This is the fourth and final in a series of articles on equine chiropractic evaluation and therapy.
Chiropractic therapy is best utilized by the experienced practitioner as a conservative, non-invasive approach to relieving back pain and stiffness. It can be a valuable aid in doing this, but is most useful when overt lameness, neurologic disease, acute injuries, poor saddle fit and/or unbalanced shoeing have been resolved first.
Different techniques can be utilized, but it has always been my preference to adjust horses using only my hands. Instruments or devices may exert too much direct force, though they can be appropriate in the hands of some practitioners.
It is extremely rare for me to tranquilize a patient, but it is important that they be relaxed and cooperative. What makes it possible for a 200 pound human to adjust a 1200 pound horse is the application of force to one vertebral segment at a time. A tense horse makes their spine stiff over a large region, so I would be trying to manipulate a much larger mass than that one small segment. Knowledge of equine anatomy also determines the direction of the corrective thrust of the adjustment. While most human patients lay on a table, horses make their own four legged table and all I need is a small step ladder or bales of hay to get above their back.
I typically start at the tail and progress to the poll, using motion palpation to determine the sites of problems. I adjust on the opposite side, from the pelvis all the way up to the withers. This gives me the proper direction of thrust and keeps me away from the painful side, which helps to relax the horse. Once I am in front of the withers, I do the evaluations and the adjustment from the same side–all while standing on the ground.
While the adjustments can be painful, relief can be virtually immediate. Reduction in pain and muscle spasms and improvement in mobility can often be observed during the process. Licking and chewing, head drop and relaxed facial expressions can give further evidence of relief. Because of this, many horses are quite tolerant of adjustments, though they may still resist the most painful ones.
Usually, patients have stall rest or quiet pasture turn out for the rest of the day to let their bodies adapt to the adjustments. Light work the next day and normal, unrestricted work the day after is typical. If concurrent problems exist, then recommendations for management of those would also be appropriate. More severe or chronic problems often require follow up in a few week’s time, but many of my patients are treated only on an “as needed” basis, with fairly long intervals between adjustments.
Some horses need several days to improve and a few actually get worse for a couple of days before improving. Ultimately, it is up to the horses to tell you if this therapy helped, by their improved attitude, comfort, flexibility and performance. Not every horse is a candidate for an adjustment, and not every horse benefits. However, this therapy is generally useful for most patients and it gives us one more option that is non-invasive and has a wide margin of safety.
This concludes our series on chiropractic care. Dr. Heinze would be happy to respond to questions online or by phone, or to have you attend the upcoming lecture sponsored by the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association.