Equine connections part 1
Lieneke Gijsbertsen – Equine Osteopath (ICREO)
The horse is an incredible athlete capable of amazing performance. Health is a crucial factor for any athlete in order to be able to perform at its maximum capacity.
Health, as described by the World Health Organisation, is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease.
We should always want to take great interest in how we can keep our equine athlete happy and healthy, so he can be on top of his game. As with human athletes, physical activity, athletic performance and recovery from exercise in horses is not just a factor of favourable genetics and training. The whole management of the equine athlete should be focused on its optimum wellbeing. Besides stable management, nutrition, and training, an equine therapist can make a significant contribution to overall athletic development, sports management, and health in your horse.
Osteopathy is an anatomy and physiology based form of manual therapy which looks at biomechanics and neurological connections within the horse. It emphasises manual readjustments, physical manipulations, muscle techniques and myofascial release.
The philosophy is based on the idea that any restriction in movement will lead to health deficits and injuries. Osteopathy is all about connections within the body and finding the restricting link.
A practical example
Recently I was called in for a four and half year old gelding with high expressive movements.
He was six weeks in training and had shown irregularities/ lameness on his left front leg mainly in trot. The vet could not find any reason for this lameness. The horse was in good overall health had a well considered nutrition plan and was trained by an experienced trainer.
The vet prescribed NSAIDs but the lameness did not improve. When i was called the horse was not on any kind of medication and appeared alert and happy.
In observation I noticed this was a horse with a lot of mobility in his body and huge movements. An important thing to remember is that all mobility should be stabilized by muscle control.
A thing i come across a lot in young Icelandic horses is that they have lots of mobility (sometimes hypermobile) but do not yet have the strength and muscle control to stabilise their movements and are therefore more likely to get injured. In observations he was clearly irregular on the left front in trot, and as expected it was worse on the lefthand circle.
Being an osteopath i do not focus so much on the visible problem (left front lameness in this case) as well as the possible cause of the physical problem. Because the physical problem we notice is often a result of restrictions elsewhere in the body.
When i checked his body i noticed three major restricted points,
● His lumbar spine was stiff and therefore he was not able to put his hind end completely under.
● The fascia of his lower back (fascia thoracolumbalis) was also restricted.
● There was a blockage of the lower neck.
Fig 1. M. Latissimus dorsi
You might imagine that a restriction on the lower back fascia will limit the ability to length this muscle as it did in this specific case. As you can see the muscle is attached to the forearm of the horse. When the muscle cannot get to its full length it will restrict the forward movement of the leg.
Because of this restriction the m.latissimus dorsi was not able to make length on the left side, therefore the left shoulder was restricted in its movement which resulted in a shorter step on the left front.
Because of restrictions of the lumbar spine, the hind leg (especially right), was not able to step under and therefore the left front (since legs work in diagonal pairs) was loaded more than it should have.
So now we have a young horse with big movements with a shorter step and to much loading on the left front. Because of this shorter step a restriction of the lower cervical spine occured.
A blockage of the lower cervical spine influences the innervation and vascularisation of the shoulder. It’s like stepping on a hose while watering the plants.. water will still come out a bit
but not enough to keep the plants healthy.
So the combination of extra load bearing and shorter step resulted in this case in an overload and strain injury of the left shoulder.
The restricted flow caused by the neck blockage made it worse and obstructed the healing which led to recurrent lameness of the left front.
The aim of the treatment was to restore the movement in the lower back and neck.
A rehabilitation plan was made with the trainer.
After treatment the training consisted maily groundwork with emphasis on mobility and stability for the first week.
Within a week after treatment the lameness no longer visible.
Within three weeks after treatment the horse was vetcheked and approved.
These results can only be achieved by teamwork. In this case between vet, osteopath and trainer.
For the best results teamwork and complete management are required.
If you want an equine therapist for your horse make sure you ask the following questions;
1. Which education is followed by the therapist?
2. How many horses does the therapist see a week?
3. Who are his partners in teamwork?
4. Can the therapist provide with references?