The Importance of Body Work

I’ve often heard of the importance of having your horse check by an equine chiropractor and the wonders that these professionals can do for our equine friends. After all they are athletes, they perform incredible maneuvers for us, and let’s face it… they are also very accident prone! In the back of my mind I knew it was a good idea, but it was also a somewhat costly one - $120 for a 20 minute treatment…. Yeesh, I could get a 1.5 hour massage for that!

But it wasn’t until recently that I realized the value in a seemingly simple 20 minute treatment. I want to share two stories that made me realize just how important it is to get chiropractic work done on our horses.

The first experience I had with an equine chiropractor was while I was interning in Arizona. The head trainers believed in many holistic modalities to keep their horses in top shape, including BEMER treatments, a natural diet and chiropractic work. These were world champion horses, so they received nothing but the best.

I had been struggling with a stud colt that I was riding. No matter what I did or how hard I tried, I could not get him to pick up his right lead. It was getting close to lunch and he was my last horse of the day. It must have been close to 100 degrees in the desert sun… I tried and tried, I remember how frustrated I was, he was simply not getting it. He seemed totally sound, all the moving parts seemed to be working, it seemed to me that he just did not want to do it. Luckily the following day the equine chiropractor was scheduled to visit so we threw his name up on the list. Couldn’t hurt right?

The chiropractor arrived the next morning. She was a quiet woman from Mexico with a very peaceful presence about her. Her early background was in human chiropractic but she had been working solely on horses for many years. When we brought her out the first horse, she simply walked around the animal, looking at it in silence. She would stop, tell us which part of the animal was out of place, place her hands on a few spots, pull a leg or push a hip and she was done within 5-10 minutes. It seemed like she hardly did anything at all. When it came time to do the colt I was training, she took one look at him and said his right shoulder was out. She showed me from the front that the colt was standing off center, holding one shoulder slightly higher than the other. A couple adjustments and she told me to put him away. The next morning when I asked him for his right lead and he picked it up on the first try, I was totally sold. This stuff was amazing!

Fast forward a couple years and I am back at home training my Kiger stallion, Toro. Toro can be extremely athletic (when he wants to be) and one day I asked him to turn to the right, but he made the turn 10x more quickly than I was anticipating. I stuck in the saddle with him, although something felt funny, I just shook it off and went about the rest of the ride and the rest of my day. The next morning I could hardly walk straight. My lower back was definitely kinked and it was getting sorer by the hour. Luckily I have a fabulous human chiropractor who fixed me up right away. My pelvis had twisted and locked in place, putting strain on the surrounding muscles. Within two treatments I was good as new. On I went with my life.

It wasn’t until I eventually noticed Toro not tracking up with his hind end as nice as he usually does, that I started to wonder. I thought if he was able to do that damage to me, imagine what he likely did to himself… So I knew I had to find a local equine chiropractor. Luckily we do have a great one here in Nova Scotia, but he lives 3 hours away and works full time on humans, so his visits to this area for horses are infrequent. Eventually he made it down and gave Toro a treatment. Without me having to say anything, he told me Toro was off in his lumbosacral and sacroiliac area… surprise – so was I! While he treated Toro, he told me that often times people do not notice when the hind end is off, so it goes untreated. But horses are excellent at compensating, so that hind end pain eventually shows up as a front-end lameness and then it’s much more difficult to fix. I was very happy to hear him say that Toro’s neck, front legs and shoulders were very loose and supple. This was a nice confirmation to me that I was doing proper training for the horse’s wellbeing.

Toro ended up getting the week off following his adjustment, just because we got busy working client horses. I rode him today and he was like riding the wind. He was so smooth and supple, full of energy and willingness. He had his zest back.

I understand so much more now. I can’t imagine being asked to perform lead changes or rollbacks with a twisted pelvis… it’s amazing that these horses perform for us as well as they do sometimes, we owe it to them to provide them with regular body work, even once or twice a year. I promise you your horse will thank you.

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