Keep Your Horse Sound

The best physical and management therapy options.
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The best physical and management therapy options.

Gone are the days when a horse had to be head-bobbing lame to be pulled from competition. Today, even a slight gait inconsistency can get a horse spun. Fortunately, an abundance of therapy options are emerging for horse owners to consider for keeping their performance horses sound.

At $50 to $120 per session, acupuncture is a proven therapy well worth considering.

At $50 to $120 per session, acupuncture is a proven therapy well worth considering.

MASSAGE aids in healing and promotes well-being. Most horses enjoy deep tissue sports massages, although some are sensitive and prefer gentle massage. Most equine courses focus on identifying major muscle groups and teaching safe techniques. You can learn to do this yourself or hire someone. If you do hire someone, be sure that the masseuse has been certified for massage on horses.

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ACUPUNCTURE is well-documented with well-understood physiologic effects. Next to cats, horses exhibit the strongest response to acupuncture of all mammals. Acupuncture results in relaxation, pain relief and enhanced tissue healing, among other things. Since acupuncture works on entire segments of the body, it alleviates the need to know exactly what is hurting. This can be a huge help when a firm diagnosis can't be found.

Several forms of acupuncture exist including electroacupuncture (or e-stim) in which electricity is conducted through needles, aquapuncture in which vitamins or plant extracts are injected, or moxabusion in which needles are heated in the body. Finding an acupuncturist isn't difficult, but it must be a veterinarian. Check the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncturists or the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society.

ACOUSTIC SHOCKWAVE can be a welcome vacation from pain for a horse with a chronic ache. It assists in healing, even when traditional diagnostic tests show no obvious lesions or cause. The results of this therapy are improved blood flow in the target tissue as well as temporary numbing of the nerve endings in the region shocked.

It's costly, but it produces such a performance-enhancing effect that the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) actually assigns a withdrawal time to it. It can't be performed on a horse too close to a competition or a horse will be disqualified. That's potent therapy.

MICROCURRENT AND THERAPEUTIC ULTRASOUND Although we treat several specific lameness issues . . . we also treat horses that just enjoy the feeling that the machines give them. There are all sorts of pain points in their bodies that we may not be able to detect in lameness exams, but micro-current and therapeutic ultrasound can provide some relief for them," said Wendy Albrecht, co-owner with Cindy Krout of North Coast Equine Physical Therapy, San Francisco, Calif. Hand-held units are available that horse owners can learn to use, but we advise you to work with your vet or tech to learn the therapy first.

CHIROPRACTIC adjustments can have incredible, instant positive results for a horse. Bones are dynamic and can move easily if the right force is applied at the right time and at the perfect angle. it's the same reason a simple buck in the pasture can throw something out of wack. Without the correction of a misalignment like this, soft tissues around a displaced bone can conform to its new location and "memorize" the wrong position. Over time, the result can be postural errors for a horse. And, yes, bad posture can lead to lameness.

Certified chiropractors usually practice non-force chiropractic techniques, using subtle and gentle manipulation of the horse skeleton. They're performed with the horse standing or sometimes walking.

Because many chiropractic issues in horses start out small and go unnoticed, chiropractors find themselves working on bodies that have memorized the wrong bone position and posture. For that reason, chiropractic care can become a process rather than an occasional "tune-up." Don't be surprised if the chiropractor requests a series of initial visits followed by periodic rechecks. They aren't trying to cheat you; they're doing their job correctly. There's a lot to know about this form of therapy, and a horse can suffer fatal injuries if adjusted incorrectly. We advise you to use a chiropractic veterinarian.

SWIMMING gives a full body workout without the strain of weight. The body moves freely to the limits of flexibility, while the cardiopulmonary system maximizes oxygen metabolism in an efficient manner without lactic-acid buildup. If you have a horse that is out-of-shape, overweight, or stiff from a competition, swimming can help. Remember, though, swimming is strenuous, so You'll need to build up fitness for it gradually.

AN UNDERWATER TREADMILL, like the Aquatreadmill, develops fitness quickly. "Fifteen minutes in the underwater treadmill is equivalent to 45 minutes of workout in an arena without the wear and tear," said Dr. Carrie Schlachter, DVM of Circle Oak Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, Petaluma, Calif.

GAME READY EQUINEis a pricey choice, but it's impressive. We all know the benefits of heat therapy on arthritis and old tendon/ligament injuries, and that cold therapy after a workout enhances blood circulation and reduces inflammation. Preventative measures like these help little aches and pains not develop into full-blown lamenesses.

Although ice boots and standing wraps used in succession can achieve a decent cold-to-hot spectrum, this device delivers dry heat and cold, as well as active compression by circulating alcohol through a motor-driven system that runs between a reservoir and the specialized wraps that you place on a horse's legs.

Game Ready is commonly used for lameness prevention and also to combat joint swelling, stocking-up, and windpuffs. The only real drawback is its price.


For our full article on ulcers, recommended over-counter-remedies and more, click here.

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BOTTOM LINE. The adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is the key to success, if you're determined to keep your horse sound. Click here for our sidebar on management options you can implement, and our chart of Physical Therapy Options.

Article by Grant Miller, DVM, Contributing Veterinary Editor