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!