So it’s the time of year that our horses often come in wet and muddy! Time is precious so how many of us do the quick flick where the tack goes before we ride? I am definitely guilty of it!
So it got me thinking about why grooming is so important, especially in the winter!
Naturally in the wild, horses groom each other. Domesticated horses that don’t have that option specifically need more attention in that sense. Horses are social animals and love the contact.
The ground is slippy, horses become hungry and this can cause inter-herd arguments in the field, as well as horse becoming distressed at bringing in times. Slips and kicks can cause low grade pain or discomfort in the horse that often goes undetected by owners when workload decreases during the winter months
We often find we swap one rug for the other in the dark without fully considering the well being of the whole horse!
Varying weight patterns during the winter months can also be responsible for poor saddle fit, some horses gain with being stabled, whilst others will lose through stress or the colder climate.
So I thought I would have a think about why it is beneficial to groom our horses.
Daily health check
- Looking for any new lumps, bumps, kicks or swelling
- Checking for physical signs of discomfort (breathing, abdominal pain, heave line)
- Looking for any signs of rubbing caused from rugging
- Increase blood flow to the skin surface and muscles
Improving blood flow to the tissues will help keep muscles functioning effectively.
- Often horses can lose their topline and muscle bulk during winter when stabled for long periods, or with reduced work.
Brushing the horse can highlight any areas of spasm or soreness
- You may find a sensitive area or the horse may dip away when brushing their back.
- This could be the result of a low grade lameness, where the horse is compensating by bracing through their back.
- There could be pain around the withers or where the back of the saddle fits caused by the saddle.
- Or could even be the result of a slip or fall in the field, where the horse is sore through their back or hindquarters.
Improves the bond with your horse
Ensures that they are used to ‘hands on’ from yourself, your vet or your therapist.
Alternative to ridden work – It’s a great time to incorporate some ground exercises, dynamic mobilisation exercises or range of movement exercises.
- Research has proven that simple dynamic mobilisation exercises (carrot stretches) work to stabilise the intervertebral joints by activating specific muscles.
- Joint stabilisation is important for both improving athletic performance and preventing back injury.
- Research has shown that performing regular dynamic mobilisation exercises over a period of 3 months stimulated enlargement of the muscles that stimulate the horse’s back.
- Dynamic mobilisations can be performed on a cold horse, whereas passive range of movement exercises should only be carried out after exercise.
If they are rugged through the winter dead skin and hair can build up which can cause discomfort and skin problems, a bit of time unrugged can allow the skin to breathe.
So next time you go get to your horses stable in the pouring rain,
spend some quality time with them one to one.
Why not try to make a once or twice weekly full groom part of your winter routine?
As a Chartered Physiotherapist I have always worked on the basis that if you take away a muscular compensation then you must be able to give it back by promoting a more normal movement pattern, this is something that I always include as part of my clinical reasoning whether the patient is human or animal.
We as humans will adapt the path of least resistance in our posture, gait and general life. I was watching my 18 month old son play with a ball this weekend, every time he bent down to pick the ball up, (which was a lot!) he performed the most perfect squat! How many of us know how and do squat correctly? Or do you like most people just use your back to bend when you pick an item up?
As humans we spend a lot of time sitting, slouching, causing our shoulders to round, our head’s become forward on our bodies – if we think of the muscles involved in these movements it’s no wonder we have niggles on a daily basis!
As Chartered Physiotherapist’s we do go on about correct posture, but I can tell you that most day to day work related aches and pains are a direct link to the way in which we work, sit and carry about our day to day activities!
I will often release the muscles and stiff vertebrae responsible for contributing to the postural adaptations, but we must always remember that whatever we release we must be able to counter act with a correction, otherwise we will simply fall back into the same old posture.
Are horses any different?
How many horses do you see with a “dipped back” or a “weak hind end?”
Do we just assume that the horse is old? Has on-going issues? Or is just a hacking horse?
Does it matter???
Horses can demonstrate many different postures, depending on workload, conformation, rider ability and age (this list is by no means exhaustive but we could be here all day writing factors that affect posture!) THE QUESTION IS…… WHAT CAN YOU DO AS OWNERS to promote good health and a long happy life for your horse?
As previously mentioned if I remove muscle spasm or tension from an area we must accept that that compensation was doing “a job” in regards to keeping that animal mobile effectively (I don’t mean keeping it sound – just able to run from predators to stay alive!!)
This horse for instance has a right shoulder is significantly bigger than the left
Scapular stability is very important in both humans and horses! This particular horse has a winging scapular in the right, he has trouble bringing the right fore limb across his midline as the limb is slightly rotated out! We released the myofascia around the shoulder complex, then worked to switch on the shoulder stabilisers with weight transfer exercises through the quadrants of the lower limb, he has a home exercise plan for his owner to work on daily and we can progress the exercises when he is ready.
So if we think about poor spinal posture and/or underdeveloped hind quarters in the equine patient we will have associated muscle spasm, again from the compensations (not to mention the effects that poor spinal posture has on the dorsal spinal processes!). When this posture becomes uncomfortable, or even painful for the horse, he will try to stiffen his back by tensing the muscles of the back so that he is able to carry the weight of the rider. The gait will become short and the horse will feel stiff making it difficult for the rider to sit to the horses trot. The long muscles of the horses back will become painful as they build up with lactic acid and will be unable to function this way for long. After exercise the horse will again drop his back and revert to the normal posture until ridden when the process will repeat itself again.
These postures are usually developed over time, and like anything that takes a long time to develop we cannot assume there is a quick fix to change it…….it takes time and work to improve! The overall aim of the rehabilitation is to strengthen the bridge, between the forelimb and the hindquarters to allow stability and enable power to flow effectively from the hind limbs.
This is why pole work is so effective! If we think about the basic biomechanics involved in a horse negotiating 3-4 raised poles…..
We will see an increase in joint angles of all lower limbs,
Scapular glide on the rib cage as weight transfer occurs on the fore limb
Abdominal and core activation
Hind limb stabilising as hind limb weight transfer occurs
Improves muscular control and co-ordination
Pole work does not have to be complicated, or even involve a lot of poles, a lot of what I give as exercises is in walk, what we are looking for is the horse to be able to work on a loose rein, step over effectively and weight transfer to negotiate the pole in front of them. Poles can be on the ground or raised depending on what your horse is able to do and ridden or in hand!
Try not to over complicate things…… remember “Always set your horse up to achieve”
If you would like more information on how Physiotherapy can help your horse, or how you as an owner can make changes to your daily routine to improve your horse’s posture and strength please get in touch, or if you are outside the Wirral check out www.acpat.org for a qualified Chartered Physiotherapist near you!
Hello Winter! The season we all dread as horse owners, cold, rain, ice and even snow!! Well lets hope Winter 2016/2017 is a mild one!
Over the last few weeks I have seen more and more horses on restricted Winter turnout, if you are lucky enough to have your horses living out then your main worry will be correct rugging and making sure they have enough forage/hay to eat during the day and night!
Many of my clients are now on restricted grazing of some description, every yard has different rules and it is important to find a yard that suits both you and your horse. Every horse owner has a different priority list of what they look for in terms of location/facilities/cost/turnout.
As we know horses tend to lose ‘topline’ and ‘condition’ over the winter, I often find that horses stabled for prolonged periods of time are the ones most affected. This has got me thinking what can you as an owner do to try and help keep your horse in the best shape over winter.
We all know correct feeding is an important factor, I had a lecture from independent Registered Equine Nutritionist Claire McLeod whilst I was studying at Hartpury. One thing that I personally took away from her talk was that a good quality feed balancer is key! This is the only way (bar having your hay tested) that we know the horse is getting all their key vitamins and minerals needed for their diet. This is something that I always pass on to my clients, if you are not feeding a balancer, or the recommended amount of feed for the horse then why are you feeding at all?
In humans it takes just two weeks of physical inactivity for those who are physically fit to lose a significant amount of their muscle strength new research indicates. In that relatively short period of time, young people lose about 30% of their muscle strength, leaving them as strong as someone decades older. Meanwhile, active older people who become sedentary for a couple weeks lose about 25% of their strength.
So think about the stabled horse… in the wild horses graze 16-18 hours a day and travel up to 100 miles a day during a 24hr period! Yes I know that our horses have been domesticated and are now far removed from their wild ancestors. Horses also naturally only stand still to sleep, and move to graze typically every 3-5 seconds.
So what can we do to try and recreate a more natural environment when stabled? We can make sure the horse has access to forage; being without food for even a few hours can lead to frustration, behavioural problems and even risk gastric ulcers!
- Try to feed a choice of different forages at ground level
- I’m not a great fan of haynets, but they can be useful when placed at different heights and locations around the stable to encourage the horse to move and add variety and interest.
- Place the water bucket away from the hay to encourage movement away from the haynet.
Stretches to maintain suppleness
- Carrot stretches are not over-rated, they also do not need to involve carrots!
- A little tip is to fill a small plastic mug with some nuts to keep your horse interested,
- Bring the horse round to their hip,
- Round to their hind fetlock and
- Down between their knees –
- Be careful not to allow the horse to lift a leg or bend at the knee to compensate, only work to the point that your horse can achieve comfortably.
- Remember if your horse is on restricted turnout they may benefit from a walk around the yard, or a hand graze for even 15 minutes a couple of times a day to allow them to stretch their legs out of their stable. If you are able to turn them out in the ménage take the opportunity whilst you muck out!
- Riding/lungeing regularly will also maintain fitness and maintain muscle bulk
Stable toys are a great idea..
- Treat balls
- Hanging a swede in the stable is easy to do
- Even try a toy box filled with horse safe toys – large dog toys are ideal
- Stable mirrors can be great for some horses
And lastly, ensure that your stable is big enough for your horse to lie down comfortably, horses generally do not sleep well unless they feel safe in a her environment, in the wild they will have their equine friend stand over them to guard from any potential danger.
Did you know that to achieve REM sleep horses need to be able to lie flat on their side?
Roll on Spring!!
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!!
I was talking to a fellow horse owner last week who said “I don’t have physio, why would I pay for my horse to have physio?”
I said that if she had a pain she would be able to tell someone – get pain relief or make a physio appointment herself…….. her horse can’t!
Chartered Physiotherapists have at least 5 years training on humans and animals to perfect their skills to be able to pick up any subtle changes, we ask a lot from our horses whether we compete or just enjoy hacking around the Wirral!
Would you be able to tell the early warning signs that your horses is uncomfortable or in pain?
Regular physiotherapy checks can be vital in keeping your horse fit and pain free!
Still not sure whether physiotherapy can help? then send me a message or give me a ring 07740354930!