Are you puzzled by your horse’s behaviour and problems in training? Do things not add up for you? Have you bought new supplements, tried a new trainer, changed barns, bought a new saddle and changed bits, and nothing is working? Then you are among thousands who remain confused because you have not been taught to look for the real cause of many issues with horses: pain.
Pain can be emotional and physical, and they are most definitely tied together. Horses retain the memory of being asked to do something that hurts. When you ask them, they resist because they are afraid of the pain that is coming. When you look at your horse with a more educated eye, many of these issues are de-mystified.
HEAD AND NECK INJURIES
If a person has had a cervical injury, they might experience headaches, blurred vision, tension and irritability. In the horse, the same injury manifests as:
- head tossing
- spookiness from impaired vision
- bitting problems
- head shyness
Head and neck injuries create myriad problems under saddle because the horse’s neck is a critical part of his balance, especially when carrying a rider. The neck muscles serve to contain the thrust from the powerful hind end. If your horse cannot use his neck correctly due to muscle and spinal impingement, overall balance is affected, and he will find it impossible to get off his forehand.
In humans, shoulder injuries manifest as trouble lifting objects, discomfort while driving, difficulty doing household chores and uncomfortable sleep. In the horse, shoulder problems manifest as:
- reduced front leg stride
- choppy movement
Again, the horse will be on the forehand, as if the front legs cannot get out of the way. The hind legs cannot come under far enough to be engaged. A horse with shoulder problems will have extreme issues with jumping, as upon landing, the impact will send a shockwave of pain through the entire front end and up both legs. This is the cause for many refusals at fences, and poor lateral movements in dressage, also the lack of lift in collected work and an uneven rhythm.
LOWER BACK ISSUES
A person with lower back problems may suffer with sciatic nerve pain, sleeplessness, digestive disorders, trouble lifting and menstrual cramping. In the horse, things are exacerbated because he has to carry a rider, so it can manifest as:
- moody mare syndrome
- colic and digestive disorders
- inability to track up
- no thrust in the hind end
A horse with back pain may also hate being groomed, tacked up, or even touched. The nerves along the spine control all the vital organ functions in the horse, so if any of these nerves are not functioning properly, you can have a lot of internal issues, like bad or sluggish digestion and hormonal issues in mares.
HIP AND PELVIS ISSUES
In the human, hip and pelvis issues manifest as trouble walking, inability to sit, stand or walk for long periods, cramping, knee and hip joint pain and lack of flexibility in the lower half of the body. The horse will probably have:
- a hunter’s bump (a sacroiliac injury)
- wobbly hocks
- difficulty engaging
- problems with lead changes
- trouble standing for the farrier
- a dragging toe
- twisted tail
- no power coming from behind
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
As an equine body worker and coach for over 25 years, the first thing I do is check the obvious – feet, teeth, saddle and tack fit, and diet.
Feed your Horse!! Horses need good nutrition, as they rely on their soft tissue to hold up those big heavy bones. Without that support, they will never be sound! As an example, I was sent a young Friesen stallion for training and he had a clicking sound in his hind end every time he walked and his hocks rotated outwards with every stride. I told the owner that I could not put this horse into training until the hind end issue was solved. I put the horse on my diet, which is very basic – oats, barley, salt, flax and a really good vitamin/mineral/joint supplement called Support One made by Pureform. Without doing anything else, just the diet, the horse went sound in 3 weeks, as the ligaments that support the hip joints were now able to function. Things like calcium, magnesium, potassium are vital to bone and organ function. Horses also sweat out a larger portion of minerals than humans do, so this is crucial to good health. I also stay away from processed foods and sugar, as the horse’s metabolism cannot recognize them, and that creates another whole set of problems.
Bodywork: Find a good professional horse chiropractor and massage therapist, as they can greatly increase your horse’s flexibility and reduce the pain. Your horse should be on a maintenance program for both, especially if you are competing or doing long distance riding.
Stretches: Put your horse on a program of stretching after every ride. This has helped me keep my horses in top condition, and even my older horses have retained their flexibility and strength.
Liniment: The use of liniments both for heating and cooling after a workout are another simple and inexpensive way horseowners can keep their animals comfortable. I look at it as part of basic maintenance.
P. Ann Turner has operated Wit’s End Farms Equine Rehabilitation Centre for 10 years, and owned and operated her own 35 Riding/Training facility in Jamaica for 6 years. She is a certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist through Equissage, USA. Currently relocating to Langley, BC, she is opening up her Ann’s Horsemanship program. In October this year, she will be one of the keynote speakers at the CHA International conference to be held at Kentucky Horse Park, and she is planning to take her program global, doing conferences and workshops. For more information, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or check the website for her calendar, book and DVD (“One Stretch at a Time”), also audio book and MP3 downloads coming soon!! www.annshorsemanship.com