SmartPak Monday Morning Feed: Chiropractic Care For Your Horse

How often does your horse get Equine Chiropractic Care? How often SHOULD horses get Equine Chiropractic Care? Read more about the benefits of chiropractic care for your horse and how to know if your horse needs it here:

Equine Veterinary Chiropractic, also known as Veterinary Spinal Manipulation Therapy, involves more than simply “popping” bones back into place. In reality, the horse’s bones are not out of place; rather, they are restricting a joint from having a normal range of motion.

The bones of a horse may not move as they should because the muscles controlling them are not allowing for normal motion. This happens when the horse’s muscles don’t contract and/or relax in a normal manner.

Muscles only operate based on signals from the nerves that innervate them. So, when a muscle functions abnormally, it’s because the nerves innervating it are also functioning abnormally. Chiropractic adjustments help restore normal nerve function, which in turn restores regular muscle function.

Photo by Alana Harrison, courtesy of SmartPak.

Benefits of Chiropractic Care for Horses

When a horse’s joint is not moving as it should, it can lead to several negative effects. The nearby area becomes inflamed, displaying common signs like heat, pain, and swelling. The joint becomes unstable, resulting in a lack of balance, an abnormal gait, or even lameness with the possibility of developing osteoarthritis.

A chiropractic adjustment can help clear roadblocks that prevent the nerves from conducting their impulses normally. Some benefits of adjustments include:

  • Restores stability to the joint.
  • Brings back the joint’s normal range of motion (allowing for normal movement and helps with maintaining natural balance).
  • Puts the horse’s body in a better position to heal itself.
  • All horses can suffer from areas of abnormal motion or dysfunction in the body. Whether an Olympic athlete or pleasure pony, veterinary chiropractic can be beneficial to every horse.

Chiropractic for Horses in Training

As a horse becomes more advanced in training for a specific discipline, there will be areas of the body that undergo more stress than others.

It would be convenient to say that certain disciplines result in specific areas of dysfunction, but it’s important to remember that all parts of a horse’s body are interconnected. Many times, an issue in one area of the body can be caused by the horse having to physically compensate for other areas that’re not functioning properly.

For this reason, a whole-body assessment is vital. It’s the practitioner’s responsibility to determine what needs to be corrected to restore normal function.

Recognizing if Your Horse Needs an Adjustment

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Horses that appear healthy and sound may still benefit from chiropractic care. There are three main categories of health issues:

  1. Acute
  2. Chronic
  3. Permanent

All three issues will progressively get worse over time. When something begins to go wrong in your horse’s body, there are often few if any symptoms. But as time goes on, the body begins to break down and show signs like an occasional stiffness going in a certain direction, difficulty picking up a certain lead at the canter, knocking poles when jumping, or dragging a toe when moving at the walk, trot, or canter.

The first signs of a problem don’t necessarily mean it’s a new or acute issue; it just means the symptoms are. Acute injuries usually happen because of an obvious injury, whether it be physical, chemical, or emotional.

If the problem is ignored or left untreated, the symptoms come back, and the horse can develop chronic problems. These signs may include symptoms that come and go, radiographs that show joint damage in specific areas, muscle soreness that can’t be relieved by massage or medication, or a growing reliance on medications to manage the symptoms.

A horse may develop permanent issues when only her symptoms were treated, but not the root of the problem.

How Often Horses Should See the Chiro

Most horses hold their adjustments quite well. It’s common for an equine veterinary chiropractor to see their patients every three weeks, especially for horses with heavy workloads or during show season. Horses in less intense training or those used primarily for pleasure riding may only need to be seen every three months or so.

Every horse is an individual and the frequency of adjustments should be determined by your qualified practitioner. It’s also important to remember that horses can be very good at hiding their discomforts. So, it would be smart to not wait until your horse is showing obvious symptoms.

What to Expect During Your Horse’s Chiropractic Appointment

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A qualified equine veterinary chiropractor will palpate your horse thoroughly and might request to see your horse in motion, often under saddle and in-hand to make an assessment.

They may perform a fundamental neural exam and will assess the range of motion of your horse’s joints. Be prepared to provide your practitioner with as complete a history of your horse’s health as possible. After the assessment, the practitioner will perform the necessary adjustments.

Using their hands, your chiropractor will apply a low amplitude, high velocity thrust with a specific direction to make the adjustments.  Often the chiropractor will stand on a block or hay bale to better position themselves for achieving this specific direction when adjusting the horse’s spine.

The initial appointment may take over an hour as the chiropractor performs a full evaluation of your horse. Subsequent appointments usually last about a half hour.

What to Expect After the Appointment

Keep in mind, your horse has just had her nervous system fine-tuned, so she may require some time to adjust afterward. It can be beneficial to walk your horse for a few minutes post-adjustments before returning her to the stall.

Riding your horse after she has been adjusted may be possible, but you should ask your practitioner for guidance. If your practitioner gives you the green light to ride that day, do not do anything strenuous work and include a lot of stretching.

Most horses can return to a 50% workload the next day and 70% the day after that. Generally, it’s fine to turn your horse out after an adjustment if she normally goes out in pasture.

How Long Before Results?

Depending on the severity and length of time your horse’s dysfunction, it may take several treatments to restore normal balance and stability to the joints. In most cases, improvement is noticed within 24 hours, and in some cases it’s immediate.

It’s important to note that if your horse shows no improvement or fails to hold their adjustments for a normal length of time, she could potentially have an issue that can’t be completely solved with chiropractic work.

What to Look for in a Chiropractor for Your Horse

Anyone can learn to perform an adjustment in a very short period, but the true skill lies in determining what needs to be adjusted, why it needs to be adjusted, and what the adjustment will accomplish.

Certified equine veterinary chiropractors undergo extensive schooling in anatomy, neurology, and chiropractic techniques, enabling them to consider the horse’s entire body and make informed decisions. A person without this training can cause harm or damage to a horse.

There are several things you can look for to determine if your practitioner is a qualified veterinary chiropractor.

  • Your practitioner should be certified in veterinary chiropractic or veterinary spinal manipulation therapy. In order to receive certification, the practitioner must either be a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine or a Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine.
  • They should be a graduate of an accredited veterinary chiropractic or veterinary spinal manipulation program. For help translating, you may recognize these initials after your vet’s name:
    • CAC: Certified in Animal Chiropractic
    • DC: Doctor of Chiropractic
    • CVSMT: Certified Veterinary Spinal Manipulative Therapy
    • CVMMP: Certified Veterinary Medical Manipulation Practitioner
    • DVM or VMD: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

A veterinarian who performs spinal manipulation or chiropractic adjustments is different from a chiropractor who performs spinal manipulation or chiropractic adjustments. The veterinarian is qualified to prescribe medications and diagnose ailments with your horse, while the chiropractor is not. Both are equally qualified to adjust your horse and it’s merely a matter of personal preference as to which you choose.

You can find information like this and more at the SmartPak Horse Health Library. Go SmartPak and go riding!