This week Michelle Woolrich (Cheshire Equine Therapy) talks about how to recognise a musculoskeletal problem in your horse:
“He’s just not quite right” is something I hear said a lot and, in some ways, it is something I like to hear my clients say. Some horses can be very difficult to read. When they have a problem they may only give very subtle signs that they are in any sort of pain, they attempt to cover it up by compensating in other areas. They do this due to their natural instincts when their ancestors lived in the wild, they must not show that they are the weakest in the herd or they would be singled out by predators.
Although this instinct kept them alive in the wild, in the modern day horse, it in turn causes further issues else where in the body. It can also make it very difficult for us to tell there is a problem until it is causing a huge issue. When an owner calls me out to see their horse and says, “He’s just not quite right”, it gives me great confidence that this person is in-tune with their horse, is picking up on these first subtle hints of a problem as soon as they arise, recognising and reacting quickly. Then between myself and the rest of the team (vet, farrier etc.) we can relieve the problem. The quicker we can do that, the quicker we can limit and alleviate the compensatory mechanisms, therefore increasing the chance of return to their previous level of performance.
To be able to recognise signs quickly, it is important that you get to know your horse from nose to tail, physically and psychologically so that as soon as you notice, “he’s not quite right” you contact your physical therapist, vet, etc. for an assessment. You need to know all your horses’ little idiosyncrasies on the ground, ridden, in behaviour and performance. There are things you can do on a daily basis to get to know your horses’ body better.
1. Run your hands all over your their body (Pic1), paying attention to temperature, texture, tone and reactivity of different areas.
2. Taking notice of how they stand; is he constantly resting one limb (Pic2)
3. Watch them move without rugs on.
Most owners already do these on a daily basis without even realising, as we groom, as they walk toward us across the paddock, we just need to make more of a conscious effort to pay attention to what we see and feel.
Issues may develop with rapid onset or gradually over time, see the points below to give an idea of things to watch out for, as these are definitive tell tale signs of an issue developing. None of us want to think of our horses being in pain, therefore keeping up to date with regular 6 monthly check ups with your physical therapist will help to pick up on some of the early issues before they develop into something larger (Pic3).
General tactile defensiveness
Agitation whilst being tacked up
Unwillingness to move forward
Refusing jumps, dropping poles or jumping fast and flat
Unable to back up or cross over behind
Not tracking up
Working with quarters in or out
Unable to execute lateral work
Changing canter leads behind
Not striking off in correct canter lead
Unwilling/unable to work up or down inclines or hills
Difficulty to work on the bit, or on a circle or on one rein
Aggression e.g., bucking, rearing, kicking or biting
(1) Get to know your horse, run your hand all over their body on a daily basis taking notice of texture tone, temperature and reactivity of certain areas
(2) Stand back and look at your horse on a daily basis notice if they always stand in a certain way or always rest the same limb
(3) This is horse slipped while out on a hack doing the splits with his hind limbs, then falling landing on the left upper hind end. The owner did not think it had caused any problems, she carried on riding him. This horse was in extreme pain and had significant pelvic injury taking a step back and looking from behind it is easy to see the asymmetry.
About Michelle Woolrich
Michelle is an equine physical therapist, coach, trainer & consultant (Cheshire Equine Therapy). Her qualifications include: BTEC Level 4 FE teaching & learning, Diploma in McTimoney-Corley Animal Manipulation & Spinal Therapy, Equine sports massage certification, Equine body worker qualification, UKCC2 equestrian coaching, Equine Laser Therapy, Laser Acupuncture, L1 – Veterinary DITI, Equine mobilisation & stretching, Equine specific first aid, Veterinary support assistant diploma level 3, Myofascial release, Kinesio taping level 2, Fundamentals of bits & bitting, 1st degree Reiki, Equine Ergonomics & saddle fitting as well as essentials such as first aid & basic life support, child protection & safe guarding children. For more information please visit http://cheshireequinetherapy.co.uk/