As is often the case with modern medicine and veterinary care, trends and advances made within the fields of human medicine are often followed in relatively short order by their introduction into the animal world too, and the equestrian world is often first off the mark.
With many comprehensive horse insurance policies now offering coverage for alternative therapies for horses when recommended by your vet, many horse owners now find themselves presented with the opportunity to try non-invasive alternative therapies that don’t require the administration of drugs for some of the various conditions that horses can be prone to.
The healing power of physical contact, manual muscle manipulation and hands-on healing is becoming ever more popular with horse and pony owners, and two of the most popular and widely recognised alternative therapies that are currently provided for horses within the UK, are body massage and chiropractic treatments.
Both of these treatment methods seek to address problems with the muscles, skeleton and limbs, that otherwise or traditionally would almost certainly have been treated or managed via surgery or medication, or often, a combination of both.
If you think your horse might benefit from a massage or chiropractic treatment but are not sure what the two different areas cover, what they are meant to do and if there are any problems associated with them, we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn more!
Massage for horses, much as massage for people, involves the firm but gentle manipulation of the skin and underlying muscles with the hands and fingers of an experienced equestrian masseur. Massage can be used to ease tension, relax the muscles and alleviate minor aches and pains, as well as warming up the muscles and helping to contribute to increasing freedom of movement.
The two types of massage techniques commonly used on horses are:
Generally, your veterinary surgeon will recommend a massage practitioner or refer you directly to an approved equine masseuse once they have established that your horse would benefit from this treatment. Alternatively, equine masseurs generally work on a freelance or self employed basis, so you may choose to go direct for an initial consultation to establish if equine massage might be beneficial to your horse.
A massage will normally take around an hour to complete, and will consist of the massage therapist physically manipulating the soft tissue of your horse’s body in firm, smooth strokes performed by the hands and fingers.
Equine massage can be used either reactively or pre-emptively to assist with a wide range of different conditions and complaints that can develop, including:
Generally, massage is considered to be a safe and non-invasive procedure, although correct training in its administration is required in order to avoid exacerbating any existing problems and ensure that the condition is improved upon successfully. If your horse is suffering from any skin conditions, inflammations, sore patches, broken skin, fractures, sprains or circulatory issues, massage may not be appropriate for your horse.
You should always discuss your horse’s full health and treatment history with your equine masseur before going ahead with any treatment.
Chiropractic treatments for horses, as for people, generally deal with issues to do with the back, and the treatment of issues of other areas of the body that have a root cause in misalignments or problems surrounding the back.
As a general rule, equine chiropractic treatment deals with subluxations (partial or incomplete dislocations or misalignments of one or more of the vertebrae of the back) which can cause pain, soft tissue damage and pressure and misalignments in other areas of the body too.
A chiropractic practitioner that specialises in treating horses will be concerned with identifying the root causes of the misalignments or subluxations, and adjusting and rebalancing them to return the spine (and so, the rest of the body) to correct alignment, removing the cause of the pain and any other associated problems.
As with equine massage, your vet will usually refer you to a specialist recommended equine chiropractic practitioner. A significant number of veterinary surgeons have an additional qualification in chiropractic therapy too, and many chiropractors who have qualified to work on people take an additional certification to be able to work on animals. You should ensure that any therapist (veterinary surgeon or otherwise) that works on your horse holds GCC (General Chiropractic Council) registration and has taken the appropriate certification to be able to work on horses.
A chiropractor will begin treatment by studying your horse’s case history, anatomy, movement and gait, before performing a palpation and orthopaedic exam to reinforce their findings. Then they will physically manipulate the vertebrae of the back to correct any issues and bring the spine back into alignment and as it should be.
Chiropractic therapy can be useful for a wide range of potential applications for your horse, including all of the following:
Correctly administered by a qualified professional, chiropractic treatments for your horse should be only a good thing with no risks or potential problems involved.
However, in the wrong hands, any pain or damage could be further exacerbated, or new problems can actually be caused. It is vital to only hire a qualified and experienced chiropractor who holds professional membership of the GCC in order to ensure that your horse remains safe and well under their care.
Never attempt either massage or chiropractic treatment on your horse yourself- unless of course you are a qualified and registered professional! Also, always seek advice from your vet before considering any course of treatment or alternative therapy for your horse.
Don’t stop administering any other medications that your horse might need without again consulting with your vet in the first instance.