Okay, so you guys bore with me through how I got interested in equine chiropractic, so now lets get into how to recognize when a horse needs some adjusting done. Looking for the signs is really pretty easy, it just takes a little practice. Once you learn what to look for, it just becomes second nature.
There are some things that have changed in the last decade, but the basic principles are still the same and equine anatomy has not changed;
1) There is a big difference between an equine chiropractor and an equine massage therapist. Anyone can become a massage therapist. Only Veterinarians and Human Chiropractors can attend and become certified in equine chiropractic. There are some very good massage therapists out there and often they do learn how to do some adjustments. Do try to get someone that has been referred to you by someone you trust. I've had to wing it quite a few times and almost every time, I have been disappointed in the result.
2) It has been proven over the years that working on a horse's teeth can often alleviate the need for chiropractic work. Finding a good equine dentist may not be quite as hard as finding a good chiropractor these days, but not always easy, depending on your area. But honestly, if you don't already have a good equine dentist, I would start with your Veterinarian and a simple float. Personally, I still go with the chiropractor first IF I know of a specific trauma a horse has suffered that caused him to become "off". I have had to go back and get teeth worked on, but it is easier to recognize after you get things put back into place.
3) Horses are not like people. Most horses are out as a result of some sort of trauma or work related force. Once a horse that has suffered a trauma has been correctly adjusted-they almost never have to be adjusted again. Work related issues usually require a bit of maintenance-but don't get them overdone. They are starting to prove regular and repeated adjustments have a tendency to stretch out the ligaments that hold the bones in place and can create a situation where it becomes impossible for the horse to stay "in". For horses that are only showing mild symptoms of discomfort, a massage therapist is often best. They can work out the kinks and help you determine if a chiropractic adjustment is truly necessary.
4) Horses that are out do react in different ways. Most are like Scooter-completely wrecked, but still functioning as a saddle horse, albet with a few "issues". A few can be out in one place and completely unrideable. I had one of these too. One chiropractic treatment and she settled into her life as a saddle horse with ease.
I picked up a book quite a few years ago that has helped me tremendously. It is called...The Well Adjusted Horse by Dr. Daniel Kamen(click on title of book for link). I hear that he is pretty controversial, but his methods closely resemble the methods applied by the Veterinarian that I had so much success with. His descriptions of equine anatomy and musculature are really good. I pull this book out all the time and use it when I think I have issues.
The most basic place to start to understand a horse is through knowledge of the skeletal system...
It is not necessary to memorize every bone and joint in the skeletal system to understand how a horse is put together and functions.
Essentially a horse's skeletal system can be broken down into two types of bones, long bones and short bones. Correction: Actually there are 6 different types of bones. Irregular bones are what make up the spinal column.
A horse has 205 bones, give or take a few-depending on breed. Arabians have one less lumbar, 1 0r 2 fewer thoracics and few less tail bones. Donkeys, asses, mules and the Przewalski all have 5 lumbar instead of 6. And the number of fused sacral bones may also vary among breeds/species.
The majority of chiropractic work is done on or along the spinal column of an equine. The spinal column is broke down into five parts;
1) The neck...consists of 7 cervicals.
2) The mid-back bones...consists of 18 throacics/dorsals.
3) The lower back...consists of 6(or 5-depending on breed/species)lumbars.
4) The sacral...consisting of 5 fused sacral bones
5) The tail...consisting of 15-21 caudal or coccygeal bones.
(If you click on the picture, you can see the labels indicating where these regions are)
The bones themselves are actually secondary in chiropractic work. The chiropractor can do nothing with individual bones. Their focus is on the spots where bone meets bone, otherwise known as a joint. The goal is to make sure that each bone sits properly into the articulating end of the other bone. When it doesn't sit where it is supposed to, that joint is considered "out". It is the chiropractor's job to maneuver the bone that is not sitting correctly back into it's correct position. The longer a horse has been out and the severity of the displacement often determines the necessity of a chiropractor vs. a massage therapist.
The movement, direction and limitations of the joints are very, very important. Some joints are highly mobile, others have little or almost no mobility. And all joints are intended to move in specific directions. The most obviously mobile of spinal joints are the cervicals(the neck) and that is where we will start...tomorrow. I don't want anyone's eyes glazing over-LOL.
Here is a short, little article that describes the movements of the vertebral joints...Evaluation of Equine Back Pain. No really, this one is an easy read, not the heavy duty thesis like yesterday's link.
To finish off Scooter's story-I don't really remember when I found out what happened to him, but most of his damage had to have come when my brother left him with those kids to gentle. I heard their preferred method of "gentling" a horse was to rope it, choke it down, snub it up and then tie up a hind leg and let them fight and flop around while they sacked it out. That would pretty much account for every area he was hurting in.
You know, my grandfather and my father used similar methods, but they were never brutal about it. There are ways to do any one of these things without causing injury to a horse, but when you are stupid enough to combine a whole mess of rough techniques, you are going to damage horses.