We are delighted to share with you a piece from Vitality Equine's newest guest blogger- Charlotte De Bruyne, Physiotherapist & Founder of Equinésio in Belgium. Charlotte reached out to Vitality Equine earlier this year, and we began talking about our mutual passion for horses. We quickly came to realize, that even with an Atlantic ocean and an 8 hour time zone spanning us, that our approach and vision to helping our equine athletes feel their best were unbelievably similar!
Charlotte has an extensive experience working with the human athlete as a physiotherapist, and has since moved on to complete her MSc in Veterinary Physiotherapy at Hartpury University. She has spent the last couple years working with DD Physio, an equine physiotherapy practice in the Netherlands that works closely with the Sporthorse Medical Diagnostic Center, as part of the equestrian team for the Olympic team of the Netherlands! Her hands-on experience is vast, and to top it all off she loves to write about the latest scientific research to share with horse owners and professionals, alike. She is the kindred spirit of Vitality Equine in Europe! So without further a do, here is the first of many blog series we will have with Charlotte. Enjoy!
1. How did you get into this profession?
I actually rolled into this profession by accident, I have always been a bit horse-mad, but I tried to make my peace with the fact that a career in the equestrian industry was not in the books for me. Playing lots of sports in my youth, with a lot of injuries as a result, I spent the vast majority of one of my summers with my physiotherapist. I decided to start university to become a physiotherapist. In Belgium this is a 5 year full-time course.
During my third year I saw an interview with an equine physiotherapist decided to get in touch with her to learn more about it. I went along with her for a few days to see how she worked, and I think it was around minute 5 that I was there, when I fell in love with the profession.
There are a few ways to qualify as an equine physiotherapist and I decided to go to Hartpury University to get my degree in Veterinary Physiotherapy. This means I am not only qualified to treat horses, but dogs as well! I love dogs however… I prefer treating horses over dogs!
From the moment I realized there was such a thing as equine physiotherapy, I became (just a little bit…) obsessed with it. To be involved with horses already, I partnered up with a peer to investigate backpain in riders, as a dissertation for our masters degree. Our research was spread out over two years, and the results of all that work will soon be published in a medical journal, my first publication!
After two years of studying part-time at Hartpury, combined with working as a human physiotherapist and doing an extra placement in the Netherlands, I have started my own business, Equinésio, aimed at treating every equine athlete as the star that he/she is.
I have a (not so secret) love for the mountains as well, it is my dream to move somewhere where I can enjoy both of my passions.
2. Why should a horse owner work with a physiotherapist for their horse?
Physiotherapy 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 accordingly.
The benefits of physiotherapy aren’t just limited to solving problems, but can also help preventing them, or through picking up the early signs of an injury, so it doesn’t escalate and cause real problems.
When horses train, they can get muscle soreness just like we can, but they compensate by adopting an altered movement pattern, instead of taking a day off like we tend to do. This can ultimately lead to injuries, as a tight muscle will lead to different biomechanics of other joints and muscles.
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". This doesn’t have to be damage to joints or muscles, but it could be your horse is moving differently due to pain. As physiotherapists, we are trained to pick these signs up, and look for the root of the problem. This means I don’t aim to work symptomatically: I want to address the cause of the complaint and not just take the result of it away. To obtain optimal results, this will mean a change in management for your horse, instead of weekly visits from the physio.
3. What is your favourite thing/attribute about equine athletes?
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. 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... A physiotherapist is trained to pick up on the most subtle signs and can help you identify these in your horse. And this is what I love about working with them: you really need to FEEL what is going on and look at the subtle signs to capture what your patient is trying to tell you. On top of that, horses are so sensitive! Even the lightest pressure can have a huge effect and you can see the horses change posture or show signs of changes in their parasympathetic nervous system: chewing, yawning,…It is incredible to see such an effect of your treatment, and it is very rewarding.
4. What area of the horse are you obsessing over lately?
I have been completely obsessed by the neck these past months. During my education I always thought this was the hardest area to get “right” when treating and testing, so I practiced on every horse I could get my hands on. By doing this, I realized how many horses suffer from neck problems, and I started reading more literature about it, and feeding it back to what I saw in practice. Every time I discovered something new, a whole new world of things I didn’t know opened up for me! This lockdown due to Covid19 has a lot of downsides, but I am happy it gave me the time to dedicate myself to reading up on this subject. I planned on spending every week on a different body part, however, after starting with the neck, I still haven’t gotten round to anything else: there is just so much to learn!
5. Do you have a really cool story/case you want to share?
A few months ago, I had a case during one of my placements, that really opened up a new world for me. This horse had an issue that is fairly common in humans and can be very painful, but it never occurred to me that it could have such a detrimental effect on horses as well! This horse had suddenly gone 3/5 lame on his right forelimb, and the vets couldn’t find anything, even the scintigraphy didn’t show anything!
As a last resort, he was sent to physiotherapy, and there we discovered he had very limited movement in his neck, and his first three ribs were painful and not moving as they ought to! If you have ever had a rib blockage, you will probably be able to relate: it hurts!
Because of the high pain level he was in, we asked the vets to sedate him, so that the joints of his ribs and his neck could be manipulated.
After the sedation wore off, his lameness had already improved 50%!
Over the course of a few weeks, the horse was treated 2 more times, after which his lameness disappeared completely, and he was fine to return to sports!
6. Tell us something about yourself?
I can be a bit overwhelming for some people, as I don’t have an “inbetween”: I am all in, or not at all. When I want something, I will work until I reach that goal, but if I’m not motivated I can be the laziest person in the world…!
This is closely related to my goal-oriented mindset, so at any time in my life I will try to have goals on a professional level, a physical level, and on an environmental level. I try and minimize my ecological footprint as much as I can, through what I eat, how I commute, and through the clothes I buy. I struggle with this sometimes so I am always open for tips and tricks! This year I am trying to go from a vegetarian lifestyle to a vegan one, or at least with as many locally sourced products, but I have to admit I don’t find that so easy to do! I don’t cope with failure very well, so maybe typing this out will push me over the edge and force me to become vegan altogether!
Thanks so much to Charlotte of Equinésio for joining #TeamVE as part of our bi-monthly blog series! We are looking forward to having you back on the blog to share some more informative tools, grounded in science, for our equine athletes here in Canada.
Stay tuned for more exciting articles coming your way, #TeamVE! Until then, wishing you and your horses nothing but good health and happiness!