Hey #TeamVE! This weeks blog is brought to you by our lovely friend - Charlotte De Bruyne of Equinesio Therapy. Charlotte is our friend from across the pond, and has graciously agreed to join us for some guest writing and webinars over the Summer. You all know that we are big believers in the #teamapproach and combining modalities to treat your equine athlete as a whole in order to provide them with the highest standard of health and wellness, so this is a no brainer for us! Enjoy.
DISCLAIMER: This article was written by our friend Charlotte, who lives in Europe, and practices physiotherapy with animals. In Alberta, physiotherapy is a protected term intended for human use only. This article shares the advantages of incorporating physical therapy programs for your equine athletes. These programs can be accessed by a specialist in this field (such as Equus Physio https://www.equusphysio.com/equinephysio) or through your veterinary practitioner.
You can visit and learn more about Charlotte here.
Physical therapy is a must-have in the life of every human athlete, so why shouldn't it be the
same for our equine athletes? We ask them to perform at the best of their capability day in
and day out, so I believe it is vital for their welfare that we treat them as the stars that they
are. A good place to start when asking yourself if your horse needs physical therapy, is knowing
what equine physical therapy is and what it does
(Equine) physical therapy is aimed at optimising animals’ quality of life, by improving their
function and movement.
In my personal opinion, a lot of issues in both humans and horses find their origin in altered
muscle recruitment. This modification can be caused by pain, hypermobility or hypomobility
of joints. In some cases it can be lack of exercise or due to incorrect training causing this
alteration. Trauma, degeneration, overuse injuries,… can cause pain, and this can lead to muscle
inhibition and thus, altered recruitment.
To understand the connection between pain and muscle inhibition, it is important to know
there are different kinds of muscles:
- Deep stabilising muscles are located close to joints and are designed to exert small
forces during a long period of time. Their function is to limit unwanted movement in
- Global movers: these muscles are larger and are engineered to produce movement.
They are not made to be active all the time, but produce significant amounts of force
at certain times.
Pain often leads to inhibition of these deep stabilizing muscles, and so the body adapts by
recruiting global movers to take over the job. A change in this mechanism can also be due to
altered movement ability in joints like too much mobility asking for more stabilization, or not
enough movement leading to all sorts of compensations. (Hodges and Richardson, 1996; Jull,
2000) As I explained above, the global movers are not designed for working long periods of
time and this can lead to soreness and even injuries.
A tight, stiff muscle does not work as well as a healthy one, and is often weaker than normal.
When this lasts for a long time, it also affects the movement that is possible in the joints.
This has an effect on how a horse moves and how good it feels. Because our horses cannot
tell us they are sore like humans can, it is important to regularly check whether everything is
still working properly and feels supple. This can help prevent injuries in the long run. A great
example of this is the start of a horse’s career: it is young and weak, with no core-strength
nor the ability to stabilize it’s big body, let alone support a rider on top of it. When breaking
a horse in, it requires a lot of muscle power and adaptation. Don’t let initial soreness
become the prelude of an injury at this crucial time!
To achieve the correct balance in muscle recruitment and joint movement, you can draw from a wide knowledge base of anatomy, biomechanics, physical therapy and psychology. Using evidence-based techniques, the animal is assessed, painting a clear picture of parameters in the form of a problem list. Through clinical reasoning a short and long-term plan is designed, tailored to the patient. The following techniques can be used to achieve these goals:
- Manual therapy
- Soft tissue techniques
- Exercise therapy
Horses have a very different way of expressing pain than we do, and thankfully, there has
been research into how horses express this, giving us tools to register and interpret these
signals. (Gleerup and Lindegaard, 2016) Unfortunately, in the current equestrian world,
these signs are often misinterpreted. Our horses can virtually be screaming to make it clear
to us, but still, we miss it far too often...
As an owner or rider, you are the first to pick up on the signs your horse is not feeling well. It
might not be lameness, but you just feel "it's not right". I think a lot of us have been in this
position before: their horse’s behaviour changed, his performance deteriorated or he
seemed to have lost the joy in his work. Together, we can pinpoint the issue and address the
cause, working together to make your horse feel good again. Dare to trust yourself! You
know your horse best, and if you have a gut feeling that his behaviour is off, it probably is!
The following signs and symptoms can mean your horse could benefit from some physical therapy:
Changes in behaviour
- Lack of impulse
- Difficulty side-bending
- Not accepting the bit
- Struggling with flying changes
- Inconsistent contact
- Bucking or rearing
- Difficulty with transitions
- Disuniting in canter or bunnyhopping
- Stressful behaviour
- Kicking or biting when tacking up or
trying to mount
- Reluctance to work
- Tripping more often
- Struggling with straightness
- Taking off without an obvious reason
- More passive mentality in general,
- Muscle wastage without a change in
- Swelling of a muscle, tendon, joint or a
part of the skin
- Carrying his tail sideways
- Taking longer to warm-up at the start of
- Shortened stride-length or shorter stance
- Pain when you touch certain areas
Physical therapy cannot only aid in managing these complaints, but it can also be a valuable support in addressing other issues
If your horse is suffering greatly or has a very clear lameness, it is best it is seen by a
specialized vet before anything else.