By Julie Kaufman, DC, Certified Animal Chiropractor
HorseNAround Magazine, September 2016 Issue

Make no bones about it- When it comes to integrative medicine, things like chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, herbal medicine, and other non-invasive care for your horse just make sense. Natural techniques are proven, effective and well researched, showing many positive health effects.

When you think about it, medicine is a lot like painting. Would you want to paint a picture using only blues and grays? Or would it make sense to examine your entire color palette and choose the best colors for that specific painting? Your horse’s health demands the same thinking.

Unless you are dealing with an emergency situation, and you have had a thorough veterinary examination, it just makes sense to start with the least invasive and most cost-effective approaches to keeping your horse healthy and happy. Then, as needed, you can move into other options for the best health outcome.

Teamwork- Your equine veterinarian, chiropractor, acupuncturist, ophthalmologist, herbalist, massage therapist, orthopedic specialist, neurologist and other equine specialists need to work together as a team, optimizing your horse’s health. Look for a team of doctors who are dedicated to putting your horse’s health first. Start with a good diagnostic work-up and then utilize your team to choose the best approach to your horse’s care.

Deeper than bone out of place- Chiropractic has been around for thousands of years as a natural system of healing, and it’s more than cracking bones for back pain. Chiropractic goes far beyond simply treating musculoskeletal problems. By restoring normal range of motion to joints and muscles, chiropractic enhances many of the body’s systems such as the nervous system, or electrical network; the lymphatic system, or cell waste removal; and the immune system, or the body’s ability to fight infection. Research indicates that after a chiropractic adjustment, the immune system shows measurable increase in cells that fight infection![i] This is logical when you consider that immune cells are located within the bone marrow and are stimulated by chiropractic adjustments.

How does chiropractic work? –  Very simply, the goal of chiropractic is to restore health naturally. Chiropractic works to restore normal range of motion in joints, to restore normal muscle and soft tissue function, and to restore the electrical or nervous system. Chiropractic resets the “GPS” signals (mechanical receptors) found in muscles, joints, skin and other tissues. These GPS mechanisms reconnect the body to the brain after injury.

With good posture the body is able to operate at maximum performance, health and wellness. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is very accurate.

In a nutshell, mechanical injuries respond extremely well to mechanical approaches of healing (chiropractic).

The 9 warning signs that my horse needs to see a chiropractor –

  1. My horse has had a recent slip, fall or trauma. Accidents and injuries may cause large or small changes in the body. The body will compensate for the injuries. Sooner or later, comfort and performance will suffer.
  2. My horse’s behavior has suddenly changed. She’s just not herself. Rule-out pain first! Behavior changes are commonly attributed to
    • 90% pain, injury or illness
    • 7% ill-fitting saddles, harnesses, bridles, etc.
    • 3% Mental imbalance
  3. My horse is lame and the veterinarian can’t pinpoint the origin of the problem.
    • A team approach to lameness will include treating the whole body and often leads to faster healing and recovery. (See Eli’s story, below.)
  4. My horse is not able to take her leads or bend properly.
    • This is a good indicator that your horse may be suffering from a pelvic, sacroiliac, hip or soft-tissue misalignment. This is a common complaint, the causes for which are responsive to chiropractic care.
  5. My horse can’t keep his head in a soft frame, even after a dental examination.
    • After your horse has had a proper dental examination, if he is uncomfortable placing his head in a desired frame or is shaking his head, this may indicate discomfort in the jaw, head, neck or withers. There may be soft-tissue restrictions in any of these areas or more. This is a good time for a chiropractic evaluation.
  6. My horse just had her teeth done.
    • Jaw, neck and head pain are common as we progress with our modern dental procedures. The incorporation of speculums, sedatives and power tools can lead to chiropractic problems.
    • It is highly recommended to have a chiropractic examination within 14 days of a dental procedure EVERY TIME. Being sedated and held in a sling or brace frequently and easily causes misalignments of joints, soft tissue and nerves.
  7. My horse has muscle loss or topline changes along the spine, shoulder, or behind the shoulder blades.
    • Muscle loss, even in older horses, is not natural. It may indicate loss of nerve function or electrical impulses to the muscle. Muscle contracts 5 times per second when healthy. Chiropractic helps maintain a natural rate of signaling to muscle through healthy nerve pathways. Your certified animal chiropractor will check your saddle for areas of pressure and help you solve any issues there.
  8. My horse is uneven in one of her hips, shoulders, legs, eyes, ribcage, neck, withers, tail or chest.
    • While no horse or person is 100% even, good health depends on good posture. Think about this: if your horse has large vessels, arteries, veins and nerves running through his bony structures and the bones are zig-zagging, then he’s not getting full blood flow, electrical signal, lymphatic waste drainage and he’s not functioning at healthy levels. When you look at your horse and see unevenness, you may be looking at the mechanical cause of disease.
  9. My horse is having breathing problems or has been ill.
    • Horses that have heaves, COPD, or other respiratory challenges can benefit from chiropractic. The reason is twofold:
      • By restoring full range of motion to your horse’s ribs, spine and chest and by removing restrictions in respiratory muscle groups, your horse is mechanically better able to breathe.
      • By increasing your horse’s immune response through chiropractic, you are lowering her risk of disease and helping her heal.[ii]

Horse Chiropractic: the recent case of Eli the Belgian Draft Gelding –

Eli is a four-year-old Belgian draft horse that stands at 17.3 hands. He’s a “wheel horse” in a six-horse hitch. He is also used to plow, disc, spread manure and pull a wagon for parades and rides. Eli came up lame and non-weight-bearing on his left front leg. Hoof testers were applied with no conclusive evidence of an abscess or sole bruise. The farrier and veterinarian recommended chiropractic for Eli.

The chiropractic examination revealed a non-weight-bearing left front leg and moderate muscle and tendon swelling along the upper left forearm. Swelling was located over Eli’s shoulder blades and withers.  Eli’s neck and jaw were misaligned with swelling on the left side, indicating a probable fall or trauma.

Although there was no known history of trauma, Eli had been sharing a paddock with two young stud colts and well, … it’s anyone’s guess how Eli strained his upper leg, shoulder, shoulder blade, withers, jaw and left neck.

After one adjustment, Eli was directed to rest and his owners applied an inexpensive clay poultice to areas that were hot or swollen.

Two weeks later Eli was rechecked and showed a 90% improvement in joint movement and reduction in lameness. The chiropractor recommended an ultrasound to rule-out any suspensory ligament involvement which turned-out negative. After his second adjustment, Eli returned to the hitch and is pictured below, 100% sound and comfortable. Equine athletes like Eli deserve chiropractic care to maintain performance and comfort.

Stay tuned for Horse Chiropractic Part 2, which will cover

  • Different chiropractic techniques – which is right for your horse?
  • How will my horse benefit from regular chiropractic care?
  • Chiropractic care for performance horses, older horses, birth injuries, sports injuries, show horses, and foals.
  • How are chiropractors qualified and where do I find one?
  • How do I interview an animal chiropractor to find the best fit?

Dr. Julie Kaufman has been a practicing animal chiropractor since 1989. She is the owner of Animal Holistic Care Specialists of Wisconsin and author of JointYoga for Animals, and Crossing the Rubicon: Celebrating the Human-Animal Bond in Life and Death.

[i] Enhanced Phagocytic Cell Respiratory Burst Induced by Spinal Manipulation: Potential Role of Substance P.

Brennan PC, Kokjohn K, Kaltinger CJ, Lohr GE, Glendening C, Hondras MA, McGregor M, Triano JJ. J Manipulative Physiol Ther (1991): 14 (7) Sep: 399-408.

[ii] An Overview of Neuroimmunomodulation and a Possible Correlation with Musculoskeletal System Function. Fidelibus JC, J Manipulative Physiol Ther (1989): 12 (4) Aug: 289-292.

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