This is the third in a series of articles on equine chiropractic evaluation and therapy.
Riders and trainers often understand that their horses have performance problems that are not obviously related to leg lameness, and they request a chiropractic evaluation. Like any medical evaluation, a history is taken along with a description of the current problems. If lameness is suspected, I prefer to have that resolved before a horse is adjusted.
The standing evaluation involves observing the horse on a level surface (standing squarely) for conformation, posture, muscle development, and foot balance. Many horses will have a lower heel on one side in front with more muscle development over that shoulder. These individuals are usually better movers in that direction and have less chiropractic problems on that side. I also observe patients to see if they are long- or short- or sway- backed, if they are higher behind or their back is crooked, if they have a “hunter’s bump”, if they are overweight, or if they are underdeveloped on their topline. At some point we may reassess the horse for neurologic disease such as E.P.M. based on history and clinical signs. As with lameness, this would need to be treated first. Finally, shoeing may need to be adjusted and saddle fit would need to be checked if that seems to be an issue.
This hands on evaluation is designed to localize problems and develop a treatment plan. Typically, I look for tight and tender muscle fibers on the large muscles next to the spine (epaxial muscles). Most importantly, I perform motion palpation which starts out with pulling the hip toward me with my right hand on the tail head and pushing with the heel of my left palm on the back vertebrae. The process is Motion reversed on the right side of the horse and the hand on the back is moved forward or backward to test each segment. A gentle swaying motion is produced on normal segments (with cooperative patients), but a fairly rigid stiffness is encountered on abnormal vertebral segments. Dorsal-ventral (up and down) motion is also checked on the pelvis and the lumbo-sacral junction just in front of the pelvis.
The withers can be evaluated for muscle spasms, and the neck turned with the head held level to make sure it has a normal range of motion in each direction.
These techniques are also useful on prepurchase examinations. Interested owners and trainers can also use these techniques to evaluate horses, but it does take practice to develop the rhythm and observational skills to do them effectively. The next article will discuss the actual adjusting process and potential benefits.