So You Think You Can… Be An Equine Chiropractor?

“So You Think You Can…” is a series that highlights jobs in the horse industry. We’ll speak to professionals and figure out what it takes if you’re interested in a career change. This week we discuss equine chiropractic care.

Special thanks to Dr. Arianna Aaron, DC, of Peak Performance International, for contributing to this article.

With an estimated 9.5 million horses in the United States alone, equine chiropractic graduates are in high demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (which does not yet provide a separate category for equine chiropractors), chiropractor jobs overall are projected to increase 10% between now and 2030, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that the average salary for chiropractors is nearly equal to the average salary for all healthcare practitioners.

Dr. Aaron notes, “Chiropractors have a high job satisfaction rate. Who doesn’t love visiting their chiropractor for an adjustment? When you combine chiropractic with horses, you get my dream job. I get to work with horses all day long. 24/7 horses… isn’t that what we all want?”

Are you qualified?

An equine chiropractor has to perform an evaluation to diagnose and treat a variety of musculoskeletal problems as well as maintain health for optimum performance.

“The initial evaluation usually consists of a thorough history, visual inspection, biomechanical evaluation, neurological evaluation, gait analysis, and a postural evaluation,” says Dr. Aaron.

“After the evaluation, the practitioner will decide if the patient is a candidate for care and come up with an individualized treatment plan. The practitioner is then responsible for maintaining the patient’s care and reassessing if any new conditions arise.”

Those skills require ongoing education as the techniques available to practitioners grow and evolve.

“Equine chiropractic is a relatively new profession and has grown leaps and bounds in the last few years,” comments Dr. Aaron.

Techniques incorporated into her practice include manual therapy, cupping, kinesiology tape, physiotherapy, Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM), and dry needling.

Are you a self-starter?

Dr. Aaron says the biggest qualifications are a dedication to helping horses and being self-motivated.

“Both horses and their owners can sense a practitioner’s passion for providing care to their animals. Passion is your greatest tool for helping others. If someone is interested in getting into this profession, though, I think that one requirement is that they are self-driven. This is a field where you are continually studying and learning; patients trust you with the care of their best friends, and it is a huge responsibility.”

She adds, “Unfortunately, at this moment, there is no certification required to be an animal chiropractor. Whether or not you need to be a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine or Doctor of Chiropractic varies by individual state. There are no further qualifications or requirements to legally practice on animals. That means that a veterinarian with no knowledge of how to perform a chiropractic adjustment can adjust, and a chiropractor with no knowledge of animal anatomy can adjust.

Any practitioner you see who is certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) or International Veterinary Chiropractic Association (IVCA) has taken it upon themselves to receive further education so that they may provide their clients with the highest quality of care.

To be certified by the AVCA or the IVCA, the practitioner must be a licensed Doctor of Chiropractic or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. They must successfully complete and pass an approved basic veterinary chiropractic course that consists of a minimum of 210 hours of lecture and laboratory time before they can sit for the AVCA or IVCA exam.”

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Can you handle the job’s physical requirements?

Working on an animal in pain can be dangerous.

Dr. Aaron comments, “While the goal of an adjustment is pain relief, it can be uncomfortable to put a high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust into a joint that has altered biomechanics. Good luck explaining that to a horse.”

On top of that, chiropractors routinely bend, lift, twist, and pull in a variety of strange positions.

Dr. Aaron advises taking care of your body physically and thinking about how you are practicing if you want to have a long-lasting career in this field. She also notes the long hours and lack of sick days.

“If you get sick or hurt, it’s not a job you can just call out of, as you likely have no replacement.”

Can you endure the neigh-sayers?

Perhaps due to the lack of a universal certification process or maybe as a result of a general distrust for alternative medicine, there are people who don’t believe chiropractic care is beneficial to horses. As a practitioner, it’s inevitable that you will eventually run into people who think you’re selling snake oil. Dr. Aaron notes that it’s important to use evidence-based science in your practice.

She states, “There are a few things that I would personally look for in an equine chiropractor. The first is an evidence-based practitioner. A doctor who practices in an evidence-based manner is someone who incorporates the latest science and technology into their practice style. I also look for a provider that incorporates manual therapy and exercise into their treatment protocols. The evidence behind chiropractic manipulation demonstrates the best results when chiropractic manipulation is combined with manual therapy and exercise. Lastly, you want a doctor who has prior experience in the equine field and understands the requirements of the sport. Do your research, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about your provider and the type of care they provide.”

Go riding.

Amanda Uechi Ronan is an author, equestrian and wannabe race car driver. Follow her on Instagram @uechironan.