Category Archives: Horse Health

Tips, hints and articles about taking care of your horse.

Senior Horses

Winter is here and in the back of our minds we all have that little worry about our oldest horses. Will they be ok? Will they make it through another winter? How can I keep them feeling their best through the harshest weather? These questions especially arise when we think of the senior horses that are now pushing 30 years old. Obviously they have lived this long because of your amazing care in the first place, but how can we make sure they keep going strong for their last years? And why are we dealing with these issues now? Horses have been around for a very long time. Shouldn’t this all be old news?

Well, truthfully, horses have never lived as long as they do now for several reasons. Geriatric or senior horses are becoming much more common due to improved husbandry, new knowledge in nutrition and feeding, improved veterinary and farrier care and improved knowledge in fitness, conditioning and work for the horse. 30 years ago it was rare for a horse to outlive its teeth, but now, senior horses can live for several years comfortably with no teeth at all. A rise in the geriatric population can also be attributed to better understanding of behavioral psychology and management, changing functions of horses in today’s society and increased personal attachment of horse owners. It is also more economically feasible to prolong the useful lifespan of a horse as well.

So what can we do to keep these horses around so they can teach our grandkids how to ride? The first and probably most important is nutrition. Older horses fall into 1 category or another, fat or skinny. Both of these categories can be tricky at times to manage. The skinny horse is always a larger concern than the fat horse. Some older horses do not utilize their feed as well as younger horses do and for this reason they may need more feed, higher quality feed, or a supplement to help keep their weight at a good level. One of the easiest ways to increase caloric intake in a senior horse is feed a senior feed and add a vegetable oil to the feed to increase fat levels. When fed grain such as oats, this may give your horse more expendable energy but it doesn’t help increase body condition as well as soaked beet pulp or vegetable oils. Also make sure the younger horses are not bullying or pushing the older horses away from the feed as this can lead to decreased caloric intake as well. If your older horse is being bullied, consider feeding them separately or in a different pen with supplements to ensure they are getting enough good quality feed.


The opposite can also happen, the older horse is often less active and turned out to pasture where exercise is limited but calories are not. Obesity can lead to certain metabolic disorders and adds stress to the feet and legs of the horse. Just like in people, most horses have some arthritis and extra or excessive weight doesn’t help with inflammation or joint pain.

Vaccinations are still very important in the older horse just like in the younger horse. Due to a lifetime of exposure, geriatric horses may be less susceptible to Influenza or Strangles but they can be just as susceptible or more susceptible to diseases such as West Nile, Rabies, Tetanus, EEE and WEE due to a weaker immune system. They can also be carriers of Influenza and Strangles and may not get sick but shed the virus which exposes younger more susceptible horses. Vaccinating has been proven to decrease or eliminate viral shedding and can help protect younger horses through vaccination of older horses.

As mentioned before, it never used to be an issue that horses would outlive their teeth, but from 20+ years of grazing, grinding and chewing, teeth may be warn short enough to make chewing ineffective or may be missing all together. This can create an uneven wear pattern and cause pathologic conditions such as wave mouth or step mouth which prevents the horse from grinding its feed and utilizing it. Annual dental exams and possible treatment is just as important as good nutrition.

Some metabolic diseases that old horses can develop are PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction) more commonly known as ‘Cushings’, and Metabolic Syndrome. It is unknown at this time if these two disorders are linked or connected with each other but both decrease the immune function of the horse and both increase the occurrence of laminitis. PPID can be successfully managed with Pergolide, a medication that was formerly used in humans with Parkinson’s disease, while Metabolic syndrome is managed with exercise, weight loss and carbohydrate restriction.


Older horses, just like older people tend to develop orthopedic disease such as arthritis. The cartilage wears out and arthritis develops in joints with the most use. Unfortunately this is an irreversible change but we can do a lot for the horse in terms of managing pain and maintaining the range of motion of the affected joints. Keeping extra weight off and having regular balanced farrier hoof care reduces strain on the bones and joints. Exercise increases range of motion which maintains flexibility and lubrication of the joint which decreases the pain from arthritis. And lastly, anti-inflammatory drugs are quite useful. While there is a lot of abuse of drugs out there, especially drugs such as phenylbutazone (Bute), appropriate use can make and older horse much more comfortable and even workable again. Geriatric horses are fast becoming a more common part of our riding community. Those old sturdy steeds are invaluable when it comes to people who are beginners and don’t ride often and for those children who are just learning to care for horses and starting to ride. If we keep these old friends feeling good and staying healthy, they can serve us happily for many many more years.

-Dr. Stacey


Dirty Words for Hoof Practitioners – Thrush

There are several words for hoof conditions that Practitioners don’t like to tell horse owners that their horses have. Here is a review of some common terminology.

  • Thrush: Infection in the Frog
  • White Line Disease: Infection in the White Line (This is not a disease)
  • Seedy Toe: Split/Crack between the inner and outer wall
  • Abscess: Infection within the hoof capsule. There are two types of Hoof Abscess:
    Coronary Abscess ??? Exits out the Coronary Band??(Mild Discomfort)
    Subsolar Abscess ??? Exits out the sole of the hoof (Very Painful)
  • Laminitis: Swelling of the Laminae (Discomfort to Lameness)
  • Founder: Separation of the Laminae (Extremely Painful and Beyond Lameness)

Now that you have these definitions under your belt, lets look at what these mean to you and more importantly, your horse. Due to all the rain and muddy conditions, lets start with thrush.

horse frog no thrush

This frog has no thrush. There are no loose flaps for bacteria to grow.

Thrush is a bacterium that thrives in moist dark areas, therefore the frog is a perfect breading ground. It begins with just a tiny nick in your horses frog. Dirt / manure gets trapped in this little nick and begins to compost. If the horse is unable to stay out of muck and mire the infection soon spreads and deterioration of the frog begins.

Thrush can be as minor as slight discoloration of the frog with little to no smell or as serious as the frog literally being eaten away by the infection.

As the bacteria spreads, the frog becomes sensitive. In most cases the odor is noticed as soon as the hoof is picked up. When picking dirt out of the frog it may bleed. This is a serious case of thrush and needs to be treated immediately.

horse frog with thrush

This is a mild case of thrush. Notice how black and gooey the frog looks. When cleaning, the smell is quite pungent.
At this stage there is no discomfort when picking out the area.

Horses with extreme cases of thrush cannot bear weight on the infected caudal (back) hoof. In these circumstances the thrush has moved beyond the frog and into the Digital Cushion (DC). The DC is inside the hoof structure and once this happens, you have a long tough road to recovery, for now.  It isn’t only  the frog that needs to regenerate, but also the DC.




Suggestions to prevent thrush:

  • Be diligent and check your horses-feet on a regular basis.
  • Cut off ANY loose flaps that could trap dirt.
  • When you see even the smallest amounts of thrush treat it.
  • When cleaning my horses feet (whether they have signs of thrush or not), I spray their feet with Unpasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar with approximately 20 drops of Tea Tree Oil in it. This helps kill any bacteria that may be lurking in the hard to reach places of the frog.

Suggestions to rid your horse of thrush:

  • Minimal to Mild Thrush-Spray bottle with Apple Cider Vinegar and Tea Tree Oil daily.
  • Mild to Serious- Check out your local Agro/livestock Store for available products and treat accordingly. We use White Lightening in a spray bottle for most cases.
  • Extreme – Product from Agro/Livestock Store or ask your vet. We again use White Lightening and soak the hoof every two days and use the Apple Cider Vinegar mix in between, keeping the hoof either booted or wrapped to keep dirt out.

In any degree of thrush if there is a crevasse in the frog, we soak a cotton make-up pad with Tea Tree Oil and pack the frog, changing the pad every 2-3 days. This serves a dual purpose of preventing dirt from entering and providing an anti-bacterial agent (Tee Tree Oil) that kills the thrush.

Your Hoof Practitioner should always inform you if your horse has thrush to any degree. Taking care of the issue before it escalates is always the best course of action. Your horse will thank you for it!

Sharon Leney

Happy Hoof Inc.

Compensation – What horses do when they hurt.

Anyone who’s ever injured themselves has likely experienced the effects of compensation. Sometimes these effects are even more uncomfortable than the initial injury, and if not dealt with can be very long lasting.

So what is compensation ?  As an equine sports therapist I would define it as any adaptation, in the form of soft tissue tension, the body makes for a disturbance to its normal state of equilibrium. This disturbance might be an injury, poor fitting tack, an internal imbalance or anIMG_8505 emotional state. All of these things can result in contraction of muscles which alter the body’s normal posture.  Think about what you do when you have an upset stomach. Most people hunch forward, tightening their abdominal muscles. Now imagine what would happen throughout your body if you stayed in that position for a week or two while going through your normal routine.? Likely you would be sore in many areas that have no direct connection to your stomach.

With my clients I have found that there may be common patterns of compensations through the body, but there is also a great variation between individuals that may have similar initial disturbances. It is my belief that the individuals compensatory pattern develops based on a number of factors.  These may include things like past injury, conformation, what has been done to support the body throughout the horses life, and personality.   For example, two horses could horses compensationhave similar injuries to their right front limb, one horse may lean on the left front more, and the other may refer weight to the hind end more due to a previous injury to the left front.  While both horses are adapting differently, they will both contract different sets of muscles than they normally would in order to support the posture they are using to cope.  As these muscles aren’t used to working so hard, they become fatigued and sore. This may result in differences in the horses movement and more layers of compensation in other areas, long after the initial disturbance has healed. Another example would be of two horses with similar injuries placed on stall rest, but one horse is very sensitive and excitable, while the other horse is very calm and quiet.  The calm horse might develop a pattern of compensation based on his postural changes while standing still. The sensitive horse might be moving non stop, even in the confinement of the stall, and so might build a pattern of compensation based on how he adapts his movement.

My own experience with compensation occurred after an injury to my foot. It wasn’t long before my opposite hip was sore, and eventually areas in my neck and shoulders, injured over ten years prior, became aggravated again. Symptoms similar to those I had experienced at the time of that injury reignited, which I had believed long since healed.  While the experience wasn’t fun, I found it very interesting to track the changes through my own body, thinking about the patterns that I have as a result of my life, and that an injury to my foot ultimately resulted in tension at the complete opposite end of my body.

One of the reasons the effects of compensation can be so wide reaching is due to a type of tissue in the body called fascia. Fascia is a three dimensional spider web that is saran wrapped around all of the body’s cells. Due to the fact that this is one continuous tissue, restriction in one area may spread anywhere else in the body.  A good visual of this is idea is to pinch an area of your shirt and twist.  Lines of tension radiate outwards from the site of the initial disturbance. If you had a patch in your shirt, this area is less flexible and more likely to be one of the areas the tension increases, which then pulls on strands radiating outwards from there as well.

So what can be done to help break this cycle?  Awareness of the compensation is the first step. Realistically, every horse has had some sort of injury or imbalance at some point in their life, so they will each have their own unique compensatory pattern, with varying degrees of severity and symptoms. Regularly checking the ranges of motion your horse has, or having a stretching protocol will help you identify when something has changed for your horse. Once we are aware, we need to look at what factors might be contributing. If there was an injury that is healed, then we can just begin working through the tension left behind. If there is an ongoing concern like stomach ulcers, an imbalanced rider, or poor fitting tack, these need to be dealt with. If these concerns are not addressed the tension will repeatedly show up, despite our best efforts to IMG_6494remove it. The horse may temporarily feel better, but in a very short period of time the tension will reappear.  After identifying and addressing the areas of greatest concern with some body work, the horses owner or rider can start doing specific stretches and exercises to further help the horse. What many people don’t realize is that the homework left by the body worker is often much more important in helping the horse than the body work itself! Stretching helps elongate the muscles, and exercises can target and help correct adaptive movements. Done on a consistent basis, these are powerful tools to assist your horse in returning to a more balanced state.

Compensation is great in that it allows us to continue functioning when we have suffered some sort of injury or imbalance. However, once we have dealt with that imbalance, addressing the compensation that resulted is vital to helping our horses return to their optimal comfort and performance level.

Pelvic Anatomy 101

The sacro-iliac joints, or “SI’s” for short, are a commonly discussed area of the horse. But where exactly are they, what do they look like, and why are they so important??? Read on to find out more!

Joints are always formed between two bones, in this case, the sacrum and the ili008um, which is a term used for part of the pelvis, hence “sacro-iliac” joint.  The sacrum is a part of the spine, and sits just behind the lumbar or low back vertebrae.  It’s normally made up of five fused vertebrae, but variations may occur in up to 30% of horses according to studies done at MSU. If you look closely you will notice a variation in the one pictured here.

The pelvis is made up of three different areas, one being the ilium, which is the large flat area that forms the joint with the sacrum. On the picture below it is the broad flat part between the tuber sacral and the tuber coxae.


To help you orientate yourself, the horses tail would be hanging down on the right side of this picture. And if you look closely, you’ll notice that the point of the hip is not actually the true hip joint, the femur fits into the round shaped hip socket further to the right of the picture.

So, as mentioned previously, a joint is formed between two bones…now we need to stick them together!



This is a top view of the pelvic and low back area. Here the lumbar or low back vertebrae have been added. Normally a horse has six lumbar vertebrae, but you will notice that this horse only has 5…perhaps we’ve discovered where the extra sacral vertebra came from!

So now that we have an idea of how the sacro-iliac joints are put together, lets talk a little bit about a few interesting points on the area in the live horse. First of all, this is the connecting point between the hind limb, which as we all know provides the horses impulsion, and the spine. This means that all of our impulsive forces are going to be transferred forward through this area. Secondly, the rest of the spine is attached to the sacrum.  This means that the spine is literally “hanging” off the bottom of the pelvis…yes, the same spine that we as riders sit on. Of course there is a lot of soft tissue that helps to connect and support this area outside of the sacro-iliac joint, however this is the only place that connects the spine to the limbs (there is no bony attachment of the front limb to the spine or trunk of the body). The last point to consider is that the with the hind limb attached to the pelvis, there is a constant upward force on the pelvis from the horses weight.  These things not only make these joints very important, but can also mean they are vulnerable to injury.


The green arrows indicated the weight of the spine, connected tissues and the rider’s weight pushing downwards on the SI joint. The blue arrow indicated the force travelling up the horses limb from its own weight. These opposing forces push the SI joint apart, not together.

Lastly to help you place all of this into a live horse, see the picture below.


All about Photonic Red Light Therapy

Photonic Red Light Therapy, or PRLT, is a relatively new modality with some amazing properties. Its benefits were initially discovered by NASA while they were trying to grow plants in space and its use has grown from there.

What is PRLT?

As the name suggests, PRLT is a modality which involves the application of red light to the body. A specific type of red light is used, LED bulbs that emit wavelengths at approximately 660nm are ideal. It has been found that light around 660 nm is most effective for therapeutic purposes as it is most easily absorbed by body cells.

How does it work ?  After all, isn’t it just red light ? 

The short form of PRLT action is that as the light contacts the skin, it fragments, and causes IMG_7852molecules to release electrons. This creates a small negative charge and causes the pH to become slightly more alkaline. The change in charge allows PRLT to be used to stimulate acupoints and also reduces pain, as acid equals pain.

For those of you interested in the longer version, the science of PRLT is as follows.  When PRLT is applied, the wavelengths of light come into contact with the skin. This contact slows the wavelengths down and scatters the light particles, now known as photons. The photons decay into electrons via the photoelectric effect described by physicists Max Planck and Albert Einstein and thus, as mentioned above, creates a small measurable negative charge and causes the pH to become slightly more alkaline. The body cells function best when they are more negatively charged and alkaline on the inside. Therefore the slight charge and alkalinity created by the PRLT stimulates the cells membrane to draw in nutrients whilst simultaneously expelling wastes. This process excites the mitochondria, which then produce more ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, the energy molecule of choice for the body.

We all understand that the nervous system is a main way of communication for the body, however there is another system of communication called the intraneural collagen matrix, connective tissue, extracellular matrix, or fascia. This tissue is mostly made up of a specific type IMG_7867of collagen, and surrounds as well as permeates every single cell in the body. Any time this tissue has a type of energy applied to it (temperature, pressure, movement), it distorts and creates an electrical message which can then by transmitted anywhere in the body. This system tends to be one of defense and repair, responding to pain, illness and disease by initiating healing.

The photoelectric effect of Red Light also stimulates the intraneural system, causing the body to release its own natural healing chemicals. A few others benefits include facilitation of protein synthesis, increased microcirculation flow, and increased cell growth. In fact, Biologists at the Medical College of Wisconsin have shown that cells exposed to Red Light grow 150 to 200% faster than a control group of cells not exposed to Red Light!  All of these effects essentially combine to produce healing within the body.

PRLT vs Other Light Therapies

The red light that is used for PRLT is a single color, differing from lasers which use compressed white light. This makes a Red Light much safer to use than a laser, meaning that a lay person is able to use a Red Light without the risk of causing harm.  PRLT also differs from infrared light in that it is visible and does not produce heat. An infrared light is only visible when a colored lens is placed over it, and it will get quite warm. The heat prevents an infrared light from being held on the skin, therefore a practitioner is unable to use it to stimulate acupoints effectively.

How is PRLT used?

Based on the above information, PRLT can be used in a fairly general manner.  This may include working directly on a trauma, wound, or area of soreness to reduce pain and speed up the IMG_7813healing process. One of the greatest advantages of PRLT is that it can be applied to an injury right after it happens as you are not applying any pressure to injured tissues; instead, you are further stimulating the bodys own natural healing processes.

PRLT can also be used more specifically, combining it with Traditional Chinese Medicine and used to stimulate acupoints.  Acupoints are areas on the skin which have a lowered electrical resistance and have a measurable slightly positive charge. A positive charge means a more acidic pH and increased pain sensitivity.  Due to the fact that applying PRLT creates a slightly negative charge and decreased pH, it’s application to an acupoint will stimulate it. This means that a practitioner using PRLT can influence a very broad range of imbalances in the body.  For example, you can work on a set of points geared towards improving overall health or you can use specific points that may aid in digestion, help boost the lymphatic system or support a particular joint. The advantage to using a red light to stimulate the acupoints is that it is non-invasive (you don’t have to puncture the skin with a needle) and it works much more quickly than stimulating the point with acupressure, needing only 6-10 seconds instead of a minute or two.

At any time using PRLT on a horse, the practitioner needs to be very aware of the horses response to the light.  While some horses may be initially unsure of what the practitioner is IMG_7832doing, it doesn’t take long for most horses to relax. Horses that are familiar with the light may start to relax as soon as they see the light, or they may even present body parts that they would like the light applied to!  If the horse releases by licking and chewing, it is time to take the light off of that particular area. If using PRLT on a wound and the horse keeps moving away, the area has had enough stimulation for the time being and the horses innate ability to sense what it needs should be trusted. Forcing the issue may lead to the horse being unwilling to have PRLT applied in the future.

PRLT is a great modality and can be used alone or along with other techniques. The best part is it can have so many benefits, but there are no known negatives.



Equine Photonic Red Light Therapy,?? Certification Course Manual 2013, Dianne Jenkins


Emotional Health and your horse

We all have our own stories of a horse we have just loved and had great times with.

Then there are the stories of horses whose relationships have been challenging.

Some horses are easy to love and others seem to put us in a mindset of negativity.  How can we deal with this?

Lets start with the challenging horse.  It’s always a good idea to seek the assistance of a good professional trainer with this type of horse. This is a tough journey for most and a great support system where you can build on success is essential.DSC00439
In training horses and people over the years I have come to understand relational dynamics to a deeper degree.

The challenger horse is the type that requires clarity with consistency at all times. Emotional health, thought and space are the first things I would look at. Lets focus on emotional health.

The person who has the challenger requires an emotional strength of calmness, stillness and clear direction in space. Just think, if you are in the presence of an individual who is highly stressed you would most likely begin to feel stressed just being with them. You are taking on their negative energy; this is the same with horses. When you are with a highly stressed horse it is critical that you are calm and still emotionally. This is the first place to start. This will take practice and does not come naturally to most of us.

Start in the field or the round pen. It is crucial that you have no agenda. Breathing deeply, bring yourself to be in a moment of calm. You will begin to notice changes in your horse. His head will relax, he will take some deep breaths. This is a good time to leave your horse for a moment. Return again in a calm emotional state. Breathe deeply again letting the stress leave your body and mind. Repeating this will establish some consistency and begin a new basis of how your horse will see and respond to you. Apply your new mindset while you are leading your horse, grooming and make this the new standard.

Now for the easy to love horse. This horse also requires clarity and consistency. The difference is that if we do not attend to the easy to love horse’s needs through emotional health, thought and space they just fill in the gaps for us. This is no big deal to them since this horse is OK with taking care of us. These are the types of horses that will carry a beginner through their first creek crossing, jump a poorly approached jump with ease and let little girls braid their hair for hours.

This does not mean the easy to love horse will not teach us anything. Actually they will! Becoming emotionally calm and still with this horse and then tuning into their thoughts will be welcomed. For instance, when grooming are they asking for an itchy spot to be rubbed? Is this horse lifting a leg, swishing its tail or getting fidgety when being brushed? You may have touched on a pain issue.

Pay attention to the small signals this horse gives you and they will offer more of themselves to you.

The small things are critically important to all horses, we just need to listen.

What’s Making My Horse Sore?

Some of the most common questions I get asked as an equine therapist are, “Why is my horse sore there?” or “Why is he out there?”

At times the answer is relatively simple. For example if the horse has a pre-existing injury, some of the issues are most likely from compensating. If the saddle fits poorly, it’s an easy link to back soreness. If the horse pulls back regularly, it’s pretty much guaranteed that he will have a few things going on in the neck. If someone witnessed the horse falling and can explain the details of the fall, it can be pretty easy to relate which issues have resulted from the fall, although sometimes it takes a couple minutes playing anatomical connect-the-dots.

So while initiating incidents do happen, what about the rest of the time? Is it possible that the horse took a spill on the ice or in the mud during turn out? Yep. Got banged up playing with another horse? Sure. Threw it’s back out while rolling? Probably not.

In my opinion it is one of the most common misconceptions of horse owners that the horse must have done something to itself, but we forget about all of the things that we do with or to our horses that may have negative side effects. Things like running, bucking, and rolling are natural to a horse; carrying a saddle and riders weight is not. The unnatural things are much more likely to cause problems than the natural things.

IMG_6948 (2)One of my favourite statements comes from Dr. Kerry Ridgway when he is speaking about a straight horse. He says that straightness happens when we are creating a situation where every step is in accordance with gravity.

He then goes on to speak about how issues arise when movement is not in accordance with gravity. For the purpose of this piece I don’t want to get into the discussion of straightness (even though it is obviously a huge factor) because I find that the concept of moving in accordance of gravity has a grand magnitude of its own.

Picture for a minute giving a small child a piggy back ride for an hour. If that child leans off to one side for the entire time, it is going to affect your center of gravity and there are going to be a few things that change in both your balance and your movement. First of all, even though the child is small, you are going to have to brace certain muscles groups to keep from falling over. Due to the fact that these muscles are not normally active in this way during your normal day to day activities, they are going to get fatigued and sore. If they get really sore this may affect your posture and movement long after you are done with the piggy back ride. Secondly, the shift in your center of gravity and the engagement of different of muscles is going to affect the way that you land on the ground every single step. Say for instance the child is leaning over to the left. You will most likely take a shorter stride on the left and land heavier on your left foot. So instead of the effect of the extra load being shared equally between both legs, the structures of the left leg are going to be affected more so. If you only did the piggy back ride once, you may or may not have some residual soft tissue soreness and life would carry on. If you did this daily for a long period of time, your body would become conditioned in imbalance, and the chances of you having some sort of injury or developing arthritis on that left leg would increase.


In this photo, my right shoulder is dropped and my horse’s right shoulder is also dropped. In order to not fall, he needs to brace himself, so he is not bending as well as I would like and therefore I’m pulling on the right rein. I wonder what would happen if I was sitting squarely?

Envision now a typical ride on your own horse. What percentage of that ride would you say that you feel that you are in perfect balance with your horse? Even if you are a pretty good rider there are still going to moments when you are out of sync.

27. Showing Pronated Pelvis

An example of pelvic imbalance of a mare I once owned. This type of imbalance can happen for people too!

The next step is to have a look in the mirror. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Put your hands on the top of your hips, are they level? Are your shoulders level? Do either your shoulders or your hips sit more forward on one side? Thinking about your day to day life, are your right or left handed? Can you see any visual differences in the muscling of your arms? Which leg do you normally put into your pants first? Tomorrow, see how it feels if you try the other leg first.  If you were to do a stretching routine are there areas of your body that are more flexible on one side? How might these things affect your horse? The point is that none of us are perfectly symmetrical in our own bodies, so how can we sit on our horses, who are also not perfectly symmetrical and expect them to be straight and balanced,  and move in accordance with gravity each and every step?

This is just one factor in your horses life. How many other factors can you think of that might affect your horses body in any way? Saddle fit, hoof balance, dental imbalances, how he stands when he eats, mental anxiety, are just a few more off the top of my head. My point in all of this is not to make anyone feel bad, but rather to provoke some thought about the different factors in your horses life. Being aware of the existence of these factors allows owners to take responsibility for the things that may be influencing their horse in a less than positive way. If you found that you have some imbalances in your own body, maybe you yourself would benefit from some body work. Maybe you could do some exercises to help strengthen certain areas or equalize the range of motion from one side to the other. Even awareness of your imbalances during your ride can help you make some adjustments.

Chances are we will never be able to create the perfect world for our equine partners, but we can certainly work towards the ideal.

Introduction to Equine Therapy

As an equine therapist, people often look at me like I have three heads when I tell them what I do for a living. This look is getting less common as time goes and people are recognizing the benefits of providing this type of care for their horses. As equine therapy becomes more popular, there are more and more modality options available to horse owners. Here I will try to answer a few basic questions about equine therapy.

How do I know if my horse would benefit from equine therapy?

jody5Most horses, just like most people, have some sort of imbalance or pain somewhere. Anyone who has owned a horse knows that they can be accident prone. Injuries will create imbalances and patterns of compensation throughout the body. Our horses also work hard! We ask them to perform athletic manoeuvres while carrying our weight, and there isn’t a horse out there that is perfectly symmetrical.

In addition there are many aspects of a horses life that are not exactly natural for them; stall life, the tack we use, carrying our weight, wearing shoes, different feeds, and so. While we do all of these things with our horses best interests in mind, it is important to remember that there can be undesirable consequences in addition to the benefits. So with these factors, and then considering the potential of having ill-fitting tack, unbalanced riders, improper shoeing or trimming, equine therapy may be a good consideration for your horse. Different modalities will have different goals and benefits, however most are aimed at relieving pain, improving performance, and overall general well being of the horse.

What Modalities are available for my horse?

jody3Well, chances are if it’s available for humans, it’s available for your horse. Massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, myofascial release, osteopathy, red light therapy, aromatherapy, energy work and many others are all options for horses. Some practitioners specialize in one particular modality, whereas others have training in various modalities and will use several of them in each session, depending on what is happening with each particular horse.

How do I choose a practitioner for my horse?

jody1If you have decided that you’d like to book an appointment for your horse you need to select a practitioner. Doing some searching online can turn up potential options for you, and often talking to other horse people will give you an idea of who is working in your area. Once you have a few options you will want to call each of your options to find out some additional information, as well as take into consideration what modalities you feel would benefit your horse the most. Here is a list of things to ask a potential equine therapist to get you started.
How long have you been an equine therapist?

Which modalities do you use and what will my horses session be like?
What sort of training did you do in order to become an equine therapist? This is an important one, as in most areas there are currently no regulations for becoming an equine therapist. This means that someone can take a two year course, a two day course, or no course at all and still call themselves an equine therapist. It is your job to act as your horses advocate, so make sure you decide to use someone that you feel good about.
Do you belong to any professional associations? This may or may not be relevant for your area as associations are not available everywhere yet. The benefits of belonging to a professional association can include things like continuing education requirements, a place to take any complaints you may have, and practitioners carrying liability insurance.
Do you keep records of each session? This shows a degree of professionalism.
Something else to keep in mind is that you want an equine therapist who is willing to be a part of the whole team of people that surround your horse. This means that they are open and willing to communicate and work together with your veterinarian, farrier, barn manager, other therapists and of course you.

How often should I have my horse worked on?

jody2This depends on a number of factors, including, but not limited to, your horses current state, work load, housing, past incidents, your goals, and so on; and of course your budget. Make sure you discuss this with your therapist so that you are both on the same page. For myself, I always tell clients that they know their horses best and to call me when they feel they need to. I have clients that I see once a year for a tune up and I have clients that I see once a month for a regular maintenance program. Just make sure that your expectations of the results match up with what you are doing!
Another important thing to keep in mind is that your therapist will only see your horse for an hour or two every however often you book. The things that happen between sessions have a much greater impact on your horse than the work the therapist will do; therefore there may be things in your horses life that need to be addressed despite having equine therapy work done on him. For example, if your horses saddle does not fit, you could have his back massaged on a daily basis and it would still be tight and sore. Most therapists are there to help your horse be the best that he can be, so be willing to consider your therapists concerns.
Equine therapy can be a great tool to help keep your horse happy, healthy, sound, and performing at his best.

March 30, 2014

Laser Therapy for Horses

In November 2012, I attended the Alberta Equestrian Federation Annual Conference. To raise money for a children’s program, they held a silent auction. I felt obligated to put my name down on a few items, and not entirely because the Executive Director, Sonia Dantu, was standing there egging me on!

I bid on many items, and I was actually hoping to win the muck boots. I have a pair of insulated rubber boots, but they are no longer water tight which makes them pretty much useless, unless you like your socks drenched with whatever liquids are lurking in a mucky pasture. As the conference drew to a close, the auction items were announced. I didn’t win the boots. But I came away with something much better: a gift certificate for LLLT (Low Level Laser Therapy) at Chill EquiRehab.

Personally, I am no stranger to physiotherapy. I have seen the laser machines in use and have been treated with them as well. There is however, a lot of skepticism in the medical community as to exactly how laser therapy works, and what injuries it is beneficial for. In essence, a laser is a device that emits amplified electromagnetic radiation in one or more discrete frequencies. With respect to medical treatment there are several variables involved: laser frequency, energy, and duration of exposure. Some laser devices offer a combination of these that can be selected as a various programs.

[singlepic id=9 w=300 h=200 float=left]Many people picture a laser as a high energy Star Wars beam of red light slicing through something. Although lasers are used for those applications in industry, medical lasers are much lower powered. You might also be thinking, well light doesn’t travel through solid objects, so how is a laser going to penetrate a horses hair, then a thick skin layer, to reach the tissues underneath ?  Without going into too much detail, think of a laser simply as a concentrated beam of energy. Whether you can see that energy depends on the frequency. This energy is comprised of photons, which can penetrate several inches of tissue.

If you have one of those powerful penlights handy, try this experiment. Cover the lens with your finger and turn it on. You will see the light through your finger: photons passing though your tissue. Your flashlight emits light across a very broad spectrum of frequencies, which is why it appears white. A laser emits light of a single frequency, which is why it can appear as a single color.
So you have got photons traveling through tissue. How does that help anything?  Laser energy stimulates cells, promotes cell growth, enzyme production and vascular activity. Thus they are used to treat a wide variety of issues including nerve damage, scar tissue reduction, inflammation, and even wounds and bone fractures.

I have an 18 year old horse, Ty, who broke his neck (C4) three years ago. That is a story in itself, but suffice it to say we have been down a long, but successful, rehabilitation road. I thought Ty would be the perfect subject for LLLT as he exhibits many of the conditions it is used for treating: arthritis, scar tissue, nerve damage…..the list goes on.

Keeping an open mind, I contacted Wynter Jones of Chill EquiRehab. I told her all about Ty, and she seemed excited to work with him. She sent me a form to fill out requesting all the details of his injury and what observations I had made on his movement limitations. As we live a few hours apart, she suggested taking Ty for a week and treating him twice per day.

So on a chilly December day Ty and I made our way west of Didsbury, AB.  We were greeted by Wynter and I introduced her to Ty.
Wynter Jones is an Equine Therapist and operates Chill EquiRehab. After earning her Veterinary Assistant Diploma, she enrolled in the Equine Massage Course at the Olds College. Since then she has become certified in related disciplines, including Equine Massage and Vertebral Realignment and Low Level Laser Therapy. Wynter also uses magnets for therapy and is an independent consultant for Nikken Products. Wynter says she became an Equine Therapist because she wanted to heal in a non-invasive way instead of covering up the problem.
Wynter began with a head-to-tail evaluation of Ty. She spent some time examining his trouble regions: neck, shoulders and back. She marked him in areas that required adjustment. As I walked, backed and turned Ty, Wynter made observations and remarked that she was surprised Ty was in such good shape considering his injury. She noted, however, that he seemed to be less sure of his footing when he turned. This is something I was well aware of too.

[singlepic id=6 w=300 h=200 float=right]Over the next five days, Wynter used a combination of massage, realignment and LLLT. I spent the first night there so I could observe several treatments, ask questions, take some pictures and make some notes. And make sure Ty was happy!

And Ty was happy.  I have spent countless hours with this horse over the last three years. So I know what to expect when he likes something, and what to expect when he doesn’t.   When Wynter first applied the laser to Ty, he perked up a little bit, as if to say, What the heck is that?

Wynter commented that horses seem to be more physically sensitive to the laser than people are. Ty responded in the typical way a horse would when relaxing: low headset, eyes half open, licking/chewing. You get the picture. But what got my attention is that Ty stood like this, for over an hour, during the laser treatment. After the first 10 minutes I just dropped the lead rope. Ty had no intention of going anywhere. If the laser wasn’t making him feel better, he would just leave. But he didn’t take a step.

Leaving Ty well provided for in a large covered paddock, I headed for home alone. I returned at the end of the week, anxious to see me equine buddy and what, if any, progress Wynter had made.

I’d like to share her findings as she wrote them:
Ty’s Therapy:
When bringing a horse in for therapy it is extremely beneficial for the therapist to have a thorough history of your horse including any past accidents & vet diagnosis.  I had Scott fill out a questionnaire on Ty before arriving, which I have all my clients do as part of my assessment. By doing this I already had a picture of things to look for upon Ty’s arrival and we were able to move along to treatment in a timely manner. Each therapist has their own series of tests on a horse to determine where issues are.
Issues Found:
Due to the break of the C4, Ty has some nerve damage which was affecting his right leg movement
Some atrophy to the right shoulder requiring adjustment
As horses compensate on the diagonal, the left hip needed adjusting as well
Adjustment to the poll & a few thoracic vertebrae
Treatment After Adjustment:
Laser therapy for nerve damage, working all 4 sides of the break to achieve maximum coverage on both left and ride side of the neck
Both massage and laser were used to stimulate shoulder muscles
Laser therapy used to stimulate nerve repair and to increase circulation from the right side of the neck all the way down to the hoof
Also did a lot of stretching of neck and limbs to increase blood flow
After doing two therapy treatments per day, I took Ty into the arena to do a reassessment but first thought I would let him have a good roll. Well after a couple good rolls Ty jumped up bucking and snorting and took off at a lope around the arena, and proceeded to jump over some rails I had set up. WOW! He looked great and was feeling good too!!! He looked like a different horse playing around in the arena. I am extremely happy with the results I had with Ty. Ty will need some follow-up treatments with the laser to keep him on the healing trail, but all in all his therapy was very successful and he was a great horse to work with. Love your story big guy!
Wynter Jones

Chill EquiRehab & Boyd Equestrian Center


[singlepic id=8 w=300 h=200 float=left]Wynter left me with a comprehensive summary of Ty’s treatment, including my homework: massage, stretching and exercises (for Ty, not me!). So what do I think about the whole thing? They say that seeing is believing. I mentioned Ty’s demeanor during treatment. That in itself was encouraging, but do I notice any changes in Ty now that I have him home? Before I comment on that, keep the following in mind:

Ty suffered a broken neck causing spinal cord compression resulting in nerve damage, most apparent in his right front quarter. He was initially unable to step over any object, unable to walk up or down an incline, and unable to back. After a roll, he had great difficulty in getting up. He has compensated by using his body differently which has led to uneven muscle development, stiffness and soreness. After the injury he was very protective of his right side.
I started riding Ty again 2 years ago. He has made a lot of progress since. We???ve ridden in the mountains and rounded up cattle. But he still has a lot of issues. Even now, he finds it very difficult to maintain a canter on the right lead for more than a few strides. His injury was most apparent when asking him to back. He was very reluctant to lift his front feet off the ground and backing in a straight line required a great deal of concentration on his behalf.
That said, I will quote from an email that I sent to Wynter the day after I turned Ty loose in the pasture:
Today I was outside waiting for a hay delivery. Ty was standing there so I thought, why not? I grabbed a halter and hopped up on Ty, bareback. Ty likes to trot and away we went. He felt good. As a test, I stopped him and asked him to back up, with my seat only, since I only had a halter with the lead on one side. And he backed up almost flawlessly, and quick and straight. I didn’t sense him dragging his front feet. I was pretty impressed with him and he knew it. Yee haw!
After the treatments, I watched Ty. There is a spring in his step that wasn’t there a month earlier. He looked more fluid in his movements rather than choppy. He looked a lot less like Eeyore and a lot more like a horse! And Ty jumped over rails? I haven’t seen him do that in years.
If seeing is believing, then I am a believer.

Scott Phillips
December 2012

P.S. Ty has made more progress!

Stay tuned to Amazing Backcountry for more great Horse Health stories!