Ensuring the well-being and comfort of horses stands as a primary concern for horse owners. Equine chiropractic adjustments represent a vital approach to providing preventive care and alleviating pain in these magnificent animals. Much like chiropractic care for humans, equine chiropractic adjustments aim to restore the natural movement and function of the spine. Stiff or immobile joints can lead to irritation in the surrounding tissues and nerves, resulting in stiffness, pain, and a decline in performance. Dr. Kevin Haussler, who holds credentials as both a licensed veterinarian and human chiropractor, regards chiropractic care as a key component within a range of manual therapies, which also encompass TellingtonTTouch methods, massage, and stretching.
“Chiropractic adjustments are just one of the tools I rely on when it comes to preventive care or when I’m called to assess a horse experiencing poor performance or subtle lameness issues,” remarks Dr. Haussler, a faculty member at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
For Dr. Haussler, it is imperative that chiropractic adjustments are performed by licensed professionals trained in the technique, stressing the significance of the practitioner being a knowledgeable horse handler capable of establishing trust and working safely with the horse.
“It should resemble a procedure you would willingly undergo yourself,” he emphasizes.
If you’ve ever visited a human chiropractor, you may be familiar with the peculiar sensation of having your neck adjusted. Similarly, horses may initially find this experience unusual, but over time, some horses seem to adapt and even cooperate by leaning into the adjustments.
“What consistently surprises me is how willing horses are to receive this treatment,” Dr. Haussler observes.
In this article, Dr. Haussler outlines when horses can benefit from chiropractic adjustments and what to expect during an examination and treatment session.
Assessing the Need for Equine Chiropractic Care
Similar to human athletes, equine athletes frequently develop stiffness and soreness as a consequence of their training routines. For performance horses, chiropractic adjustments are an integral part of an ongoing wellness regimen designed to maintain the flexibility of muscles and joints. Often, equine chiropractic adjustments are sought when a horse exhibits suboptimal performance or behavioral changes. Owners may observe signs such as difficulty in neck bending, head-tossing, reluctance to move forward, or diminished impulsion.
“Behavioral changes, such as a horse reacting adversely when a saddle is placed on its back or when the cinch is tightened, could be indicators of discomfort,” Dr. Haussler points out. “It requires some investigative work to confirm whether it’s pain-related or a training issue, or if the horse simply does not comprehend the rider’s cues.”
What to Expect During a Chiropractic Treatment
Before performing an adjustment, Dr. Haussler uses his hands to palpate the horse’s neck and back, searching for any signs of heat, bumps, or lumps. He also evaluates spinal reflexes by instructing the horse to perform actions like a belly lift or pelvic flexion. As he runs his hands along each vertebra, he gently manipulates the joints to assess their mobility.
“Chiropractic care involves a meticulous examination to identify areas of pain or stiffness. We might pinpoint an issue from the T13 to T18 on the left side of the horse, and then we concentrate on that area,” he elucidates.
Similar to how someone might prepare to crack their knuckles, an equine chiropractor moves the joints back and forth, stretching the joint capsule and stimulating the nerves. Subsequently, the joint is placed under tension, and a precise, rapid thrust realigns the joint.
“After each adjustment, I step back and allow the horse to process the treatment. Frequently, they will lower their head, shake their head and neck, lick their lips, or perform a whole-body shake,” he notes. “I then assess how the joint has responded. If there’s improvement, I proceed to another area.”
Duration of an Equine Adjustment
The duration of a chiropractic session varies depending on the horse’s condition. An initial visit may last between 1.5 to two hours, encompassing a comprehensive evaluation, which includes a lameness examination, a saddle fit assessment, and the actual treatment. The comfort level of the horse with the adjustment also influences the session’s duration. Horses that are nervous or in pain require additional time to relax.
“A typical treatment takes around 15-20 minutes for a horse that I regularly work with and who is accustomed to the adjustments. It’s about building trust and a rapport with the horse. For those less at ease, I incorporate basic horsemanship techniques, such as placing my hand on their poll and encouraging them to lower their head and neck, along with other ‘joining up’ methods as part of the process.”
Horses should wear a well-fitted halter with a lead rope and be moved to a calm environment. Dr. Haussler prefers to work in the horse’s stall, where the horse feels more comfortable. He positions the horse’s hindquarters in a corner to limit movement and distractions. The only tool required is a mounting block or step stool to ensure a clear view of and access to the horse’s back.
Supporting Chiropractic Treatments
Equine chiropractic adjustments constitute just one facet of maintaining suppleness. Dr. Haussler encourages horse owners to complement treatments with routine care, such as dental work and farrier visits, as well as regular carrot stretches. Carrot stretches also provide a delightful opportunity to build a stronger bond with your horse.
To perform carrot stretches, stand at your horse’s shoulder while holding a carrot in your outer hand. Encourage your horse to reach for the treat, repeating the process on both sides and gradually moving towards their croup as they become more flexible.
Equine chiropractic adjustments serve as a valuable tool for promoting the health and comfort of your horse. Consult your veterinarian to determine if your horse is a suitable candidate for chiropractic care based on their current level of activity.
By Staff writer