The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine provides chiropractic care to large animal patients in our hospital and to equine patients on the farm through our Equine Field Service. If you have questions about our chiropractic services or believe your animal may benefit from chiropractic, please contact us at 540-231-4621 for in-hospital or on-farm treatment.
What is equine chiropractic?
Equine chiropractic is a component of equine health care that focuses on the relationship between structure (primarily the vertebral column) and function (as coordinated by the nervous system) and how that relationship affects the preservation of health. For example, reduced mobility between two vertebrae can affect the nerves that leave the spinal cord between these vertebrae. Alteration to the nerves can lead to problems such as pain, abnormal posture, or poorly coordinated movement.
Equine chiropractic is a form of manual therapy that uses short lever, high velocity, low amplitude, controlled thrusts. Forces are applied to specific articulations or anatomic regions (“adjustments”) to induce a therapeutic response via induced changes in joint structures, muscle function, and neurological reflexes. Chiropractic treatment does not replace traditional veterinary medicine; however, it can provide an additional means of diagnosis and treatment for a variety of musculoskeletal disorders.
How is equine chiropractic care used?
- To treat chronic musculoskeletal problems
- To treat acute problems such as tension or stiffness
- To treat prophylactic treatment to maintain fitness/performance
- To maintain soundness in older animals
- To enhance performance ability of sport animal
How do I know if my horse would benefit from chiropractic care?
Horses that may benefit from chiropractic care may present with many signs, the most common of which is pain. Horses with back pain often express this in their posture or in their refusal to work. A horse’s attempts to compensate for the pain by changing its posture and way of going can result in other problems such as joint problems. The following symptoms in a horse may indicate pain:
- Reduced performance
- Abnormal posture
- Snapping and pinning back its ears when being saddled
- Insubordination when being ridden
- Attempting to free itself by throwing its head back or up or by hollowing the back
- Swishing its tail and pinning back its ears
- Disobedience when jumping
- Difficulties with collected or lateral gaits
- Changes in behavior
- Frightened or painful facial expression
- Sensitivity to touch
Alterations of the spine can affect muscle coordination and mobility of the horse, thereby causing decreased performance. The following signs may occur:
- Unleveled gait rhythm
- Irregularity of gait which cannot be assigned to a particular leg or gait
- Stiffness when the horse leaves the stable
- Stiffness when bending and in its general posture
- Muscular atrophy
- Difficulty engaging the hindquarters
- Shortened stride in one or more legs
- Overall decreased range of motion in gait
- Difficulty flexing the poll
- Horse pulls against one rein
- Rider is seated off center due to the horse
- The back does not swing
How can I recognize subtle back problems in my horse?
Qualified equine chiropractors are trained to recognize and treat back problems. However, riders, horse trainers, and owners can monitor whether or not their horses are developing problems.
Examining mobility in your horse
The horse should be able to move freely in all directions without tension, with or without a rider.
- Using a treat if necessary, ask the horse to turn its head and neck to the side so that it touches its flank with its nostrils. Less mobility on one side compared to the other could indicate a problem in the cervical vertebrae.
- Test the lateral movement of the spine by placing one hand on the spine and with the other pull the horse’s tail carefully towards you so that its back bends around your hand. Is one side stiffer than the other?
- Place slight pressure on the back from above. The back should easily and evenly spring and swing. It should not feel stiff and hard.
Feeling the muscles
Examine the horse’s main muscle groups for pain, tension, and asymmetry. The muscles of a healthy animal should be symmetrical: feeling firmly elastic, but not too hard or too soft. If you place the muscles under moderate pressure, the animal should not show signs of being in pain.
Feeling the spine
Feel the spine from the withers to the tail, paying attention to any elevations and protruding areas of bone. Compare the two sacral tubercles (the bony points of the pelvis which protrude from the croup on both sides of the spine): These should be level. Look for any protruding areas of bone in the neck.
Some information on this page is adapted from the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association.
Our Certified Veterinary Chiropractic Practitioner
Dr. Rebecca Funk, DVM, MS, DACVIM
Certified in Animal Chiropractic by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association