Equine Physiotherapy

Horses can exhibit musculoskeletal problems in a variety of different ways, from a subtle decrease in performance or stiffness on one rein; through to schooling difficulties or behavioral problems; and eventually breakdown of tissue causing lameness.

Horses are predisposed to primary neck and back problems from the very fact that we sit on them.

Contributory factors include:

  • Poor core stability and balance
  • Working in an incorrect outline with the back in extension
  • The influence of an unbalanced rider
  • Incorrectly fitted saddle
  • Inadequate fitness
  • Working when fatigued
  • Inadequate warm up / cool down routines
  • Foot imbalance
  • Incorrectly fitting tack

Normal movement will be prevented if soft tissues are restricting, weak, or painful. Horses will continue to work with these minor injuries and perform to their best ability, by making compensations in the way they move and how they distribute their weight between their limbs. At this stage a sensitive rider may notice a subtle drop in their horses' performance level. If left untreated, these altered movement patterns will cause secondary soft tissue strains, and this will continue as a vicious circle, until the structures involved are unable to compensate anymore and break down. It is at this point that a horse becomes obviously lame. Any loss of performance, however small, should be investigated to prevent these more serious injuries occurring.

Horses may develop an adaptive gait and back pain secondary to conformational abnormalities, or conditions such as navicular, bone spavin or degenerative joint disease. They will off-load a sore joint, by shifting their weight onto another leg, often the opposite diagonal. This alters their movement pattern which will be less energy efficient, and will put extra strain on the other limbs and core stability muscles. Early physiotherapy intervention will prevent these secondary problems occurring whilst the primary condition is treated by the veterinary surgeon.

The aim of veterinary physiotherapy is to identify and treat the soft tissue problems and re-train new efficient movement patterns.

Common Schooling difficulties and indications of musculoskeletal injuries:

  • Resents being saddled up
  • Stiffness and resistance especially showing an
    increased one sidedness
  • Difficulty getting an 'outline' or engaging hindquarters
  • Difficulty extending or collecting
  • Incorrect lead, disunited canter
  • Tosses head or swishes tail excessively
  • Shortened stride length
  • Loss of performance
  • Taking down show jumping poles
  • Problems with combination fences
  • Unexplained resistance i.e. buck, rear, nap and refuse
  • Changes in behaviour or temperament
Equine treatment

Spinal reflex

Spinal reflex

Horses are predisposed to back problems due to the very fact that we sit on them.

Contributory factors include:

  • Working in an incorrect outline with the back in extension
  • Carrying the weight of an unbalanced rider
  • Incorrectly fitted saddle
  • Inadequate fitness
  • Working when fatigued
  • Foot imbalance

High performance horses work very close to breakdown threshold of their flexor tendons and suspensory ligaments when galloping, this together with degeneration due to aging, and poor regenerative properties, makes them susceptible to serious injury. Veterinary physiotherapy techniques can be beneficial in treating both the initial inflammatory stage of injury and in the production of a better quality repair, in conjunction with a controlled progressive exercise programme.

Veterinary physiotherapy techniques are also beneficial in treating wounds sustained from direct injury, haematomas from kicks and collisions, and in reducing the subsequent scar tissue, which is particularly important for show horses.

It is advisable for all ridden horses in regular work, or competing at pony and riding club level, to be assessed two to four times a year. For those competing at a higher level, more regular input may be required. Pre and post major competitions checks will ensure that horses can perform at their optimum level and that any competition induced strains are resolved quickly.

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In accordance with the law, veterinary consent is needed before I can treat any animal. You can download a referral form and health check form in Word format from the links below.

Veterinary referral form
Competition Animal MSK Check

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