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Chiropractic for Horses

Updated on July 26, 2011

How Chiropractic Care Can Improve Your Horse's Performance

Three years ago I purchased a Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. At the time of his purchase, he had been off the track for about five months. During that time, he was allowed to rest and was ridden only occasionally and by experienced riders. You would think he would be in pretty good shape after such a long hiatus from serious work, right? Not so much. He was an absolute mess. When being ridden, he would hollow his back and throw his head in the air. If I lunged him, he would counterflex the entire time, meaning he would turn his head to the left while moving to the right.

My trainer was not enthused when she saw him for the first time. She thought he was a hot, contrary, nervous, train wreck of a horse. After he received just one chiropractic adjustment however, she was singing a different tune. He moved more freely, lowered his head, and became a more mellow, relaxed animal in general.

Chiropractic adjustments can work wonders for horses. Many horses, as was the case with mine, seem resistant to work because they're in pain. Their movement may be jerky and rigid, not because they're poor movers, but because they're hurting. My horse's tendency to hollow his back was an effort to move away from my weight. I was putting additional pressure on an already sore area and his only defense was to move away from the pain. Once he got some relief, being ridden didn't seem like a torture session.

For humans, chiropractic is often associated with neck and low back pain, but chiropractic is much more complex than that. Chiropractic deals with the nervous system. Every nerve in the body travels down from the brain through the spinal cord and out between the vertebrae to the rest of the body. If the vertebrae are misaligned, they pinch or put pressure on the nerves. This can lead to a whole host of problems, the most obvious of which is pain. Chiropractors perform adjustments by gently moving the vertebrae back into alignment, thereby taking the pressure off the nerves. Because the nerves control every aspect of the body's function, chiropractic adjustments accomplish more than the simple relief of pain. A healthy nervous system is the first step to a healthy body.

For horses, an adjustment can realign the spine and hips and alleviate painful symptoms. Once a horse isn't suffering from chronic pain, he will be more relaxed and willing to work. Horses who are deemed difficult or unwilling may simply be trying to tell their riders, in the only way they know how, that they are uncomfortable.

If you think of a show horse like a professional athlete, such as a gymnast or football player, the need for chiropractic becomes clear. Athletes constantly undergo minor stresses and strains that turn into long-term, debilitating injuries if ignored. Barrel racers, dressage horses and jumpers are asked to turn, collect and launch off their hindquarters over and over while balancing the weight of the rider. This kind of repetitive activity can lead to injury. Chiropractic care will mend small strains before they turn into major issues.

Weight is another issue that can be addressed by chiropractic care, especially for off-track Thoroughbreds. Many owners of off-the-tracks report extreme difficulty in putting and keeping weight on their horses. Weight loss is one symptom of chronic pain. Once the pain is relieved and the nervous system is functioning optimally, many horses begin to put on weight. This was the case with my horse.

Horses who are ridden regularly or who compete in any discipline at any level will eventually need chiropractic care. If you're a horse owner, consider adding chiropractic to your horse's list of necessities, along with the vet and farrier. Adjustments will keep your horse sound, energetic and happy in his work. His improved performance and movement might even put you in the ribbons!


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