WHAT IS CHIROPRACTIC CARE FOR HORSES?

Chiropractic Care is a holistic approach to many of the health and performance problems of the horse. It is a Health Care System based on movement and symmetry, but does NOT replace traditional veterinary medicine and surgery. Chiropractic offers a complimentary, not alternative, method of care that often is highly successful in supplementing traditional care. Used concurrently, many of your horse's musculoskeletal conditions respond dramatically, and rehabilitation can take place quickly and efficiently.

Chiropractic Care focuses on the health and proper movement of all joints in the body, but especially, the proper functioning of the spinal column.

THE SPINAL COLUMN

The spinal column of the horse is complex. It consists not only of bones, called vertebra, but also of ligaments, muscles, and most importantly, NERVES. These units all work together in providing many crucial functions, some of which are:

  1. Act as a framework that supports the body.
  2. Act as an attachment for many of the body's muscles.
  3. Protect the NERVES and SPINAL CORD.
  4. Protect the internal organs of the body, such as heart and lungs.

The SPINAL CORD passes through the center of each vertebra. The NERVES that branch off of the spinal cord pass in between the vertebra and go to all parts of your horse's body. The ligaments and muscles that surround them hold the vertebra together. These also allow for movement between every bone. These moveable areas that contain two bones and all of the other things mentioned above are called JOINTS. There are over 175 joints in the horse's spinal column. Moving properly, these joints allow for a flexible, happy, healthy animal. Moving improperly, or not at all, these joints can make a horse become sick, stiff, and possibly, cause dysfunction of a nerve. Chiropractic examines and evaluates your horse's joints for good, healthy movement and flexibility.

WHAT IS A SUBLUXATION?

When used by Chiropractors, the term SUBLUXATION is used to describe a very specific condition, or disease, of the spinal column in which one or more of the joints are not moving properly. One could say that the horse's bones were "stuck", and that this condition was causing a nerve to be "pinched" or compromised. Even if only one of the many joints of the spine is "stuck", the entire spinal column will loose flexibility and the horse will become STIFF, RESISTANT, and begin to LACK IN PERFORMANCE.

Examples

  1. Lack of lateral bending slows a horse used as a barrel racer.
  2. Fixations in the neck decrease the ability of a dressage horse to develop proper frame.
  3. Subluxations in the sacroiliac joint in a saddle bred disrupts the proper execution of the racking gait.

Remember, NERVES are branching off the SPINAL CORD and going right through these SUBLUXATED areas. Misaligned and "stuck" vertebral joints can affect the nerves as they exit. These nerves are the communication lines between the brain and the rest of the body, carrying impulses both to and from all of the structures in your horse, down to every last cell. Think of a SUBLUXATION as cutting all or part of those lines. Depending on the area and amount of damage, serious problems can occur anywhere.

Every movement, from simple swishing of the tail to the piaffe in dressage, requires a constant synchronization of many muscles, some contracting, some relaxing. The communication lines that allow this precision motion are the NERVES. If these are “pinched”, incoordination will result. Major, long-term interference can cause major lameness, while minor interference may cause only minor, almost imperceptible changes. Just remember, the more you expect from your horse, the more these will become evident. The slightest most insignificant change may be what the judge sees, or may slow your horse that one tenth of a second.

More importantly, lack of coordination in these movements can cause missteps, or improper gaits, that can lead to damage in the remaining healthy joints such as stifles, knees, or elbows.

Don't forget PAIN. "Pinched" nerves are painful, no matter how slight. Pain will also prohibit your horse from working to his maximum potential.

Subluxations in the spine may cause the horse to compensate in movement or posture. In an attempt to avoid pain, the horse may shift its weight, or even refuse to do certain movements. This shifting of stress from one area, or joint, that is subluxated, to a healthier more stable joint is called compensation. Secondary subluxations may begin to occur at these areas, further complicating the entire process.

Examples

  1. Pain and subluxation in the right sacroiliac joint causes a horse to shift forward onto his left forelimb.
  2. Pain in the neck causes the horse to move with its head down, refusing to flex at the poll.

WHAT CAUSES SUBLUXATIONS?

Traumatic and stressful situations present themselves to your horses many times each day. Riders, saddles, confinement, rigorous exercise, strenuous play, or just everyday slips and falls can all lead to problems in the spinal column and SUBLUXATIONS.

The following is a short list of examples of activities that many times lead to SUBLUXATIONS:

  1. TRAUMA: slips, falls, missteps, cast in stall, etc.
  2. CONFORMATIONAL TRAITS: Certain traits such as long backs and short legs predispose the horse to back problems.
  3. BIRTH: Trauma during delivery, or the pregnancy, can lead to damage of the soft spine and lead to future, more permanent damage very quickly.
  4. DENTAL IMBALANCE: Causes inflammation of the temperomandibular (TMJ) joints and affects the stomatognathic system and the whole body.
  5. CONFINEMENT: Constant confinement decreases balance and coordination; the "free" horse can buck and roll in a natural attempt to loosen his back.
  6. PERFORMANCE INJURIES: Jumping, racing, and dressage, all have their own dangers. Each can effect the horse in different ways.
  7. EQUIPMENT: Poorly fitting tack may cause problems in the spine, i.e. saddles, pads, side reins, stretchers, head chucks, hobbles, etc. Improper use of leads and harnesses.
  8. AGE: As the horse ages, the spinal column naturally loses some of its flexibility.
  9. SHOEING: Lack of proper foot care.
  10. RIDER ABILITY: Poor riding may cause subluxations as the horse compensates for the unbalanced load.

HOW DO I KNOW THAT MY HORSE IS SUBLUXATED?

(SYMPTOMS) Subluxations can cause a variety of symptoms, from very mild to very severe. The most common of which is PAIN. Horses in pain will compensate in gait or posture and often refuse to perform certain tasks. The following is a list of symptoms that MAY indicate pain from the presence of a subluxation:

  1. Discomfort when saddling.
  2. Discomfort when riding.
  3. Abnormal posture when standing.
  4. Evasion type maneuvers such as extending head or hollowing back.
  5. Wringing tail, pinning ears, or bucking.
  6. Refusing or unwillingness to go over jumps.
  7. Refusal or resistance in performance such as lateral or collected movements.
  8. Development of unusual behavior patterns.
    Sensitivity to touch.
  9. Facial expression of apprehension or pain.

Subluxations can also cause change in muscle coordination and flexibility. These conditions may cause:

  1. Lack of coordination in gaits.
  2. Improper frame.
  3. "Lameness" that seems to move from limb to limb.
  4. Stiffness coming out stall.
  5. Stiffness in lateral movement of the body or neck.
  6. Muscle atrophy or shrinking.
  7. Shortened stride in one or two limbs.
  8. Decreased extension in front or rear.
  9. Inability to lengthen top line.
  10. Inability to engage rear quarters.
  11. Rope walking or plaiting.
  12. Difficulty flexing at the poll.
  13. Rider cannot sit centered on horse.
  14. On line or pulling on one rein.

 Subluxations may cause problems with the nerves that supply other cells in the body such as those of the skin, glands, and blood vessels. Some of the symptoms that may result are:

  1. Unusual body or tail rubbing.
  2. Increased sensitivity to hot or cold.
  3. Asymmetrical sweating, or lack of sweating.

IF SUSPECTED, HOW CAN I DETERMINE IF SUBLUXATIONS EXIST IN MY HORSE?

Chiropractors are trained specifically to locate, evaluate, and correct SUBLUXATIONS. However, owners, trainers, and handlers to quickly check to see if their horses may have problems can utilize some of the tools he uses to examine the horses.

GAIT AND PERFORMANCE

The horseman should mentally review the current "look" and performance of the horse:

  1. Has the horse recently changed behavior or begun to work lower than his capabilities?
  2. Does the horse's overall appearance and outline look good?
  3. Does the rider feel an obscure or shifting lameness?
  4. Are there subtle differences in gait with no apparent lameness?
  5. Is the horse dragging a toe or showing unusual shoe wear?

RANGE OF MOTION

The horse should move freely from side to side in all ranges of motion, with no apparent tension. Remember not to compare one horse to the next, but compare side to side on the same horse.

  1. Ask the horse to turn his head and put his nose to his cinch area on both sides. Does he resist more on one side? This could indicate a neck subluxation.
  2. Gently wiggle the horse’s buttocks back and forth while your other hand rests on the back. Does the back seem to move in both directions equally?
  3. Apply light downward pressure on the back in a rhythmic, or pumping motion. Move up and down the back. Are there areas of stiffness?

MUSCLE PALPATION

Examine the major muscle groups in the horse. Look and feel for pain, tone, spasm, and symmetry. The muscles should be equal from side to side. The muscle should be firm but not hard or too soft. Muscles should NOT be painful to moderate pressure.

BONE PALPATION

Palpate, or feel down the spine for prominent bumps or elevations. If found are these hot or painful? Compare the two prominences at the top of the hips. Are they level? Are there any noticeable bumps in the neck?

SPINAL HEALTH CARE

SINCE PROPER FUNCTION OF THE BACK AND NECK ARE VITAL TO PROPER PERFORMANCE, CARE OF THE BACK SHOULD BE A MAJOR CONCERN FOR THE OWNER OR TRAINER.

CONFORMATION

The confirmation of the breed of horse should be considered when selecting a horse for a particular use. Remember, all breeds have been selectively modified, over many years, for a particular task. But beware, not all horses are successful. You must look at bloodlines and past performance. Horses with long backs are prone to muscle and ligament injuries, and straight shoulders predispose to front end conditions.

IF FOUND, HOW ARE SUBLUXATIONS CORRECTED?

A trained Animal Chiropractor should make final diagnosis of subluxations. Once identified, the Doctor will attempt a correction of the subluxated or "stuck" vertebra. This correction is called an ADJUSTMENT. An adjustment is a short, rapid thrust onto a vertebra in a very specific direction that will restore movement into the fixated joint.

Chiropractic is very specific, and adjustments are made on each vertebra directly. Jerking on legs or tails is NOT an adjustment. A proper examination and evaluation by the Doctor is necessary to determine what needs to be adjusted, and more importantly, what NOT to adjust.

While delivering an adjustment the Doctor uses a controlled force. Large horses don't necessarily need more force that very small ones. Each joint of the spine is moveable, and if the correct angle is used, the adjustment is relatively easy using low force.

REMEMBER! Although the Animal Chiropractor pays particular attention to the spine, he may also adjust the jaw, legs, or skull.

Chiropractic is a very diverse profession, and there are many techniques used to treat subluxations. Most Animal Chiropractors will use only their hands to adjust your horse. Some doctors, however, will use a small impacting device called an activator. This device is small and safe if used correctly. Other doctors may use pads, mallets, or other devices to strike the horse. This is unnecessary and can easily injure your animal. Beware of these types of practitioners.

After the adjustment, there is a healing time. The Doctor does not "cure" anything. He simply restores motion and health to the "stuck" joints, and the horse's body does the rest. This can take time and patience.

HOW MANY ADJUSTMENTS ARE NEEDED TO CORRECT THE SUBLUXATIONS?

This is the most difficult to answer, and most commonly misunderstood question concerning Chiropractic Care. The purpose of the adjustment is to restore function to a joint in the spinal column and to realign or reposition the spine. The horse's muscles and ligaments of the spinal column must be able to maintain the correct alignment once the Doctor has restored it. The condition of those supporting structures is what determines how many times and how often the horse needs to be treated. Thus, long standing, or chronic conditions tend to take more time and treatment, while minor injuries, corrected immediately, respond most rapidly. Several adjustments over two to four weeks are generally needed for the body to accept and maintain the new corrections. Most horses show significant improvement in one to four treatments. After that, age and conditioning are the major factors as to whether the subluxations may reappear.

To make this clearer, think of an orthodontist. The orthodontist applies a rigid brace to the teeth, and over a period of time makes regular corrections and tightening of the braces to realign the teeth. In essence, this is what a Chiropractor is trying to do to restore function to the spine.

WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP MY HORSE DURING TREATMENT AND REHABILITATION?

As in all activities, there are several things you can do to help your horses performance and health. An easy way to look at it is, what would you do if you were going to start to train for a sport.

VETERINARY EXAMINATION

First, before starting any new activity with your horse, consult with your veterinarian. Thorough, regular examinations are a must.

CONDITIONING

Horses, and all animals including humans, are more prone to subluxation and spinal trauma when soft, supportive tissue such as ligaments, muscles, and tendons are not fit for work. Proper warm-up, training, and cool-down, over an appropriate length of time is essential to good, healthy performances. Your horse performs and is an athlete. Treat him like one.

MASSAGE

Massage and muscle therapy are very beneficial throughout your horses performance years. Massage increases blood flow and nutrition to the working muscles, as well as carries waste and by-products away. Massage and stretching are essential before and after workouts. Massage can also be very beneficial to healing injuries as it can decrease the amount of scar tissue build up and decrease the healing time.

SHOEING

It is virtually impossible to maintain spinal alignment when the feet of the horse are improperly trimmed and shod. High heels, long toes, and uneven hoof walls can - 10 - interfere with gait and posture. The horse needs to be centered over the foot for proper function of both the foot and spinal column.

EQUIPMENT

Horses are sometimes forced in training with devices such as side-reins and stretchers. Used properly these tools can be an adjunct to training. When physical restrictions such as subluxations are present, these tools can increase the compensations and conditions of the spine. Constant jerking of the lead shank as a correction in the young horse can create tension in the neck and may lead to a predisposition for problems in this area.

SADDLE FIT

Make sure that the saddle fits the horse. A properly fitted saddle DOES NOT requires special pads. Check the saddle for uneven wear, for asymmetry in the tree or panels, and for broken trees. The area under the saddle should have even sweat patterns. Also, place the saddle properly on the horse.

CONFINEMENT

Most performance horses are confined to box stalls with limited amounts of free or turn out time. The more time a horse spends in a stall, the less coordinated he will become. Stalls limit balance and increase the chance of trauma to the joints of the back and legs. Bucking and rolling are natural ways that a horse adjusts its own spine. Make sure that the horse has enough free movement to get the "kinks" out.

ANIMAL CHIROPRACTIC CARE

Regular Chiropractic care can be a very cost effective way to maintain the performance ability of your horses. Chiropractic works to eliminate the source of the pain or dysfunction, allowing your horse to reach its maximum performance potential.

When selecting an Animal Chiropractor for your horse, be wary of exaggerated claims. There are many conditions in horses that may be permanent, or have permanent symptoms. Others worsen, even with the finest of health care. Have realistic expectations. Do not expect that the Animal Chiropractor will solve all long standing or multiple conditions with one adjustment. HEALING TAKES TIME!!