How can Physiotherapy help your horse?
From paddock retirees to Olympic athletes, horses respond very well to Physiotherapy. The goal of Physiotherapy for your equine companion or athletic partner is to restore and maintain mobility, flexibility, strength, balance and performance - keeping your horse moving comfortably and performing optimally.
Horses are natural athletes, with an innate ability to excel in a broad range of pursuits - from dressage to showjumping, endurance riding to eventing and racing. Unfortunately horses are not immune to injury and illness. Like human athletes, horses succumb to musculoskeletal strains and sprains during their work - and all too often, during their play. Fortunately, Physiotherapy can help get your horse back on track.
Physiotherapy is not reserved for the equine athlete. Happy hacks, pony club goers, retirees and the elderly can all benefit from Physiotherapy. Maintaining your horse’s suppleness, flexibility, strength and symmetry in movement will help to keep your horse comfortable and moving well - enabling both you and your horse to enjoy your time together.
Potential signs of discomfort in your horse include:
- Change in temperament
- Becoming ‘girthy’ or cold backed
- Reluctance to be tacked up
- Stiffness on one rein
- Difficulty with or uneven transitions
- Head shaking
- Reluctance to accept the bit
- Refusing to jump
- Poor performance
- Rearing, bucking or napping
So what does the Physiotherapy assessment process involve?
- Observation of your horse in stance – assessment of both conformation and posture in stance
- Gait assessment – both walk, trot and possibly canter.
- You may be asked to lunge your horse
- Effect of different surfaces on your horse’s gait
- Assessment of particular movements, for example the horse’s ability to turn or walk backwards
- Palpation of the horse’s muscles and joints
- Assessment of joint range of motion
- Assessment of movement patterns and muscle strength
- The horse’s tack can have a significant impact on your horse’s health – please have your tack available for assessment
- Ridden assessment
Injuries occur both in the paddock and in the arena. Although not all injuries are preventable, there are a number of injury prevention strategies that may help reduce the risk of sustaining an injury. Your physiotherapist can advise on incorporating the following strategies into your routine where appropriate:
- Physiotherapy to address past injuries
- Address and manage sub clinical impairments – addressing issues such as muscle weakness, imbalances and joint stiffness before an injury develops
- Use of appropriate equipment
- Gradual change in training and competition workload
- Performing injury preventative exercises
- Appropriate warm up and cool down
- Strategies to prevent future injury re-occurrences
It is recommended that you seek a diagnosis from your veterinarian before consulting your physiotherapist. Physiotherapy can then assist in the management of injuries to the musculoskeletal system, which includes injury to soft tissue such as muscle, tendon, ligament as well as injury to bones and joints. Physiotherapy takes a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to rehabilitation, striving to evaluate the whole horse, address the root cause of an injury as well as liaise with other equine professionals who can assist in your horse’s rehabilitation journey. Musculoskeletal physiotherapy addresses the following:
- Alleviate pain
- Guide appropriate management strategies, taking the stage of inflammation and healing into account
- Address compensatory issues
- Restore healthy joint range of motion
- Restore muscle strength, control and endurance
- Restore normal movement patterns
- Assist you, the rider, in achieving your goals
- Prevention of injury re-occurrence
Pre and post-surgery
Just like people, horses lose condition and fitness both as a result of illness or injury as well as due to undergoing any necessary surgery. ‘Prehabilitation’ aims to optimize joint function as well as muscle strength and control before undergoing surgery, preparing your horse early for the post-operative rehabilitation journey. Working in consultation with your veterinary surgeon, your physiotherapist can help guide you regarding commencing and progressing through the rehabilitation journey post-surgery. Physiotherapy can assist you and your horse in getting back on track after many types of surgery, from orthopaedic to abdominal surgery. Please contact us for further information regarding your individual situation, needs and goals.
Poor performance is a general term describing an inability to perform to a desired level, often in the absence of a known condition or disease. It can be attributed to many conditions in the horse – from musculoskeletal issues, to neurological disorders and metabolic conditions. Poor performance does not equate to a lack of ability – the horse may be able to perform to a high level but may not have the ability to progress to or thrive at more advanced grades of competition. In this case, an apparent loss of performance may actually be a result of competing against more highly performing animals. There are many conditions which may also cause poor performance in your horse, your physiotherapist can assess if the following factors may be affecting you and your horse’s performance:
- Musculoskeletal conditions
- Muscle asymmetry
- Restriction in joint range of motion
- Lack of fitness
- The weekend warrior
- Over reaching and overtraining
- Fit and effect of tack on your horse
- Psychological issues
- The rider
The Older Horse
As our horses age, so their ability to move freely can easily diminish. This can be caused by specific health problems, or by specific injury. Physiotherapy is focused on helping to alleviate pain, improve mobility, strength, balance, coordination and even restore fitness in older horses. In addition, early intervention can prevent injuries, reduce the occurrence of certain conditions, prolong your horses career and as well as ultimately improve quality of life.