Some of our customers come in and are surprised that we also treat horses with osteopathy. Just like us, horses can suffer with back, neck and joint problems and sometimes need a little help!
Unlike human practice, the treatment of animals is strictly controlled by the Veterinary Surgeons Order 2015, which requires all therapists to seek express veterinary permission BEFORE they treat an animal. It stands to reason that if a horse has a major injury or is lame you should first of all contact your vet for further advice, but for the purposes of this blog we'll assume the vet is happy with the use of Osteopathy.
We know from its use on humans that Osteopathy is an established, recognised system of manual therapy with a strong emphasis on anatomy and biomechanics of the body. Osteopathy uses soft tissue techniques including massage and myofascial release, stretching, joint mobilisation and sometimes manipulation to help improve the function of the body and its biomechanics.
Horses are often good at hiding their pain. Sometimes, they only show subtle signs that they're sore, such as a "worried" look in their eyes, wrinkled nostrils and opening their mouth when ridden. Frequently, riders deem them to be bad habits and use stronger tack to try and control them.
Symptoms of pain can progress in severity such as objecting to being groomed, saddled or girthed, walking straight off from the mounting block, a reluctance to trot or canter or difficulties with one rein in a school or a particular transition. Stiffness, loss of muscle bulk, muscle spasms, altered head carriage and changes to behavior such as bucking, bolting and rearing are often obvious signs of pain. Riders can directly affect their horse too, but that's for another blog.
Just like with a human, when we are asked to go and see a horse, we carry out an initial assessment that includes discussing the problems with the owner, watching the horse walk and trot in both straight lines and often on a circle. We use hands on work to both assess and treat what is found through the body.
One thing we don't agree with is the phrase owners often say which describes their horse's pelvis or back as "out of place": this is not true! If the joints in the body were "out" or "out of place" they would be dislocated, and you'd definitely need your vet urgently! Stiffness and dysfunction of the joint causes the muscles around the joint to contract and act as a splint to prevent the joint moving, like putting a plaster cast around a broken bone. Often the horse develops a compensation pattern to get around the stiffness by using another part of its body more, so treatment must make sure the whole body is working well, not just one part by itself.
At the end of a treatment its always important to make time to talk about exercises and changes to tack or care that will suit you and your horse to help improve what's going on. Sometimes we will recommend that you as a rider need some treatment to compliment what we've achieved with your horse.
We discuss the need for follow up visits to make sure that everything is improving. The duration of that follow up can be influenced by several things such as how sore your horse is and what you intend to do with them work wise. Horses in light work may only need a visit once every 6 months to check that all is well. Competition horses and those in hard work often benefit from regular treatment to keep them performing at their absolute best, and to relieve aches before they develop into a big problem. In these instances, we are always willing to work with not only the vet, but the farrier too, to make sure that we all understand each other's ideas of how to get the best from the horse.