Improving your horse’s performance through chiropractic care

Often people have asked me, “Do you think Chiropractic will help my horse?” The answer is, “it depends on what you are trying to achieve with your horse”. We hear horses receiving Chiropractic care for specific problems, most commonly with their back, but we also hear of horses that have regular Chiropractic adjustments to keep them performing well. So, when should you consider Chiropractic care for your horse?

To better understand Chiropractic let us divide this topic into three sections: 1) what is Chiropractic, 2) how is it administered, 3) when would it be beneficial to your horse. Though Chiropractic is an in depth field of study, for ease of understanding I will keep this discussion on a more basic level.

What is Chiropractic?

Chiropractic is a science, art and philosophy of health care. As I wrote in my article on alternative therapies (refer to Sidelines issue September, 05) chiropractic attempts to diagnose and alleviate altered mechanics of vertebral segments which cause aberrant movement and altered function. In very simple terms, Chiropractic adjustments through spinal manipulation) are performed to keep vertebral segments aligned correctly so the spine and associated structures function properly.

When vertebrae are misaligned they are referred to as subluxations. By definition, a subluxation is a slight dislocation or biomechanical malfunctioning of the normal vertebral alignment. If these vertebrae were to remain misaligned, they can irritate nerve roots and blood vessels around them and can result in muscle spasm, joint or nerve pain. The science of Chiropractic involves understanding the neurophysiological mechanisms of subluxations, and how and why they occur.

How is Chiropractic Administered?

Inherent in the art of Chiropractic is the skill necessary to analyze, locate and correct vertebral subluxations. This is one of the major reasons it is necessary for horse owners to use ONLY qualified practitioners to administer Chiropractic. Because Chiropractors do not utilize prescription medications to affect pain and inflammation, they need to be educated enough to diagnose specifically those subluxations responsible for the horse’s problem, as well as skilled enough to specifically adjust the vertebrae so that they effect a change in function.

Chiropractic manipulation is usually done by hand. The Chiropractor applies a short quick thrust to specific vertebrae in a specific direction designed to restore normal function to the spine. This should not cause any discomfort to the horse, and when applied correctly although the horse’s spine is larger than the human spine, the force necessary to affect a change is not very much.

The horse’s spine is separated into three regions, plus the pelvis. The seven vertebrae in the neck comprise the cervical spine. The 18 vertebrae situated in the area from the front of the withers through the cantle of the saddle are called the thoracic spine. The lumbar spine is comprised of 6 vertebrae (some breeds have 5) of the low back. The pelvis consists of the sacrum and the two large pelvic bones.

Any of the vertebrae in the spine can ‘subluxate’, (as can bones located in other parts of the skeletal system such as ribs, TMJ, and extremities). Well trained chiropractors will use various methods of diagnosis to locate the origin of the problem such as visual and movement analysis, static and motion palpation, and history and medical findings. It is important to look at the WHOLE horse when analyzing spinal issues, because often they are part of a larger picture, or secondary to another problem. I recently looked at a horse that had a very sore back, and although the horse needed Chiropractic care, the horse’s back discomfort was secondary to another issue – the primary problem was elsewhere. It takes time and education to learn spinal manipulation; however, an equally important part of good Chiropractic care is good Chiropractic analysis. This is the art of Chiropractic.

When Would You Use Chiropractic?

The philosophy of Chiropractic embraces the notion that living beings have an innate intelligence which is responsible for sustaining life. It’s why we heal when we cut ourselves or recover from an illness. There are any number of neurological and physiological examples justifying this notion. Manipulation as a healing art is 4000 years old, and chiropractic itself is over 100 years old. One of the more common applications of modern Chiropractic is correction of structural disorders and improvement of athletic performance. This is based on the premise that structure + function = performance. The more balanced the horse, the sounder he will be and the better he will perform.

As I mentioned earlier, the success of Chiropractic care, especially when applied to
horses is dependent on the skill and knowledge of the practitioner to observe and analyze the total horse; that is, determine those factors which affect structure by interfering with function. And these factors are many, including skeletal alignment, rider influence, tense muscles, and movement resistances.

So, that said, when should you consider Chiropractic for your horse? If you were paying attention here you might distinguish two distinct applications of Chiropractic care for your horse. 1) structural flaws which fall into the realm of Chiropractic care, i.e. possible skeletal issues including neck, back, and pelvic problems, and 2) structural balance for maintenance of soundness and spinal health, and to maximize overall athletic performance and movement potential.

Many horse owners find that Chiropractic care has a positive influence on their horse’s performance, and use Chiropractic care regularly, the same way human athletes do. If you have a performance horse that has never been evaluated by a Chiropractic practitioner, you might consider employing the input of a QUALIFIED specialist. After all, our horses are athletes, too!

*Chiropractic should only be done by a licensed professional with experience in manipulation!

Previously published in Sidelines Magazine.

Dr. Bev Gordon, Pres.
The Horse in Motion, Inc.
Founder/Creator Equi-Tape® and Developer of The Equi-Taping® Method