Horses that compete in any type of competition are considered equine athletes. It takes a great deal of time and training to get your horse conditioned and prepared for the show ring. Often times, we ask them to compete maneuvers many times over and over again until they are able to perform it to perfection. If we attempt to seek out perfection from our horses, it only makes sense that as horse owners we make it as easy as possible for our horses to perform their best. That is where equine chiropractic comes in!
There are still many people out there that do not know exactly what chiropractic is and the many benefits it provides for your horse. Well, let's break it down. Chiropractic is a gentle, yet effective method of allowing your horse's body to heal itself. When I palpate your horse, what I am looking for is nice bouncy movement in the joint. When i get to a joint that has lost its motion, it has become restricted. This is a joint that needs to be adjusted. Restricted joints can compensate and work harder due to lack of movement. Restrictions can also cause some interference between the communication of the brain and the body. Chiropractic adjustments relieve the restriction allowing the joint to once again move properly. There are many more benefits to chiropractic care besides returning motion to the joint. Let's explore a few.
Chiropractic adjustments relieve restrictions allowing the joint to have an increased range of motion. This is so important for the equine athlete. If a horse is not able to fully extend his leg due to a restriction, it does not matter how much training time you put in. Decreased range of motion caused by a restriction is a mechanical problem which requires a mechanical solution. This becomes an even bigger issue during the winter months when horses wear blankets to keep their show coat. Walking around in a blanket restricts the horse's range of motion in his shoulder by not allowing him to fully extend his front legs while he walks. Over time, this causes the shoulder to become restricted even when he is not wearing a blanket. This will make it difficult for him to extend his front legs fully under saddle as well. This has become a mechanical problem and the mechanical solution is a chiropractic adjustment. This will allow your horse to have greater increased range of motion by relieving the restriction that was preventing it. This will decrease stiffness in the joint as well.
Have you ever slept on your neck wrong and woke up with a painful stiff neck? This is what a restriction can feel like to your horse. Painful muscle spasm can form around a restriction making that area even more painful. Majority of performance horses I adjust have some level of muscle spasm going on due to restrictions, the most common area being the lower withers. Often times, riders will only mount the horse from the left side, and mounting from the ground only adds more pressure to the vertebrae worsening the problem. This causes rotational restrictions in the lower withers meaning the spinous process of the vertebrae continuously is being pulled to the left so eventually it just gets stuck in that position. Then as a form of protection for the body, muscle spasm surrounds that area. It is also possible that the horse may get twitchy when anything touches his lower withers, agitated when brushing the area, irritated while saddling, unwilling to let the rider mount, and behavioral issues under saddle. Chiropractic adjustments allow the lower withers to return to their normal motion rather than "get stuck" in a left position. This reduces the pain and inflammation that has formed as a result of a repetitive movement. Less pain means the horse can move more comfortably under saddle.
Improve Nervous System
The greatest benefit of chiropractic care is the affect it has on your horse's nervous system. Everything in the body is controlled by nerves: reflexes, movement, and organ function. A restriction can cause interference between the communication of the brain and the body. This interference in communication can affect anything in the body, such as the limbs or GI function. This means that neurological symptoms (dragging limbs, lack of proprioception or the brain knowing where the body is in space, lack of coordination, muscle atrophy, etc), lameness, and poor GI function can all be due to a restriction in the spine. Adjustments both relieve restrictions and remove the interference allowing proper communication between the brain and the body. Once proper communication is restored the nervous system will be able to function at its fullest.
Boost Immune System
One of the lesser known benefits of chiropractic care is the affect it has on the immune system. When the nervous system is functioning at its fullest, it gives the immune system a boost as well. Horses that compete in the show circuit must travel to new facilities and as a result they are exposed to potential pathogens they may not otherwise have been exposed to. Traveling, in addition to the higher work load that comes with competing, increases your horse's stress levels. An increase in stress will decrease their immune system causing them to be more susceptible to illnesses. Adjustments before a competition will increase your horse's immune system allowing him to be more protected against new illnesses he may be introduced to while traveling. Also, I typically recommend chiropractic care to horses that have an issue with allergies. Restrictions in the upper neck and around the poll are commonly found among horses that suffer from allergies.
Horses are naturally talented at hiding their pain, it is their instinct due to being a prey animal. This means that when your horse finally starts showing signs of pain, the issue has most likely been there for quite some time. This is why I always say the best time to start chiropractic care for your horse is before you notice there is anything wrong! Chiropractic allows me to feel exactly what is going on with him, before you even notice any changes. In order to master a maneuver or movement, your horse must practice it many times over and over again. Repetitive movement is a major cause of performance injuries. One reason being is these repeated movements cause restrictions to form and the horse must overcompensate in other areas. This makes your horse more prone to an injury by having to work harder than usual. This also makes them more prone to long term issues such as arthritis. For example, a horse with a sore back will cause him to become sore in his hocks and stifles. If the back soreness is not corrected this will lead to injury and long term issues in his back as well as his hocks and stifles. Chiropractic adjustments not only remove the initial restriction, but they also relieve the areas of compensation allowing all the joints to function as they should. Healthy movement in joints greatly reduces your horse’s chance of injury.
Now that we know some of the benefits of chiropractic care, it's no surprise that adjustments will also help to enhance your horse's performance. When going into the show ring, we want our horses to feel their best so they are able to perform their best. The traveling, longing, repetitive movements, and riding are all factors that can contribute to the formation of restrictions which are painful and can hinder your horse's movement. Consistent chiropractic adjustments remove the restrictions and allow horses to move to the best of their ability. Once your horse's issues have been resolved, I typically recommend an adjustment a few days before the competition as it can take up to three days to see the full effect of an adjustment. Do your horse's a favor and get them adjusted before their next competition.
About the Author
My name is Dr. Cat Reczek and I am an animal chiropractor that is certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. I work at Vitality Chiropractic Center located in Aurora, IL adjusting both large and small animals. I earned my Doctorate in Chiropractic Medicine at National University of Health Sciences and attended an AVCA accredited program at Animal Chiropractic Education Source in Texas for animal chiropractic.
Growing up I fell in love with horses at a very young age and at 12 owned my first AQHA horse, The Asset Manager, otherwise known as Harley. Through the years together under the guidance of my trainer, Carol Johnson, we earned state championships, Congress Reserve Champion, Congress Top Ten, Congress Finalist, earned a place on the Illinois NYATT team, and qualified for multiple years for the AQHYA World Championship Show. It was during this time I developed a desire to learn as much as I could about movement and how to keep horses in peak condition for competitions.