Category Archives: Jody

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


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