Equine Chiropractic care has steadily gained popularity over the last five to ten years.
Simply put, Chiropractic is the non-invasive manipulation of the musculoskeletal system to enhance the function of the nervous system and optimize health and athleticism. Though never to be considered a replacement for traditional veterinary medicine, the following points explain why chiropractic manipulation can be an effective adjunctive treatment for horses.
1. The reason horses feel pain is because their nerves transmit signals to their brain that tells them something hurts. Every structure in their body has a nerve supply (except hooves and hair) and all of their nerves are in close proximity to their skeleton. The biggest example of this is their spinal cord, encased by the spine. If their skeleton is not moving correctly or is misaligned (especially the spine) it puts pressure on nerves. Nerves are very fragile and easily irritated or damaged.
2. Joints are stressed by both minor and major incidents. Minor incidents consist of everyday activities such as saddle and/or rider strain, competition, riding in the trailer, breeding, etc. Also included in this category are lameness, poor conformation and foot neglect, such as long toes and low heels. These minor incidents account for the majority of cases of joint stress. Major incidents refer to trauma, falling, being stuck or cast in a stall, trailer accidents, etc.
3. Horses have an innate intelligence that controls how they respond to pain. If a joint is stressed, creating nerve stimulation, their bodies protect that area through muscle spasms and inflammation in an effort to enhance healing by preventing as much motion as possible. When a horse tries for some time to protect the injury, the horse loses some of its natural mobility and the joints become stuck, either in a normal position or misaligned. This stuck joint is called a subluxation.
4. Horses are very good at compensating for subluxated joints. When one joint has limited motion and associated pain, the horse does not refuse to work, but instead will redistribute their weight abnormally to compensate for the injury. This, in turn will lead to other joints becoming stressed, injured and subluxated.
5. Plasticity (muscle memory) is a phenomenon where once the body moves in a certain way for 30 days, a new brain pathway is created and the horse then recognizes that pattern as normal (habit).
Through posture analysis, gait analysis, static palpation and motion palpation, a subluxation can be located and then a low amplitude, high velocity thrust can be applied with a specific angle to a specific joint to restore normal mobility. Because horses are so good at compensating and they rarely have a single subluxation, every joint will be evaluated in the horse during an adjustment. After each adjustment, to confirm that motion has been restored, the horse will be re-palpated.
Due to plasticity (muscle memory), a second adjustment is recommended in two weeks. It is important for the horse to hold the adjustment for 30 days to re-boot their system. While horses with acute problems may only need two or three adjustments, horses with chronic conditions may require ongoing adjustments before resolution can be achieved. In more chronic cases, adjusting a horse can also aid in insolation of the primary problem, the reason they felt pain to begin with.
Many different problems can be helped with chiropractic care, including reluctance to pick up a certain lead, reluctance to turn, resistance to loading in a trailer, decreased performance, cinchy behavior, irritation while saddling, reluctance to enter an arena, poor attitude, back soreness, etc.