Monday, October 6, 2008

The Well Adjusted Horse-The Basics

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.


cdncowgirl said...

Have any of the chiros you've used done laser/light therapy?
The girl that I get to do chiro on my horse uses a lot of that and it seems to get results.

Tiller said...

Marry me or turn me loose

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Cdn-I haven't had any that did, but I did a little reading on it today and I can see why a chiro would use it. It sounds like the laser light therapy really works to rejuvenate cells and speeds healing.
I have thought about getting the magnetic hock and knee boots. I know some of the top barrel racers use them and say they really help keep horses from getting sore. I am all for anything that helps the body to rejuvenate naturally.

Tiller-When and where?

ezra_pandora said...

My mare was out in her right left lower leg (I think she said hock?) and her left side neck/shoulder area. After she got her adjustment, she was able to pick up her left lead without any problems. I think she's out again because she's refusing to lope on the correct lead to the left again and is cranky when I try to pick up her back feet for cleaning. Our two mares have really been going at it with each other and I think that's why she's out again. Dumb horses. lol My trouble is trying to find someone that is close or can come to our barn because we don't have a trailer.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

ezra-I suspect your mare actually has something out of place in her left pelvic wing. When a horse refuses to take a lead and you know it is not from lack of training, I have found it is associated with the pelvis. Being out in the hock(although I have never heard of that-doesn't mean it isn't correct-I just personally have never heard of it)would inhibit the mare from traveling correctly in the left lead, but not stop her from picking the lead up, because when a horse lifts to transition into a canter, they lift with their hips. The left pelvic wing has to rise and move forward-a sublaxation prevents that from happening. I especially think it is in the hip because you say she is crabby about her hind feet. Again, when you pick up a hind foot, the horse lifts from the hip, not the hock. I think your chiro helped when she adjusted her but didn't get the pelvis put back in all the way and it just slipped back out again.
Hope that helps.

manymisadventures said...

Chiro work really, truly helped my TB gelding. We had a nasty crash while jumping and a few days later he started bucking instead of cantering. Literally -- every stride was a buck. This from a horse who loved cantering and would canter until the cows came home? Something was up. After an adjustment, he was good as gold.

I need to have a chiro come out and check out the new mare. Backstory is that she reared, went up/over, had a chiro come out and she was majorly out in the jaw as well as messed up from the withers through her hips on the left side. Since it wasn't on my watch that she was adjusted, I want to make sure everything is still going smoothly.

I'm looking forward to the rest of these articles!

ezra_pandora said...

Ok, WHEN I find a chiropractor to come out and have her adjusted again, I will watch to see if they do that or mention that. The other one said something about being out in the hock would maybe prevent her from pushing off with that right rear leg or something. She may have mentioned hip, but the two main things I heard was hock and neck. Do you have any ideas of where to find good chiro's? I know you said referrals, but I've gotten only two. One you have to have a bunch of people because she's kind of far away and has to make it worth her while (I can't pay $700 myself), and I can only get 3 horses together that are nearby. We don't have a trailer. She did the work on my mare and my trainer's girlfriend was nice enough to trailer my mare 2 hours or so away to get it done when she got her horse done, but I don't expect her to do it all the time. The other one I was referred to has a HUGE client base and although he makes farm calls, I cannot seem to get ahold of him. We kept missing each other's calls and then nothing. I've heard he's good from more than one person (including our awesome ferrier), but just can't get ahold of him. There's just no one close by it seems.

2391 said...

Is it possible for a horse to have a bulging disc?

"A wondering world is better than a boxed up globe."

fiona said...

hi, its very informative, Equine Massage , thanks