In recent years, the demand among horse owners for alternative equine therapies has spurred many veterinarians to explore therapies like acupuncture and chiropractic. Equine chiropractic techniques provide relief by restoring movement to the spinal column and promoting healthy neurologic functioning. In turn, the entire musculoskeletal system benefits, and the overall health of the animal increases.
Perhaps the greatest clinical application of chiropractic techniques is for animals with a vague sort of lameness that is not localized to any specific area, and for horses that experience a sudden decline in performance for seemingly no reason. These issues often relate back to musculoskeletal disorders that can be diagnosed through chiropractic techniques.
Some horse owners use chiropractic as a preventative measure. Subclinical conditions, meaning those that do not yet show symptoms, can often be detected by an equine chiropractor, as can abnormal biomechanics that could cause lameness down the road. Conditions that originate in the spine often result in a changed gait that can affect how force is applied to joints in the lower limbs. Over time, this shifted force can cause lameness, but chiropractic attention may help identify and deal with problems before they become a real issue.
What to Expect at an Equine Chiropractic Appointment
While each equine chiropractor will have a slightly different approach to treatment, there are a few commonalities that horse owners can expect when they book an appointment. If the practitioner has never seen the horse before, then the first step will be to obtain and review the animal’s medical history. The main focus of the visit, however, will be a physical exam.
First, the chiropractor will examine the horse in a standing position to look for any warning signs in the animal’s posture. The practitioner will also look for signs of muscle wasting, developmental asymmetries, and discomfort in the animal. If these initial steps point to any issues, the practitioner may want to explore them further before continuing with the physical exam.
After a basic examination of the horse’s posture, the chiropractor will perform a spinal analysis and palpation, which is a technique used to identify structural abnormalities in the horse’s musculoskeletal system. It may also help identify areas of heat or inflammation that require further attention.
The technique involves using the practitioner’s hands to manipulate the muscles along the horse’s spine and across the rest of the animal’s back. During this stage, the practitioner is looking for spasmodic muscles and muscle asymmetry as well as other obvious spinal misalignments.
Next, the chiropractor will likely start the motion palpation stage of the exam, which often takes considerable time. This stage involves looking at each joint in the body individually and moving it through its entire range. If the range of motion is less than normal or certain joints experience undue resistance, the chiropractor will likely examine further to determine the root of the problem.
Another important part of the physical exam is the gait analysis, which examines spinal mobility with a special focus on pelvic motion. This helps practitioners determine the causes of back pain and other limb-associated abnormalities. Sometimes, the practitioner will also give the animal traditional neurologic exams to determine if any other veterinary intervention is necessary, whether before or in conjunction with chiropractic treatment.
When Chiropractic Attention Can Prove Beneficial
Several situations can benefit from meeting with an equine chiropractor. The most significant sign that a horse could benefit from chiropractic treatment is pain. If the animal’s behavior suddenly changes or its posture seems abnormal, the horse may be experiencing pain. Similarly, reduced performance, refusing to jump, and tossing the head under saddle can indicate pain.
Owners should familiarize themselves with the many signs that a horse is experiencing pain. Some other indicators include chronic weight loss, sensitivity when being groomed, and difficulty turning. A chiropractor is a great option for identifying the issues leading to these behaviors and correcting them as quickly as possible — before the problems compound.
While pain is a great reason to seek equine chiropractic therapy, individuals may also want to consider the option if the horse is not responding to more conventional therapies. Chiropractors can also aid in recovery after significant trauma or lameness. However, horse owners should recognize that chiropractic therapy does not reverse degenerative changes already present, so working with a practitioner early in a disease’s progression can slow its advancement. Chiropractic may also help manage chronic conditions and prevent them from worsening.
Chiropractic does not replace traditional therapies, and horse owners should continue to meet with traditional veterinarians to address health concerns. However, the chiropractic approach to medicine can prove a great complement to other therapies.
More veterinarians are becoming trained in chiropractic techniques, so it is easier than ever to find an animal health professional capable of approaching issues from both the traditional and chiropractic angles. Also, some chiropractors treat both animals and humans. These individuals are especially qualified to comment on how imbalances in the rider have an adverse effect on the horse.