This is something I am hearing a lot at the moment, and i am happy to hear that so many of my clients have had saddle professionally fitted to their horses!
However there is a but…. and that is the saddle only fits that horse if the said horse does not change shape! By shape I mean muscle up – develop a good topline, or even lose topline, gain or lose weight, or develop a low grade lameness which can cause muscular asymmetry affecting the saddle!
This time of year I tend to see horses drop weight and topline, usually due to the cold weather preventing work, lack of winter turnout, or bald winter paddocks with a lack of grazing.
The last couple of winters have been extremely mild, in terms of the cold that is, not the mammoth amount of torrential rain we have endured this winter. Maybe we have been riding more, feeding more with many winter grazing fields being closed due to flooding, but I can honestly say that the horses of Wirral have never looked better coming out of winter!!
Unless you are one of those poor horse owners that looks at your horses now, and is dreading summer grazing!
So back to the point of this post…..
Over the last few weeks I have been asked to see numerous horses displaying abnormal behaviour under saddle, anything from bolting to bucking! As you know from my previous blog I routinely check saddle fit as part of the assessment.
I have seen numerous saddles over the last few weeks that have been professionally fitted, or even made to measure that simply put do NOT fit now! I am sure once upon a time they fitted perfectly, but not any more, this isn’t to say that they will never fit again, or cannot be adjusted to fit at this moment in time.
So how does poor saddle fit affect the horses?
What I am seeing at the moment with horses carrying excess winter weight is saddles that are tight across the withers, (imagine wearing a shoe 2 sizes to small then being asked to run 5K! ouch!!) when riding the horse the rider may feel like they are slipping or being pushed to the back of the saddle. On palpation what i generally feel is pain or spasm through the withers and a degree of tension through the back where the panels of the saddle end, this is due to the weight distrubution of the rider not being even, and the weight actually being pushed to the back of the saddle which can cause pain and bruising as well as reduce the engagement of the hind quarters. The tightness over the withers can restrict scapular movement and result in a shortened, choppy stride in the front.
So the horses may respond to the restriction by hollowing through their back, taking shorter strides, refusing to take up a contact, an inability or reluctance to bend as well as any host of out of the ordinary behaviour issues!
While I’m talking about saddle fit I may as well tell you how a saddle which is too wide can affect the horses and rider too! The rider may feel like they are being pushed forwards when riding, this is due the tree, or gullet being too wide. The front of saddle will dip in dig in behind the shoulder causing pinching as the rider rises in trot, the back of the saddle will often lift up and down and can cause soreness and soft tissue bruising.
There are a multitude of other saddle fitting issues that I could address but we could be here all day!
So how can physio help….
Physio can relieve the pain caused from poor saddle fit, this is usually cleared in one or two sessions for low grade pain, I tend to treat with a variety of manual techniques, electrotherapy and home exercises to stretch out the sore muscles. But of course there is no point me treating your horse if the same saddle is going straight back on!
So if your horses has put weight on recently take a minute to have a good look at how the saddle fits, if in doubt seek the help of a professional!
Any questions regarding Physio for your horses, or how it can benefit your horse give me a call!!
With winter looming, horses are now being stabled more! I often get asked about haynets and feeding from the floor. So I thought I would post my thoughts on the matter! I don’t profess to know everything and as always there are exceptions to every rule, so bear that in mind when reading my rationale!
From a physio point of view thinking about the horses’s biomechancs I often advocate feeding from the ground, tub or Haybar (even with a small holed haynet tied inside to slow feeding), I understand this is not always possible but it certainly has it’s benefits!
So if we think of horses in their natural environment, they spend hours grazing in a downward ground level position, therefore we should think it important to try as best as we can to replicate this position within the stable environment to benefit the horses well being as posture.
Horses are foragers/grazers who in the wild, would travel over great distances to obtain food and water as the wild grasses are low in nutrition. In it’s natural environment the horse grazes for approximately 18-20 hours per day. The relatively small stomach and large gut are perfectly suited for this. If the stomach is left empty for prolonged periods (as often happens with stabled horses) the stomach lining can become damaged leading to ulcers.
Muscular and Joint Benefits
So my pet hate is haynets tied up high! Yes I know for safety we want them away from the floor but think of how the horse’s biomechanics are affected by high level haynets? not to mention the position allows debris to fall in the eyes.
So the emphasis we work towards is long and low, why? To obtain minimal tension through the neck and back; therefore working a natural stretch of the horses top line keeping the joints and muscles supple. So when we feed from high hung haynets it encourages spinal extension and epaxial (muscles along the horses back) activation, the muscles around the poll and base of the neck can become overused and become sore leading to ridden or behavioural problems as the horse finds difficulty engaging the hindlimbs.
Feeding at ground level allows the respiratory system to work naturally and most effectively as there is a decrease in exposure to respiratory irritants. A lowered head and neck position encourage natural airway drainage, this is their natural defence against deep inhalation of food and dust related particles that can lead to chest and lung infections, other respiratory effects and even choke.
Horses in their natural environment eat with their heads down. This permits them to see almost 360 degrees and being a flight animal it is important that the horse has this span of view whilst eating to ensure complete relaxation. Believe it or not even while in the “safety” of a stall the instinct is to survive.
If the hay is placed at the back of the stall, so the horse’s hindquarters face the door, a stressful situation is created. A horse may spend a lot of time grabbing a mouthful of hay and turning toward the front in order to face perceived danger which can lead to stereotypical behaviours in horses such as weaving or box walking.
So if you are facing a long winter of prolonged stabling for your horse have a think about how you can create a more natural environment to aid posture, digestion and well being!
I get asked this a lot!
The answer is different for all horses but I thought I would do a quick post to explain my thoughts!
Some horses I see weekly, some I see monthly and some I see yearly!
Lets start with why I see some clients weekly!
I have several horses that require intensive rehabilitation, this can be due to sacroiliac problems, kissing spine, post surgery or injection or other musculoskeletal problems.
These horses are initially seen regularly to try and relieve any muscle spasm so that the horse is able to begin working correctly, the owners will often have a strict exercise regime that may include ground based exercises, pole work and ridden work which I monitor closely and increase the difficulty when the horse is able to achieve the goals set! These horses will generally only be seen weekly for the first few sessions to optimise the rehabilitation process, then the treatments will be drawn out slowly as the owner is able to progress the horse at home under guidance.
So who do I see monthly?
I have a number of high level competition horses that I see monthly, from eventers to dressage horses it’s amazing how these horses adapt and compensate to be able to carry out what is asked of them!
Eventers are asked to work exceptionally hard, often in the space of a day (one day eventing) they are asked to collect during dressage, turn on a sixpence during showjumping, then pick up speed over some pretty impressive fences over the cross country. If they knock a pole then it may hurt, if they knock a cross country jump then they can cause serious damage!
As for the dressage horses, they are asked to work correctly from their hind quarters and collect themselves in a way which allows them to perform lateral movements with ease as well as being responsive to the riders leg and be flexible through their mid back! Also remember that these high level horses are ridden at sitting trot which transmits more weight through the saddle to the horse than rising trot (this can be uneven weight distribution in some riders!).
These competition horses are seen routinely for maintenance due to their heavy workload and the pressures put on their joints and muscles. Physio can be very useful to highlight any potential problems or reoccurring issues!
So who do I see 6 monthly?
These are the riding club horses, or horses in medium work.
Again it tends to be routine maintenance work – back pain, hamstring spasm, saddle issues and general stiffness are all problems that I highlight regularly, often these horses are out competing regularly and never actually show signs of discomfort. It is amazing how stoic horses are and what a great work ethic they have as they just want to please their owners! A lot of these horses require treatment as a one off session every 6 months to address these minor musculoskeletal problems, these are the kind of small issues that can cause major behavioural problems if left untreated!
And lastly….those seen yearly.
These tend to be the horses that attend the occasional show, happy hackers, retired horses, or those that I see that have no issues! (rare I know……but it does happen!!). These horses are in light work but we still often find minor issues with them, obviously if the horses is only used for hacking we can’t expect it to be super flexible, but there are lots of exercises you can do both mounted and on the ground to improve flexibility! I often find with these horses that they lack hind quarter musculature and often have quite weak abdominals, once we release any spasm over their back, neck and hindquarters their homework is generally pole work (to increase hind limb activation and to engage the abdominals as well as to improve flexibility through the mid back), lots of transitions during riding and lateral work (such as leg yielding or shoulder in) whilst hacking!
Obviously there are exceptions to every rule…. if I assess a horse, treat and feel he/she needs a follow up then we will book another session to make sure that the spasm is relieved and that both horse and owner are happy. There are some horses I see that don’t actually fit in these categories, but as every horse is treated with an individual treatment programme specific to their needs they can be easily catered for!
So, how often does your horse see the Physio?
So ‘as soon as we are born gravity begins to pull on our joints and muscles causing wear and tear’ as humans we constantly try to improve our posture, standing tall, exercising to maintain strength and fitness!
Is it so different for our veteran horses? I love the old phrase ‘if you don’t use it you lose it!’ pretty true I believe!
If we think about the anatomy to begin with, the knees, the hips, the stifle, the hock, all points of common issues in the equine patient! Now think of how many people you know who complain about their knee or hip pain! In the human patient the first port of call is your GP, followed by X-rays/MRI, Physio/Steroid injection…..or even a joint replacement! So most people go through life with the odd niggle, click or clunk and manage a normal life, carrying out their everyday activities (possibly at a slightly reduced function). As Physio‘s we are trained to restore function and normal movement of our patients by using a number of treatment techniques from soft tissue work…..to exercise prescription……to electrotherapy modalities! But the aim’s are always the same….
- Increase/maintain range of movement of the joint.
- To improve strength around the musculature of the joint to help support the joint.
- To control pain and aid healing.
So if we think about the horse the aims are pretty similar! One thing I often find when treating the older horse is that they lose muscle bulk around their hindquarters and topline, we often see their backs dipped and their bellies hanging low. With low level niggles comes compensations in the surrounding muscles, often through the pectorals, gluteals or the back.
Ok, so this is a very old horse, but a good example!
On assessment I often find difficulty picking up one or more feet, stiffness through the neck or mid-back, poor hind limb activation and associated soft tissue spasm!
So how can Physio help? I believe it’s about maintaining the older horse, giving the owner the tools to manage the effects of ageing through remedial exercises and graded work that is achievable for the individual horse involved.
We can’t tell the horse to go away and do 10 squats twice a day, nor can we tell them to rest and refrain from trotting or cantering when they are in pain, remember they are flight animals and the natural reaction when scared is to run!
So back to the main point of the post! When treating the older horse I have to assess carefully what compensations the individual horse is using to manage day to day. General aims of treatment;
- Relieve muscle spasm using soft tissue techniques and/or electrotherapy.
- Address areas of stiffness picked up on assessment, commonly through cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, through joint mobilisations and reflexes to improve range of movement.
- To introduce an individual exercise programmes for the horse that can be maintained by the owner.
Exercises need to be achievable for the horse, if they are too difficult the horse will evade the task and not target the correct muscle group or joint.
Pole work is a common exercise I prescribe as it really does work, even something simple such as the hogs back (pictured below) works to improve hind limb flexion, increases hind quarter activation, encourages spinal mobility and core activation!
Baited stretches are great to maintain spinal mobility and work the abdominals, and can be a fun after ride treat for your horse!
The treatment list goes on and on, but needs to be tailored to suit the horse, and their level of ability. So whether your horse is a 25 year old happy hacker, an 18 year old hunter, or a 20 year old field ornament physio can be beneficial……remember they can’t tell you they have a niggle or a stiffness somewhere it is up to us as owners to pick up on subtle changes….or if in doubt as a Physio for a routine well being check!!
A familiar phrase I’m hearing at the moment! Is it just me or has the grass suddenly shot up and our horses are looking a bit…….well???
Think how you feel when you put on a few extra pounds!….. Tired, sluggish, increased aches and pains? Do your clothes still fit? Does your back ache? Feet swell?….. What do you do about it…..diet, increase exercise, buy bigger clothes that fit? Unfortunately horses are unable to make these wise choices we as humans can!
We spend the whole of winter weighing out hay and feed wishing for summer…… Then spend the whole summer worrying about the grass and the excess pounds our horses are carrying!
Sound familiar?? Certainly does to me! Weight is always something I talk about during an assessment if I feel there is an issue! (That includes those that look a bit poor too!)
So luckily for me my clients are really receptive to comments and management suggestions! From a Physio point of view excess weight can cause saddle issues, excess weight can cause increased loading through the limb joints, not to mention the effect those big bellies have on the gait and biomechanics of the horse!
We all live in fear of LAMINITIS! 😥😥 so prevention has got to be better than cure!! Oh and a lot cheaper!!!
So what can we as owners do…….
- Think about keeping a record of your horses weight, measure by the girth and then behind their belly on a weekly basis as an objective measure.
- Bald paddocks are great, but let’s be honest on a livery yard we often need to ‘make do’ with what we have, so that leads me on to grazing muzzles! I have not met one person yet who is actually happy using one on their horse, but they are an effective way of managing your horses grass intake! Especially if your grass is lush!
- Soak your hay! Even soaking for 60 minutes will remove significant amounts of sugar as long as the water is clean and fresh!
- Exercise!!! Try increasing your horses workload, longer hacks and schooling sessions, – try lungeing as well if you are short of time!
- Stop the hard feed! Lots of feeds are high in sugars! If your horse is on a balancer make sure it is a ‘light’ balancer, and remember mints, carrots and apples are full of sugar!
Have a look at the fat score chart…..how does your horse measure up?
Any other fat busting ideas welcome!!
#preventionisbetterthancure #acpat #wirralvetphysio
Just wanted to do a quick post on the success of our sponsored riders here at Wirral Veterinary Physiotherapy!
Proud to be working with such talented people, and ponies!!!
We will start with Lucy and Buddy, They completed their second BE at Somerford last weekend and came 3rd
“Had the most amazing day ever! Mine and Spuds second BE and we came home with a 3rd! And we’ve qualified for championships at Weston Park in October. Thanks to Claire Burgess for Buddy’s physio on Tuesday, I think my pony has finally decided he likes dressage🙈 little star was strutting his stuff today😘 31 in dressage and a double clear with no time penalties!
Secondly, an update on our dressage diva Helen Dutton who has been working miracles on her very talented Valde, and we can’t forget to mention the wonderful Christian Grey (Magnus Infego) that she is lucky enough to be competing for Jo McKenzie!
“Mega MEGA trip out with Valde yesterday. 1st overall in the adv medium 98 with 68.16% and 1st in the PYO advanced with 67.2% I’m just soooo proud that we are now developing a partnership that we both have trust and faith in. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed two tests more in my life than I did today and still so many places to pick up more marks. LOVE HIM!!
Followed by Christian’s 2nd affiliated novice tests today. He came out with a 4th on 69.5% and a 2nd with 70.7% he just gets better and better”
And not forgetting event rider Tamara-Jane Davies who was at Rockingham last weekend with the wonderful Arctic Mouse, a very impressive dressage score and some even more impressive jumps! you might recognise this one from the Olympics!!!
*** Equipilates™ course***
5 week course starting on Tues 7th June 7-8pm
To be held at Pam’s Pony Parties in Park Lane, Meols, Wirral, CH47 8XX
Cost for the 5 weeks is £40 (limited spaces!)
Ever wanted to improve the ridden relationship with your horse? By using equine specific Pilates we can address your alignment, core and breathing as well as improving strength and flexibility!
Summer is on it’s way, well it certainly seemed like it was yesterday…. today I wasn’t so sure!
Anyway the point of the post tonight is just a reminder to all my current and future clients about the importance of regular physio checks, I don’t tend to remind my clients, but if anyone is unsure of when their horse was last seen (by me) i have it all recorded in their notes!
The ground is getting harder, the grass is growing, and we are all enjoying riding so much more whilst the sun is shining, all factors that can affect your horses way of going, be it even minor!
Prevention is certainly better than cure, and a lot of the sessions that I do are merely a check and horses are often assessed and treated in one session! That’s not to say I don’t have ‘rehab’ cases on my caseload – these are the cases which I love getting my teeth into, as a physio creating problem lists and setting goals is second nature, but seeing the improvements post injury or surgery is really rewarding!
So let’s all enjoy the time we spend with our horses, have fun whether it be hacking for miles on the Wirral Way, or competing at affiliated level, just remember that when you ‘pull’ a muscle or feel a twinge you can rest…. your horse however can’t tell you! and their stoic nature means that they often continue ‘as normal’ with a low level of discomfort. So take note of the subtle changes in your horses ridden or ground work, after all who knows your horse better than you??
Any questions, or to book an appointment message via the website, Facebook or call 07740354930
(Photo credit to sponsored rider Lucy Peters and the fantastic Buddy)
Helen Dutton our sponsored rider has had such success with her 14 hand welshie Bobby over the last few years! He continues to go from strength to strength, but its the back story to this unlikely dressage superstar that always makes me smile!!
So I’ll hand over to Helen to tell us how she ended up with Bobby and how she has achieved the unbelievable
“Bobby’s story starts 10 years ago when he first came to our yard as a 2 year old. He was on DIY livery having been bought from a local dealer who had bought him through Beeston sales.
His owner was unfortunately unable to pay his bill and it was agreed that Bobby would be payment for that amount. I had recently moved from ponies to horses and wasn’t overly keen on the idea of him but went along with it. He needed time to grow and mature so he was turned away for a year or so.
When it was time to back him we realised it was going to be tricky. He was wild to handle, untouchable with brushes, rugs and petrified of everything. I clearly remember telling my mum that ‘as soon as I’m in that saddle this pony’s going to kill me’ slowly but surely we began to win his trust but it took nearly 6 months to be able to get on him.
To ride he was very ordinary, but well behaved and honest. He had a small walk, a rather wooden trot, no medium trot whatsoever and a flat out canter with no real clear rhythm, he almost trotted behind. A notorious local judge referred to him as ‘your pony that can’t canter’ and was quite sure he never would. But under all this he had a lovely trainable mind and was a brilliant hack.
He competed at prelim level gaining low to mid 60% scores and did a prelim regional coming second to last with 58% having done nothing wrong but that’s just what he got. After this he was put up for sale, a few people came but decided he wasn’t for them.
I carried on with his training and from here everything started to change, he began to get stronger and more balanced. His became more powerful and his scores improved. We went to regionals one year later again at prelim and he won!! From that day there was no stopping him, that result gave me confidence and belief that judges could take him seriously.
He moved through novice and elementary, after winning the novice national championships Trailblazers finals.
Each time he started at a new level his scores would dip a little for a while until he was more confident. Soon he was winning most times out, still becoming stronger and more established but still only schooled about once a week and hacked and jumped the rest of the time. That’s just what worked for him. Medium became his most successful level, he loves the challenge but it does require him to be schooled 2-3 times a week so he has the fitness and strength but he’s more that happy.
If he ever struggles to learn a new movement I tend to teach him it when we are out hacking. He did his first flying changes on the beach.
He has won 4 regional championships, 2 reserve regional championships, 2 area festivals and qualified for the Nationals or Area festival finals a total of 13 times from prelim through to advanced medium. Culminating in his 3rd place at the Nationals this year at medium level which was beyond anything I could have hoped for.
I hope to carry on training him through to PSG level, the most amazing thing about him is he never stops trying and is still getting better with every training session, there’s nothing he isn’t willing to try. His attitude has allowed training to make his basic paces into big horse-like paces and movements that were totally unnatural to him are now second nature.
Some things will never change, he is still awful to clip, will knock you into next week if he’s scared and at shows he’s known as the high maintenance child. No one wants to hold him because he’s so rude and boisterous. If he was 17hh it wouldn’t be funny but he’s just such a lovely person and tries so hard for me in the arena that he can get away with it.
I’m very proud of our relationship, he has taught me what you can achieve with patience, trust and partnership. And that any horse at all can be successful with training. He has made so many dreams come true and I will be forever grateful to him for that. He’s my horse of a lifetime and I adore him.”
New clients often ask what a Physio assessment consists of, so I thought it might be beneficial to tell anyone who doesn’t know…
As Physiotherapists in the human world we routinely work on restoring function, whether that be in an elite athlete with an acute knee injury wanting to return to high level sport , or an elderly patient that is struggling to get up from a chair, the clinical reasoning is the same, assess, identify potential problems, formulate a treatment plan and treat accordingly. Treating horses is very similar by observing and palpating the animal the problem list can be formulated specific to the needs of that animal – a veteran hacking horse will not need to be rehabilitated to the same level as a top level eventer, But this isn’t to say that the end goal is any less important to either animal, or owner.
Of course the obvious difference between my human and equine clients is that only one species can tell me where the pain is located! Although saying that we cannot discount the important information we can gain from the owners or riders of the animal.
I start by getting a full subjective assessment on the horse, in basic terms this means that I ask about the horse’s problems, medical history, routine, ridden work, general behaviour, diet, saddle, feet and dentistry! Have there been any changes to the animals husbandry however subtle?
We then look at the horses comformation, looking at how the horse is put together, length of neck, back and hindquarters, leg correctness, general muscle tone ‘topline’ and abdominals. Here I am observing for any asymmetry and/or muscle atrophy. This can be one shoulder ‘built up’ more than the other, muscular imbalance over the hindquarters or a subtle difference in bony landmarks in the pelvis.
Seeing the horse move is imperative to the assessment. Here I look at walk and trot in hand, rein back, small tight circles, I will sometimes see the horses on the lunge, and even ridden if needed – here I’m looking for track up, lameness, and general straightness. The ability for the horses to move freely through their back and use their hind-quarters effectively.
The ability for a horse to use itself correctly is very important for soundness, are the hind quarters active? does the horse move on two tracks or three? is the horse able to cross over with his hind limbs on a small circle, or is there a restriction in the cervical, thoracic or hind quarters affecting this? looking at quality of movement is the key here – exactly the same as in our human work, pain and restriction results in minor compensation in the way out bodies function, identifying these compensations, however small can be key to keeping your horse fit and functioning at the intended level.As Physiotherapists in the human world we routinely work on restoring function, whether that be in an elite athlete with an acute knee injury, or an elderly patient that is struggling to get up from a chair, the clinical reasoning is the same, assess, identify potential problems, formulate a treatment plan and treat accordingly. Horses as very similar by observing and palpating the animal the problem list can be formulated specific to the needs of that animal – a veteran hacking horse will not need to be rehabilitated to the same level as a top level eventer, But this isn’t to say that the end goal is any less important to either animal, or owner.
Next is palpation of soft tissue from head to tail -looking for pain, spasm or tension. Touch is such an important part, this is where I find my human training invaluable, being able to feel subtle changes in the tissues is vital for deciding the plan of action when it comes to treatment!
Then I look at range of movement of the head and neck, thoracic and lumbar spine, forelimbs and hindlimb – looking for quality of movement, symmetry or pain in the joints and any restriction in range of motion. Horses as very good at compensating, I often find the most ‘bendy’ horses actually lack movement in specific directions, carrot stretches are great….but horses know how to cheat, lifting legs, snatching or twisting through their necks to achieve the goal of the treat!
I then check the saddle, I can normally get an idea of the saddle fit by the palpation of the soft tissues around where the saddle sits! I do not confess to be a saddle fitter! But I am competent through training with the ‘Society of Master Saddlers’ to tell whether the saddle needs addressing urgently, believe it or not I see a whole host of the good, the bad and the ugly out there! and you have to remember that horses change shape…. a lot! How would you like to wear a pair of shoes 2 sizes to small? Saddle fit IS important, and the days of one saddle fits all are long gone,
From ALL this I then formulate an individual problem list, treatment plan and set goals for any rehab that is needed or that specific horse….
Then treat the horse accordingly!
Basically a thorough assessment of the whole body to highlight any current or potential issues!
And you thought the Physio was just ‘the back lady!’