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This is the first in a series of articles on equine chiropractic evaluation and therapy.

The first time I was introduced to chiropractic therapy was in Indiana in the mid-1980’s. After moving to Illinois in 1987, I had the chance to observe Dr. Sharon Willoughby practice on several mutual client’s horses. She is a graduate of Michigan State School of Veterinary Medicine and Palmer College of Chiropractic. The results she achieved on several of our patients impressed me because they had not responded to traditional therapy. This convinced me to take the series of courses she offered in animal chiropractic in 1993 and 1994. Since then, I have had the chance to do thousands of adjustments on hundreds of horses, and I would like to share my approach to these types of cases in a series of online articles.

There is an ongoing discussion involving what makes chiropractic effective and what the indications are for its application. While there may be genuine benefits to overall health and improvements in the adjacent neurologic function, my main goal is to improve back comfort and athletic performance. To that end, I hope to reduce pain and reestablish normal range of motion, mostly through the axial skeleton–croup, back, withers, neck, and head.

The types of cases I generally see fall into two main categories. Macrotrauma cases involve a single event of over-exertion, or such things as a trailer accident, flipping over on crossties or falling in turnout over a fence. Microtrauma cases are chronic in nature and have less obvious causes. Poor saddle fit, unbalanced conformation–or riding, inappropriate shoeing, limb lameness, inconsistent training or turnout and age-related degeneration would all be included in this group. In addition, poor or reduced performance, behavioral changes or training problems may relate to chiropractic issues. Finally, I employ these evaluations to also help in assessing lameness cases and prepurchase examinations.

Specifically, what might you as a horse owner experience that would alert you to a need for chiropractic evaluation? If your usually cooperative gelding is now objecting to saddling/girthing or seems painful when you touch his back. Or, he bucks when you ask him to canter, or won’t bend around your leg like he used to do. Maybe he is hollow through his back and carries his head higher than normal. If your mare’s lead changes are slow, or she’s stopping at fences, or grunting when she lands off a jump, you may need a chiropractic assessment for your horse.