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Before massaging I usually apply 'red light' - especially to areas of hypersensitivity or soreness, usually prompting the question, 'what does that do?' Red light is an amazing 'tool' in the physio's 'tool box'- often met with skepticism by the uninitiated and although the type of unit I use only penetrates superficially to a depth of around 5mm, it has a profound effect on the conductivity of the skin, initiating the release of endorphins thus relaxing the horse in preparation for massage. Used over wounds it promotes epithelial proliferation and prevents the production of proud flesh and it is invaluable in promoting healing in stubborn sores and ulcerated wounds. The type of devise I use is a class 3 laser operating in the red and infrared red range. Class 4 lasers, (the type I am saving up for!) operate at varying depths and can influence deeper structures and a more diverse range of tissue types. Up until recently, most theories on why red light 'works' were based on anecdotal evidence and few studies had been conducted to conclusively prove its wide ranging benefits in human and animal medical conditions....but just this week I read a very interesting and convincing article in New Scientist (July 18th 2015 page 14) detailing a recent study into red light therapy conducted by Andrei Sommer of the University of Ulm in Germany. To sum the article up very briefly, Sommer has found that red light in the 670 manometer wavelength (near infrared) causes mitochondria to produce more ATP (a compound that provides cellular energy). It appears that red light alters the physical properties of water within the cell, affecting the surface tension of the water, making it less viscous. Mitochondria generate power using an enzyme that 'spins like a molecular turbine' which turns more easily in less viscous water within the cell thus generating more ATP which in turn leads to greater efficiency and goes someway to explaining the healing power of red light. All very interesting and nice to have scientific support for a modality physios have been using for many years!November.
So ...do you meet resistance with resistance and strap your horse's mouth shut even more tightly then lift the bit even higher in its mouth whilst riding it 'positively' forwards into a contact in an attempt to stop it becoming anxious and tense? (The recent advice of so called 'professional') or do you swap your instructor/ trainer for one who actually cares for and understands the horses they are working with and are not quite so limited in their own riding experience? Unwanted behaviour is usually the result of pain or confusion. Address this and most horses will settle and become compliant. If a usually easy going and cooperative horse suddenly starts evading, showing signs of tension or is 'naughty'- then look for the reason rather than adopting aggressive schooling methods. A thorough musculoskeletal, teeth and saddle check may give you the answer you are looking for. Swapping to a caring and knowledgeable trainer/ instructor, who looks at the long term picture rather than a quick fix is always a good move! A healthy, pain free horse is a happy horse. Involve the professionals around you- they are there to help...but choose wisely. Call or text 07900 887527 or FB message me if you would like any advice on any uncharacteristic or unwanted behaviour...I can certainly help identify and help rectify musculoskeletal issues and will help point you in the direction of good saddlers, dentists and other equine professionals.
This is my reply to a recent query as to whether the Jambette/ 'Spanish Walk could be detrimental to the horse physically- I think the reply holds true for many schooling queries;
Remember that any ridden (or in hand) work is potentially harmful to the horse; the horse is not designed for ridden work! Anatomically he is not built to carry weight from above (the rider) but has evolved to support his large belly and heavy head whilst grazing and moving in relatively straight lines by the function of the supraspuinous ligament (working in synergy with a myriad of other anatomical structures!). This ligament provides traction on the dorsal spinous processes, helping raise and support the back. The nuchal ligament of the neck is an 'energy saving' device. This super strong structure keeps the heavy head up with minimal muscular effort... it takes great force to counteract this force, so remember that working 'long and low' takes muscular effort to lower the head whilst maintaining a connected outline....it is not the 'easy option'.
The horse has evolved to get out of trouble by short bursts of speed in relatively straight lines; he lacks the spinal flexibility seen in smaller animals such as the dog- hence the reason we have adapted a way of schooling that will alter the forces acting on the spinous processes to afford traction by lowering the head and raising and 'rounding' the back (in the early stages of training) to provide a stronger structure to bear the weight of the rider.
As training progresses and the horse re adjusts his balance from 60% (approx) from the forehand and 40% in the hinds to a more equal or reversed ratio, the head carriage raises, the forehand lightens, the shoulders open laterally allowing the withers to 'come up' and the hinds to lower whilst the back 'rounds'. 'Lateral' flexibility is promoted by 'suppleing' exercises; the rib cage becomes more mobile allowing for engagement of the inside hind on turns and circles. Remember - there is very little lateral flexibility through the spine (other than in the neck and tail) so the 'illusion' of inside bend is provided by rib movement and flexion through the neck plus a little lateral flexion through the thoracolumbar junction as well as the tail. This is why it is so important to follow a training programme designed to encourage a connected and 'round outline' with sufficient energy and ease of movement to promote 'self carriage'. If the horse is allowed too much freedom to work 'hollow' and 'unconnected' or with too raised a head carriage, then traction from the supraspinous ligament exerted on the dorsal spinous processes is not sufficient to raise the back and therefore the weight of the rider may be detrimental.
In a long winded way, what I am saying is that any movement implemented too soon, or when the horse has not achieved the degree of roundness, collection and physical and mental strength to carry the weight of the rider, whilst balancing himself in such a way to prevent injury (again physical and mental) then movements such as the Jambette could be harmful- and in many cases this could be and is the case.
Providing your horse is working in the best way possible to sustain the shift of balance and to support the weight of the rider with unhindered freedom of movement, carrying himself with lightness and ease in all paces whilst remaining totally in balance through all transitions, responding to the lightest of cues, then most movements we teach him should theoretically be executed in such a way as not to result in injury or anxiety.
Do you have a horse that is unsettled to the contact or has a tendency to open his mouth and evade? Sometimes removing the restrictive force of the noseband allows the horse a little more freedom to move the jaw and conversely some tend to settle into a more relaxed, softer and more consistent contact which translates to suppleness and the removal of restriction throughout the whole neck and back, in turn improving engagement and promoting a lighter forehand. Here is an experiment for you to try on yourself. Try depressing the centre of your tongue with your finger with your mouth closed then try and swallow- not easy. This is what happens when we use a tight drop, grackle or flash. The bit is depressed into the tongue by the restrictive force of the noseband and the horse's ability to swallow is compromised hence we often see lots of saliva and white foam which people often mistake for a soft mouth...actually it is saliva that cannot be swallowed so has to dribble out from between the lips.
Small ponies suffer from the same issues as larger horses! Why is it that some 'horsey professionals' seem to dismiss a small pony's wrong doings as bad manners or bad behavior instead of looking for a physical cause for what seems to be 'naughty pony syndrome'? I scanned a pony this week- not old- about 11.2hh who had been bucking and napping. His behavior had been put down to him taking advantage of his small rider but I thought it would be best to rule out physical issues with a DITI scan after finding recurrent thoracic and lumbar spasm despite recent investment in a super duper new saddle. Just as well! The report has come back identifying possible spondylosis and possible over riding spinous processes- at the least he has ligamentous and muscular strain. Poor chap! At least now he is well on the way to being treated and a return to a pain free ridden experience!
Don't forget- making very minor adjustments to what you ask of your horse when schooling and riding generally can make significant differences to his levels of comfort and well being as well as preventing the development of future physiological and psychological issues. Here is a very simple change that some riders and trainers can make. Resist the urge to encourage your horse to over bend by over restrictive training aids or over zealous hands! Outline is NOT about drawing the chin in to the chest with the face tucked behind the vertical it is about a gradual alteration of balance and shift of weight from the forehand to the hinds. As the horse becomes better balanced and stronger as a result of progressive and considerate schooling- he will naturally lighten the forehand, open the shoulders and take more weight into his hind quarters- providing his rider is well balanced and 'articulate' in the aids she or he gives and the jaw and poll remain relaxed and responsive. The head and neck needs to be allowed a degree of freedom- this is the horse's balancing tool- if the head is drawn in too far and the neck 'broken' then flexion is shifted from the poll (the 'YES' joint) to the next articulations which allows for rotation- not something we wish to encourage. An over bent horse is generally locked through the base of the neck and shoulders and is therefore more likely to become heavier on the forehand- he usually suffers from poll, cervico-thoracic and lower back problems and of course his vision is compromised because his eyes are directed down rather than looking ahead- not something that is conducive to a relaxed and responsive horse. Check the poll remains the highest point (not always possible in 'cresty' horses or stallions) with the front of the face on or a little in front of the vertical for maximum results.
How often do you hear an owner complaining that their horse is not quite themselves? Maybe he is napping, rushing, bucking, refusing, one sided, rearing, hard to bridle, cold backed, spooky and generally uncooperative. Maybe he has mood swings, is difficult to load, gets excited in company. The list of 'complaints' goes on and on.
The majority of horse owners are hardworking, caring, responsible individuals who always try and do their best for their horse's welfare. They provide their horses with a comfortable stable, good food, daily turnout, work them regularly, book regular dental checks, protect them from flu and tetanus, employ the farrier on a regular basis. They generally have a saddle fitter check their saddle and most owners/ riders invest in some sort of regular ridden tuition...yet many horses still do not reach peak performance and are hindered by 'off days'. Why?
We have to accept that the horse is not designed to be ridden! No matter how much investment is directed at his physical and mental welfare, we are never going to escape the fact that evolution is far too slow a process to turn Equus caballus into the ultimate human transporter. Therefore we need to work with the structure nature has provided us with and try our best to minimise physical and psychological damage by providing our horse with a controlled living and working environment. We not only have to consider how is mental well being is affected by human intervention, but we also need to be aware of how environment and exercise alters the equine physiology.
Lots has been written about horse welfare by mimicking the natural living and feeding patterns of the horse; 'trickle' feeding ad lib bulk, feeding according to the work load, always providing turnout- even in the depth of winter, regular exercise etc. etc. etc. But how many riders really understand the anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and psychology of the horse when it comes to following a structured work pattern? How many owners are aware that ignorance in these areas are prime causes of equine pain, dysfunction and degeneration?
We probably understand more about the effects of exercise on human athletes and ourselves than we do about how exercise affects our equine partners. After all we can generally relate to how a fellow human might be feeling because we probably feel the same. For example, on a two mile jog,we can empathize with our fellow runners protestations and pleas to slow down and take a rest because our own muscles are burning, our own heart is pounding and we are also gasping for breath! How many people recognise these same signs of fatigue in the horse? Of course these signs will follow a much more subtle route; the horse is designed to 'grin and bear it' for as long as he can to avoid being picked off the outskirts of the herd by hungry predators. Often, by the time our horse shows outward signs of fatigue and deterioration, he has used up all his compensatory reserves. How many times do you hear an instructor shouting at a young rider, 'legs legs legs' at the end of an hour long lesson because the pony has started refusing? The same pony that has probably spent five days out of seven idling his time away in his paddock to be ridden hard for two days over the weekend. How many times do we hear trainers advising us to resort to spurs to encourage a lazy horse, or to tighten up nosebands or martingales in a bid to control an overzealous ride? These can all be subtle signs that the horse is either misunderstanding the rider, or is mentally or physically struggling to carry out the work or moves asked of him.
An unfit, unbalanced or overweight rider will always interfere with the balance, understanding and athletic ability of the horse. A rider who is still mastering the controls must accept that any horse he rides will not perform to his best. Contrary to popular belief, the experienced 'school master' will not teach a novice rider how to ride- he will just help that rider along the way because generally he has been conditioned to switch off and ignore many of the 'fluffed' cues. It is up to us as riders to become more aware of our own bodies, our own fitness and physiology and how we communicate with our horse, because only when we can in all honesty say, 'I got everything absolutely right' can we start to blame our horse if things don't go according to plan....
As an Equine Physio, the majority of issues I see are rider and schooling related. I firmly believe that there is no worth to any physio treating your horse unless they have a thorough understanding of the physiological effects of schooling and exercise, either ridden or from the ground, plus an understanding of how many soft tissue problems, gait anomalies and sometimes even lameness, are a result of bad schooling or badly fitting tack. I recently saw a horse who could not trot. He just shuffled. There was no obvious sign of lameness. The vets had found nothing untoward but this issue had been progressively worsening over two years. I am lucky to be able to actually get up and ride the horses I treat; Up I jumped and immediately was struck by the fact that the treeless saddle he was wearing was interfering with the mobility and range of motion of his shoulders. I asked for a change off saddle and within a few minutes the horse had relaxed into a better gait and generally felt freer and happier. I revisited two weeks later and was amazed at how normal the horse was! He will be coming to me for a couple of weeks schooling to cement the gait synergy by corrective schooling. Poor chap! Two years in a badly fitted saddle and a rider who didn't like to school!
The key to success of any treatment is being able to implement a well structured exercise rehabilitation programme after treatment. Your physio also needs to be able to identify rider related issues. Unless the rider is capable of implementing any rehab programme effectively, there is no point prescribing it!
Because I have spent the whole of my riding life (from the age of 8 to 48) riding every sort of horse and pony imaginable, and most of my professional life involved in starting, schooling, re- training and rehabilitating horses and ponies with physical, physiological and psychological issues, as well as training and teaching riders of all ages and abilities, and competing to a high standard, I have had the good fortune to be able to study well over 2000 equines in all disciplines and work with probably as many riders. It has been a massive learning curve and remains so!
Before qualifying as an Equine physio, most of the techniques I used to return the horses that passed through my yard to peak fitness, revolved around corrective schooling regimes. Progressive conditioning and fitness programmes combined with a controlled and structured living environment, help progressively increase physiological function, gradually condition soft tissue, improve cardiovascular fitness, improve muscular flexibility and strength, promote proprioception, build confidence, and ultimately lead to a happy, healthy and functioning equine athlete. These schooling techniques are now combined with physiotherapy modalities such as PEMF, Therapeutic Ultrasound, Phototherapy, massage, stretches etc.
I am currently treating a horse with ongoing lower back and sacral soreness. She is reluctant to work freely, bucks. and finds it hard to maintain canter and is very reactive to palpation all along her neck and back. After two treatments, I referred her back for further veterinary investigation; proximal suspensory desmitis was diagnosed in the left hind. Shock wave treatment and appropriate pain relief was prescribed and now, after about 6 weeks, the vet has recommended more physio for the compensatory neck and lower back soreness. At my next visit, I was disappointed to find no significant change -she still felt to be splinting her lumbar muscles and was very reactive to stimuli. I feel that the reason for this could be damage to the psoas group of muscles which lie ventral to the spine and are involved in pelvic articulation and are major hip flexors. Any hypertonicity in this group will result in a reluctance to move freely, and a general feeling of discomfort- lower back and sacral pain will be evident. Targeted stretches and correct therapeutic exercise will help - but the complication with this horse is due to the suspensory issues she is not allowed to be worked on a school surface and all her rehab is to be executed on roads and tracks. I will be advising the owner on exercises that can be implemented in straight lines combined with pilates type stretches, and of course regular massage and ultrasound to all compensatory soreness. Quite a challenge when there are multiple issues to take into consideration!
I know I have spoken about saddle fit before but I don't think it will do any harm to reiterate how important a comfortable and well fitting saddle is for the health and happiness of your horse. I was treating a newly broken horse this week who had changed from being a kind and amenable chap to a vicious and unhappy horse! I asked his owner what could have happened to him to justify this change and she told me that the yard he had been sent to for backing used the same saddle on every horse they rode! This chap would not have been the easiest horse to fit; very high withers and a back that sloped away with very little muscular development or top line, so it would be highly unlikely that the 'yard' saddle would have been a comfortable fit for him. When choosing a saddle for your youngster it is even more important that the fit is good. This is his first experience of being ridden and a badly fitting saddle at this stage of his career can do untold damage- both mentally and physically. Do not fall into the trap of thinking 'Ill get something cheap to put me on- after all he will change shape quickly'- this is probably the worst thing you can do. Always ensure your newly broken horse is treated to the best fitting saddle you can buy. A good experience early on will stay with him for ever more!
Some very interesting cases this week- and more referrals back to vets for further investigation...which brings me on to the subject of compensatory pain. This week I looked at a horse with a very asymmetric pelvis which I was unhappy to treat before further veterinary investigation. I am always a little concerned about 'manipulating' or 'adjusting' structures such as the pelvis before the cause of the muscular/tendinous/ligamentous tightness resulting in significant structural asymmetry has been identified. There is little point making any adjustments until the cause has been addressed and treated accordingly...then targeted physiotherapy can compliment chiropractic/ veterinary regimens.The horse in question was found to have side bones which were resulting in compensatory locomotive patterns resulting in muscular tightness and pelvic misalignment. Corrective shoeing has been prescribed followed by physiotherapy. Pelvic 'adjustments' without the correct diagnosis would have been at best, pointless and at worst, harmful. If you would like to make a physio appointment for your horse please call me on 07900 88757, message me via Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org
It was my birthday this month and my hubby bought me a fabulous book called 'Suffering in Silence' by Jochen Schleese, certified master saddler and saddle ergonomist.
We all know the importance of always having a correctly fitted saddle.Certainly the mainstay of my work at the moment seems to be addressing saddle related issues, but how often do we check the fit of our saddles?
As the seasons change, so do the shapes of our horses and what fits well in the spring may no longer be such a good fit at the end of a summer on good grass, or after a busy season competing.
Unfortunately there are a lot of 'saddle fitters' out there who do not seem to understand the shape of the horse they are working with and only add to many established soft tissue issues by unbalancing the saddle still further.
I was amazed read that the saddle shape is not androgynous; what sits a female rider in the correct position will not do the same for a male rider due to the differences in anatomical structure- particularly the pelvis, tail bone and the shape of the femur and the associated musculature.
Ask your saddler about this when you next have a saddle fitted. For optimum performance, from both horse and rider, and to prevent muscular skeletal issues developing, the saddle must fit both rider and horse.
Here are a few tips to help your physio palpate, massage, stretch and treat effectively.
1. Ensure your horse is dry and free from Mud. A wet horse is very hard to massage!
2. Avoid using any silicone based grooming products- there is too much 'slide' for an effective, deep massage.
3. Refrain from oiling hooves- not good for limb stretches.
4. Find a suitable area out of the full glare of the summer sun.
5. A quiet, relaxed atmosphere is always more conducive to a successful treatment so avoid making appointments when you know the yard might be very busy.
6. Ensure the treatment area is free from clutter/ children/ dogs etc.
Workshop/ clinic planned for August 8th here at Broadacres Stables. Tadcaster.
Equine physio and Massage Demonstration
Karina Hawkridge DipAPhys
Broadacres Stables,The Old Coach Road, Tadcaster. LS24 8HA
Friday August 8th 2014.
6pm to 8.30pm
£10 per person 'at the gate' but please book in advance;
Phone or text 07900 887527,
or contact me via Facebook.
Subjects covered will include;
- An introduction to massage for horse owners.
- 'Getting Connected'- how to promote relaxation through touch and massage.
- The prevention of musculo-skeletal injury by developing correct posture and way of going through schooling.
- Recognizing potential problems early and when to call the vet/physio.
- Maintaining mobility in the older horse through ridden and in hand exercises, massage and stretches.
Horses needed for the demo- contact me if you would like your horse to be assessed and treated.
What is everyone's opinion on the idea of saddles with large knee and thigh blocks? I think I must be anatomically different from all those who sing their praise! I rode a lovely horse in one this morning...and lasted about 5 minutes! The horse, although well schooled and athletic, felt restricted. He was finding it hard to maintain straightness with a definite 'wobble' through the shoulders and neck! I have ridden this chap before and always felt very at home on him...in my GP saddle (normal design- no fancy blocks and flocked conventionally)- but today in this ;fancy, over priced contraption- I felt I was working against him- not with him. My pelvis felt fixed and I felt unable to follow him to the end range of his movement...so much so I totally insulted his owner, who is very proud of her saddle, and stormed off for my GP! Oh what a relief- as soon as I got back on board he felt happier and freer - as did I...and I was able to ride in harmony with his movement with no feeling of restriction through my legs and pelvis.
I would be interested to know other people's opinions on these saddles! Interestingly, this horse has become increasingly unsettled with his owner, and despite my attempts to persuade her that the saddle might be to blame, I fear that my pleas are falling on deaf ears! Please use the Interdressage FB pages if you would like to add anything to this.
Its been an interesting week so far treating horses and teaching private clients.
I do question sometimes whether teaching clients from a 'physiotherapist's' view point differs from teaching methods employed by some of our 'top' local dressage trainers. Twice this week I have been helping riders who have paid vast sums to trainers whose advise is to encourage their horses to work 'long and low'. We all know that this is an excellent way to help recruit the abdominal muscles, improve core stability, strengthen the back, improve engagement and ultimately help promote a lighter forehand and a shift of weight and balance to the hinds when the posture is raised. However, it is worth considering different methods of promoting the 'long and low' outline without compromising rhythm and balance.
Both riders I was teaching had been told (by different trainers) to release the contact and 'drive the horse energetically forwards into the longer contact'. One horse is an unbalanced youngster and the other is a reasonably well balanced older horse who habitually shortens the neck and drops behind the contact due to past over enthusiastic 'manual positioning' of the head carriage. Consequently the advice to 'drive forwards into a longer contact' met only with loss of rhythm and balance and an exhausted and frustrated rider.
As we all know, the head and neck is the horse's main 'balancing tool'. The horse who habitually shortened his neck and dropped behind the contact was never going to respond to the afore mentioned advice so we needed to devise a way to challenge his balance without manual input or rushing him out of his natural rhythm, to encourage him to naturally re balance himself by re positioning his head and neck instinctively. We found ground poles worked wonders- after a few false starts when he tried to work through them without stretching and balancing himself hence a few clatters and attempts to jump the whole line of poles- he soon realized that stretching his neck and working longer and lower meant he could maintain rhythm and balance... and stay upright. Result!
The unbalanced youngster was soon taking the contact down whilst maintaining rhythm and balance by including flexion/ counter flexion on a circle in walk, trot and canter. After 10 minutes or so he willingly stretched into a longer contact- all without being forced out of his rhythm and balance by an exhausted rider.
Remember that lowering the head carriage requires muscular effort to counter the force exerted by the nuchal ligament (an energy saving device to help position the head)- so contrary to many peoples' perception- working long and low is quite a tiring- not a relaxing- way for your horse to work.
If you would like to learn more about getting the best out of your horse please give me a call on 07900 887527 to book a lesson.