring sour
Stumbling or knuckling over with front or rear legs
A consultation with an equine chiropractor should start with a thorough examination of the horse, including looking at its history, care and use. Remember, horses are not just simple pets, they are complicated animals that require expert equestrian medical attention.
The chiropractor may ask to see the horse move at all gaits and perhaps even ridden. If the chiropractor learns the rider has back or mobility problems, and they are qualified to do so, they may make recommendations or provide treatment for the rider as well. It is not unusual for the horse to react to stiffness in the rider.
The chiropractor will use manual force on certain points on the horse’s body to bring the structures beneath back into normal alignment. Ideally, this will restore the joint to normal function and range of motion. The first consultation and treatment may take an hour or more.
Follow up appointments may be recommended, usually within a week of the initial treatment, and then further apart as any specific problems begin to resolve.
People who specialize in chiropractics may complement their practice with other therapies such as infrared lights, massage, myofascial release, acupuncture or pressure, therapeutic touch or stress point therapy. The regulation of alternative therapies such as chiropractics is different from place to place, so it may be ideal to do research and find out what qualifications are required in your area.
Word of mouth recommendations are a good indication that a chiropractor has had good results with other horses.
Some veterinarians are trained in equine chiropractics. Some chiropractors treat both humans and horses, which can be helpful in pinpointing how imbalances in the rider affect the horse.
The Chiropractic Examination
Each chiropractic exam should consist of obtaining a history of the patient and a physical exam involving these steps.
The practitioner observes the standing horse, watching for postural abnormalities, signs of discomfort, asymmetry, or muscle wasting.
Spinal analysis and palpation can pinpoint areas of heat or inflammation and/or any blatant structural abnormalities. The chiropractor palpates the back for any spinal asymmetry, spasmodic muscles, and muscle asymmetry.
Gait analysis is a crucial part of every chiropractic examination. Your chiropractor might implement traditional lameness or neurologic examinations to determine whether further veterinary work up is appropriate before continuing with the chiropractic treatment. Chiropractic gait analysis involves evaluating spinal mobility and pelvic motion as the horse moves. It can help the chiropractor differentiate back pain from limb abnormalities.
Motion palpation is the core of the exam. It consists of taking each joint through its entire range of motion to determine if there is loss of normal motion or increased resistance to induced motion of any vertebral body.
There are times when chiropractic treatment is not recommended. If your horse has a lameness or a very specific center of pain, it is best to check for injury or even fracture before proceeding with chiropractic treatment. Using chiropractic treatment on some problems, especially undiagnosed fractures, can cause even greater injury.
Always consult with a qualified San Bernardino horse chiropractor. That way, you can be sure that the practitioner has the proper training and experience.