Equine Manual Therapies

When the conventional methods fail, for whatever reason, many owners turn to non-conventional methods to help their horses. Equine manual therapies are all the rage right now. As they should be. We have seen first hand how Veterinary Acupuncture, Chiropractic adjustments, and other manual therapies can get horses moving correctly! Often, after other, more mainstream treatments have failed.

Currently, there is a divide in the veterinary community about manual therapies. Many vets don’t see the benefit or consider these techniques to be “less than medical”. Many go completely over to the complimentary side and only perform acupuncture, adjustments and the like. We’re in the middle here at Windhorse Veterinary Clinic. We provide a combination of conventional medical treatments with the manual therapies. This approach has given us the tools to treat some really complex cases.

Clients come to us with a particular complaint, such as a barrel horse that won’t turn the first barrel or a dressage horse that isn’t able to bend for lateral work correctly. We take a detailed history, observe the horse at rest and moving. Observation of the horse tells us so much about what is going on. We are assessing the resting posture of the horse, natural conformation of the skeleton, asymmetry, and muscle atrophy, especially of the postural back muscles. I like to watch the horse walk in a straight line away and towards me, in a right and left circle and back a few steps.  At this point, I use my hands to assess certain acupuncture points for pain. These “pain patterns” are usually very characteristic and are part of the diagnosis. This is where we can start to discuss what is going to help your horse. Treatment is the next step.

Dr. Roster performing acupuncture on a brown horse

I usually start with chiropractic adjustments. Adjusting the small joints between the vertebrae relieves much of the back pain. This allows the nervous system to begin to function properly again. I work on only one joint at a time, assessing any restrictions and providing the adjustment. This restores the mobility of the spine, improving circulation and decreasing pain. The back muscles usually stop spasming at this time and have a more normal resting tone.

After the adjustments are done, I assess the pain pattern again to see how much has been resolved and how much remains. It is nice to assess movement again at this point. This is time to place acupuncture needles in areas that remain painful or tight. Acupuncture stimulates nerves to provide better circulation, resolve stagnation and relieve pain. Some horses are too painful to allow for this. In these horses, we often use cold laser therapy either over the muscles involved or at the acupuncture points that we would have needled.

Sometimes horses are so intensely painful that he will reject just about any therapy I want to use. When this happens, I listen and watch the horse for a sign of where to start. In these horses, I can often start with a gentle manual technique around the ears and face or the flank area until the horse trusts me enough to begin more intense therapies.

Sometimes the nervous system will experience a huge change from just one or two adjustments. When this happens, we have to wait at least two days to resume any treatments while the nervous system can reset to this new point. These horses are usualy fine the next time I see them and they’re able to tolerate a complete treatment.

In my clinical experience, finding and treating spinal restrictions returns horses to their disciplines faster that using stall rest and NSAID’s alone. These techniques help maintain better muscle tone, flexibility, and proper movement in the equine athlete.

Stay tuned for more articles about Equine Manual Therapies, case studies from actual patients we see here and exercises for your equine athlete. Please call our office with any questions about these therapies that you have. We love to visit with people about their horses!!