It’s amazing that a horse’s back can withstand the weight of a person, especially considering most riders aren’t perfectly balanced all of the time. Back, pelvis, or limb soreness are common problems that may benefit from an equine chiropractor.
A chiropractor is a health professional that uses manual manipulation to correct imbalances and abnormal range of motion, especially in the spine. Learn here how a chiropractor performs adjustments on horses, what conditions they may be needed for, and how long treatment may need to last.
What Is a Horse Chiropractor?
Horse owners may be already aware of chiropractors for their own health. Other terms for chiropractic adjustment include manual therapy or spinal manipulative therapy. A chiropractor, either for people or horses, is highly trained in anatomy and uses their hands to manipulate joints and/or the spine to correct neuromuscular alignment.
Short, controlled bursts of non-painful force reconfigure nerve signals that had been firing abnormally because of injury or stiffness, restoring normal biomechanics. Chiropractors require strength to manipulate these joints in a horse and may need tools, such as blocks, to stand on to achieve enough height to reach the spine.
A person doesn’t need to be a veterinarian to be a horse chiropractor but must be certified in equine chiropractic care and practice under the supervision of a veterinarian and/or in accordance with their state's veterinary practice act. Horse veterinarians that are certified in chiropracty also have the knowledge to diagnose underlying conditions that result in imbalance and may need medical treatment.
When May a Chiropractor Be Needed?
Horses can become misaligned either due to chronic injury or just normal wear and tear throughout their long lives; any horse in regular work may benefit from chiropractic care. The forces applied to specific areas during an adjustment allow for more coordinated movement of joint articulations and a release of muscle tightness caused by the nerves firing abnormally.
A horse chiropractor will first examine your horse with emphasis on palpation by using their hands to evaluate areas of stiffness. They'll have questions about your horse's history, level of work, and ask you about your concerns. They may ask to see your horse at a walk or trot. A good horse chiropractor will recommend a veterinary lameness exam if your horse has an obvious injury. A chiropractic session may treat some of the pain associated with lameness, but the underlying cause should be investigated.
Some high-level show jurisdictions, such as the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), heavily regulate medications that may be given to horses competing in their events. Chiropractic and other integrative modalities may increase comfort and performance without the potential side-effects of some of these medications, whether a horse is being shown or not.
Conditions that may benefit from chiropractic adjustment
- General muscle tightness or soreness
- Uneven wear and tear from conformational defects
- Uneven wear and tear from imbalanced riding
- Poor performance
- Increased sensitivity to grooming or pressure
- Pinning its ears or other signs of anxiety
- Loss of topline (the musculature on either side of a horse’s spine)
- Difficulty bending
- Picking up the wrong lead, cross-cantering
- Bucking or rearing under saddle
- Difficulty chewing
- Holding the tail abnormally
- Uneven muscling/loss of muscle
- Abnormal posture
- Head tilt
What Are the Benefits of Chiropractic Care?
The goal of a chiropractic session is to restore normal joint movement and function to an area that had been previously misaligned. Following a session, your horse may be more comfortable under saddle and may improve performance. If you've noticed loss of muscle (atrophy), this may improve, especially if it occurred along your horse's topline. Overall, they may seem more comfortable, happy, and healthy.
How Often Should a Horse See a Chiropractor?
Horse owners should consider calling an equine chiropractor when they notice any of the above problems, especially back soreness or a decrease in performance. The latter can often happen in the later parts of a show season or when your horse moves up a level in their discipline. When considering whether a horse needs a chiropractic adjustment, an owner should expect correction over multiple sessions. A chiropractor can come to your horse and usually recommends treatment once a week or every few weeks for advanced cases.
Chiropractors are often schooled in multiple areas of overall care and may recommend other treatments such as laser, massage, or acupuncture. They may recommend stretches you do with your horse between adjustments. It is important to find a chiropractor that aligns their goals with the those you have set for your horse.
A horse chiropractor can be a team member in the overall care of your horse in conjunction with traditional veterinary medicine to extend their athletic ability and even quality of life. A list of veterinary chiropractors can be found here.
Haussler, K. Equine Rehabilitation: Chiropractic Treatment for Athletic Horses. Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery; 2013. Accessed June 16, 2022. doi:10.1016/B978-0-7020-4771-8.00063-6
Chiropractic Care for Horses. U.C. Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.