Equine, Horse & Rider, Human, News

Changes Ahead!

The last year has been an interesting year in regards to the pandemic and the affect it has had on work. As many of you will know I haven’t been able to be hands on for that much of the year. However I have been using the time to develop a few things.

Firstly I have been increasing my social media presence as well as being part of the Expert Academy run by NKC. This has really helped develop my way of thinking as well as offer support in the direction I would like to go. This was the first step in making some changes. NKC offer a number of online courses for owners such as equine first aid that you might find useful.

The second step was to start an MSc in McTimoney Animal Manipulation to help develop my skill set and offer more to the animals I treat. So in less than two years time I should be qualified and be able to work on your horse (or other animals) through joint manipulations and soft tissue making treatments more effective.

Thirdly I have decided to separate my equine part of my work from Lightspeed Sports Recovery. In the not to distant future there will be a separate website, facebook and instagram account for all horse related information. Those of you that are not horse people will be able to enjoy more information related to your needs through the Lightspeed Sports Recovery platform. Those that are horse fans will need to like the new pages when they are all complete. Updates on where to find these will follow soon.

I want to also say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported Lightspeed Sports Recovery especially through this last year. I am hoping that if the governments targets are met that I will be hands on again from April 12th. I look forward to seeing you all and helping relieve all your aches and pains very soon.

Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Know you Therapist!

As an owner it can often be confusing as to what the difference between some professions are and who might be the right professional to come and treat your horse.

Quite often I see people ask for a recommendation for a particular type of therapist e.g. a chiropractor and they get a large number of recommendations that are not chiropractors but massage therapist, for instance. This can make things even more confusing and sometimes you don’t realise you are not actually getting what you asked for. Below are some defining features of each profession to allow you the owner to make an informed decision on who is best suited to treat your horse.

Chiropractor

  • May be know as a back specialists
  • Manipulates joints with gentle and quick movements
  • May do some soft tissue work if qualified to do so
  • Can only be called Animal Chiropractor if qualified as a human chiropractor, otherwise they should be called Practitioner of Animal Manipulation. They are generally qualified through McTimoney Chiropractic College
  • Degree level qualification
  • RAMP and MAA registered
  • You may use one when your horse is suffering pelvic and back issues. Or if soft tissue work alone is not working. Soft tissue and manipulations combined make a very effective treatment combination.

Vet Physiotherapist

  • In the last couple of years an vet physiotherapist does not need to be qualified in human physiotherapy as they did in the past
  • Uses soft tissue techniques, equipment such as electo therapy and exercises to treat musculoskeletal issues
  • Degree level qualification
  • RAMP, ACPAT, IRVAP, CSP are some of the possible associations for a Vet physio to be registered with
  • You tend to use a physio when your horse is injured and needs rehabbing, however they do also do maintenance work

Equine Sport Massage/Bodyworker

  • Works on soft tissue through massage
  • May have additional qualifications such as acupressure, k-taping, myofascial release
  • There are several different courses available some more robust than others and it is worth looking into the number of hours, case studies and examinations they had to undergo to qualify
  • Possibly registered with ICAT, IAAT, ESMA, or IEBWA
  • Generally used when your horse is stiff and sore. Can be used before or after competition, to help during rehab or general maintenance to reduce the occurrence of overuse injuries.

There are other types of equine therapist that I have not mentioned but the above are the most commonly used by owners. It must be noted that none of the above professions should be diagnosing. This can only be performed by a vet. Also if your horse is lame then it needs to be seen by a vet before any of the above professions commence treatment, with the vets permission. Recently the need for vet permission to treat maintenance cases is no longer required.

Biomechanics, Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Part 2: Core Exercises for your horse

Carrot stretches

Most of you will have heard of carrot stretches but if not then they are a sequence of movements that dynamically mobilese and strengthen your horses core muscles. Narelle Stubbs and Hilary Clayton outline them in a book called ‘Activate your horse’s core’. This is a really good resource to have, and will show you how to get your horse to do the moves. It also shows you how to do other moves like belly lifts, tail pulls and weight shifts.

Belly Lifts

Belly lifts are a really good way to get your horse activating its core. It specifically works on the abdominal muscles but also brings the thoracic sling into play. To perform a belly lift you need to stand facing your horse’s side behind the elbow. Taking your hands apply pressure between the pectoral muscles on the sternum and gradually run your hands down towards the hind limb. Maintain the pressure as you do this. You should see that your horse lifts through its back. If not play around with the pressure until you find what works.

Backing up

Backing up causes the hind legs to get right underneath your horse this in turn engages the core muscles and helps strengthen them. It will also highlight whether one side is stronger than the other. You want your horse to move back in a straight line. To perform this move get your horse to stand square and then apply some pressure to their chest asking them to step back. Start with a few steps trying to keep as straight as possible and gradually increase the number of steps. This is also a really good way to get the hind limbs to loosen of before ridden work. This can also be performed when ridden.

Dock Rocks

These are similar to tail pulls but I prefer giving these to clients as they are not applying any unwanted pressure to the tail. Again dock rocks help strengthen the core muscles. They also help activate the quadricep muscles and the tensor fasciae latae which help to stabilise the hind legs. To perform this stand facing your horses side in line with the hindquarters. Hook your hand over the dock of your horses tail. Gently pull towards you in an arch so that your horses hindquarters gently come towards you. Relax and let your hand return back to the start. Perform this both sides. Start with 5 each side and then gradually increase the repetitions.

Pole work

Pole work is a great way to get your horse to activate its core and engage its hindquarters. It can be done in hand, ridden or on the lunge. Start off easy with one or two poles in a straight line. Gradually add poles over a number of weeks. Start in walk and then build to trot work. As your horse progresses you can start to raise the poles. Bring it back to one or two poles in walk and build the number of poles up gradually. Alter the distances between poles, create different patterns such as a circle or riding them over a triangle and getting them to bend. If you do this regularly to you start to notice a difference in your horses athleticism.

Long and low work

It is really important to give your horse a session where you have minimal collection. Allow your horse to stretch their necks down while working. A whole session be it schooling or out on a hack (if save to do so) would be beneficial. You can use it as a gentle active recovery session in their training plan. It will allow your horse to stretch and lift through its topline, activating its core muscles

Above are a number of exercises that will help any horse develop their core muscles even top competition horses. It will help develop suppleness, strength and resilience reducing the occurrence of injuries and allowing your horse to train and compete more efficiently and effectively.

If you have any queries please do contact Pollyanna

Anatomy, Biomechanics, Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Part one: Core Muscles of the Horse

The core muscles is a term banded about quite a lot but what makes up the core muscles of a horse? Well quite a few in fact. The core muscles are the muscles that stabilise the back and pelvis. They include the abdominal muscle group, sub lumbar muscle group and the epaxial muscle group.

A strong core is important for horses as it is in humans. By developing a strong core a stable foundation can be developed to allow the horse to be balanced while moving. This reduces the chances of injuries as your horse will be able to cope physically with changes around them such as uneven surfaces or slipping. It also helps with posture and allows your horse to manage the weight of a rider by being able to lift through their back.

Below is a brief summary of the muscles that make up your horses core in part two core exercises will be described so that you can help strengthen your horses core.

Abdominal muscles

Rectus Abdominis

Origin: Sternum, xiphoid process, costal cartilage 4-9

Insertion: Prepubic tendon

Function: Aids in defacation, giving birth, and expiration. Supports the abdomen and flexes the back

Transversus Abdominis

Origin: Medial surface of asternal ribs thoracolumbar fascia, transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae

Insertion: Aponeurosis to linea alba, xiphoid cartilage

Function: Aids in defacation, giving birth and expiration. Supports the abdomen

Internal Obliques

Origin: Tuber coax and inguinal ligament

Insertion: Aponeurosis to linea alba, ribs 18, costal cartilage 14-18 and prepubic tendon

Function: Aids in defacation, giving birth and expiration. Supports the abdomen

External Obliques

Origin: Costal part lateral surface of ribs 4-18. Lumbar part thoracolumbar fascia

Insertion: Costal part linea alba and pubic tendon. Lumbar part inguinal ligament and tuber coxae

Function: Aids in defacation, giving birth and expiration. Supports the abdomen

The abdominal muscle group as you can see mainly supports the abdomen and are involved in bodily functions as in breathing and going to the toilet. The abdominals also help support the trunk when exercising. When engaged they help lift through the back giving the horse a top line that can deal with carrying a rider and complex movement patterns like jumping or dressage moves.

Sub lumbar muscles

Iliacus

Origin: Sacropelvic surface of ilium, pelvic surface of sacrum and tendon of psoas minor

Insertion: Lesser trochanter of the femur

Function: Flexes and rotates hip joint laterally, moves limb forward

Psoas Major

Origin: Ribs 17-18, ventral surface of bodies and transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae

Insertion: Lesser trochanter of femur

Function: Flexes hip joint, moves limb forward and laterally rotates limb

Fuses with iliacus to form iliopsoas complex

Psoas Minor

Origin: Bodies of Thoracic vertebrae 17-18 and lumbar vertebrae 1-5

Insertion: Ilium and tubercle of psoas minor

Function: With the vertebral column fixed it draws the pelvis forward. With the pelvis fixed it flexed the vertebral column

The sub lumbar muscle group connects the back and pelvis. It helps stabilise these two components allowing them to function at a higher capacity without sustaining an injury. There are other muscles like the gluteals that also help but these will be discussed another time. The sub lumbar muscle group are the deeper muscles that function as part of the core.

Epaxial muscles

Multifidus (thoracic and lumbar part)

Origin: Artucilar and maxillary processes of sacrum, lumbar and thoracic vertebra

Insertion: Spinous processes of thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, spinous process of cervical vertebrae 7

Function: Bilaterally extends back, unilaterally bends vertebral column laterally and rotetes

Longissimus (cervics and dorsi)

Origin: Cervics portion transverse processes of thoracic vertebrae 1-7 and thoracic part of longissumus dorsi. Longissumus dorsi wing of iliac bone, spinous processes of sacrum, lumbar and thoracic vertebrae

Insertion: Cervicis portion transverse processes of cervical vertebra 4-7. Longissimus dorsi transverse and maxillary processes of cervical vertebrae 4-7 and tubercles of ribs

Function: Extends back and neck, stabilises vertebral column

Iliocostalis

Origin: Transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae 1-5, cranial margins of ribs

Insertion: Cuadal margins of ribs 1-15, transverse process of cervical vertebrae 7

Function: Bilaterally extends and stabilises vertebral column. Unilaterally bends back

The epaxial muscle group are located along the back unlike the abdominal muscle group. They solely focus on stabilising and moving the back.

So this is a brief summary of the muscles that make up the deep core of the horse. Hopefully it will allow you to have a better understanding of their role and location to help you work with your horse. To further this understanding the second part will discuss exercises that will strengthen all the above muscles.

Biomechanics, Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Overuse injuries in horses

Injuries are always a worry for horse owners, they can be expensive, time consuming and painful for your horses. Overuse injuries are something that owners can help reduce. Read on if you would like to know more about overuse injuries and how you as an owner can reduce them.

What is an overuse injury?

As in humans overuse injuries in horses occur due to a build up of micro trauma to tissues and the tissue is unable to repair quickly enough. When training to gain fitness and strength you want to overload your body but you need to give your body time to remodel and repair to be stronger. This is the same in horses. If they are not given the opportunity to recover after training then these micro traumas build up and can cause overuse injuries.

While humans can verbalise discomfort and pain horses often hide this making it really difficult for owners to know when there is something wrong. It is therefore important to know the potential causes of overuse injuries so that you can reduce there impact on your horse.

Causes of Overuse Injuries

Training & Fitness

Horses like humans can be unfit so it is imperative that training is planned to take the horses fitness level into consideration. The training load and frequency want to be increased gradually to allow the body to adjust. If the training load and frequency are increased suddenly and quickly then the horse is unable to make this adjustment and overuse injuries can occur.

Another important aspect of training is giving the horse enough rest time between training sessions. Giving your horse two or more days off a week is a good thing. It allows there bodies to repair and gives them some down time, however if stabled then an in hand walk would be of benefit to allow them to stretch muscles and joints out.

Training should also have different intensities, duration and activities (schooling, hacking, jumping) to create more physiological adaptation in your horse (increase their fitness). If you always keep everything the same then staleness and boredom can set in. By mixing it up you will get better fitness gains and a reduced risk of overuse injuries

Confirmation and Biomechanics

Horses come in so many different shapes and sizes. Some have been breed for specific traits that predispose them to be better suited to a job. As an owner we do need to look at our horses to see if their confirmation suits what we want to do with them. By doing this we can give the horse the best possible chance of not sustaining injuries due to their confirmation. Their confirmation will dictate how they biomechanically move and also show up as tightness in certain areas. For instance I have an ISH who has medial rotation on his lower front limb. This means that he gets tightness in his shoulder. To add to that he has a long neck so quite often he is tight through that shoulder and the base of neck. Regular bodywork in the form of massage, and mobilising stretches (carrot stretches) help reduce tightness and overuse injuries.

Equipment

Ill fitting tack can cause overuse injuries by placing undue stress on certain structures such as the shoulder and back. The pressure created can cause atrophy of muscle, a change in biomechanics, stress on other areas, and inflammation. Checking tack regularly by a good saddler will help reduce any overuse injuries from poorly fitting tack.

Foot balance

Foot balance is really important in horses. Having a long toes for example puts unwanted strain on structures above and will result in overuse injuries. A farrier should be able to maintain a balance that is suited to your horse. Regular visits should also occur (4-6weeks). Horses hoofs do grow at different rates through the year and so you may even need to change your trimming or shoeing schedule to fit in with this. It is also imperative to be feeding your horse a balanced diet that encourages good hoof growth.

Diet

The fuel you put into your horse is important on many levels. Firstly it helps a horse recover after exercise and gives them the energy requirements to perform that exercise without having to use alternative sources like muscle. Secondly a well balanced diet gives all the nutrients to develop strong hooves. If your horse has not got good hoof structure then this will create issues for the rest of the body.

It is also very important for young horses to be getting a good balanced diet so that they don’t develop any growth issues. It is particularly important to look at copper, zinc and magnesium levels as these are all involved with bone development.

Overuse injuries can be caused by many different factors but as owners if we make sure diet, training load, tack, trimming/shoeing and conformational issues are acknowledged and monitored than the prevalence of overuse injuries can be reduced.

Anatomy, Biomechanics, Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Musculoskeletal pain: Potential causes in horses

Pain is something that most horse owners are aware off and as owners we do worry whether are equine friend is in pain. Horses are very stoic creatures, in that I mean they don’t always show us when they are in pain. As a result we need to get good at reading the signs which were discussed in a previous post (Equine Pain: Are we missing the signs)

Can we as owners help reduce the chance of our horses feeling pain? Well yes to a certain extent. Below is a dicussion on potential causes of musculoskeletal pain in horses, which in turn may help owners to reduce the likely hood of horses experiencing pain or at least chronic pain.

Tack

Tack is a big area that most owners know can cause discomfort and there is a lot of research being conducted into the amounts of pressure tack can produce. Centaur Biomechanics have been doing a lot of research into saddle , girth and bridle pressure. The results are fascinating and illuminating.

Noseband pressure can be immense and quite a bit greater than saddle pressure. So it is really important to make sure all your tack fits. It doesn’t need to be expensive tack as this isn’t a guarantee it will fit your horse. If in doubt then make sure you get a properly qualified saddle fitter to check. Make sure your tack is checked regularly especially if your horse loses or gains weight.

Soreness from Exercise

As humans you have all felt what we call delayed onset muscle soreness. Where we exercise and then 24-72 hours later our muscles feel sore and stiff. Well horses potentially experience the same thing from hard bouts of exercise. This is not long lasting and with time will go, but it is something to be aware of.

This is something that can easily be solved by introducing massage post competition or after heavy training sessions. It will promote recovery and well being in your horse allowing you to train harder with your horse and reduce the chances of injuries occurring.

Another point to consider is incorporating recovery time into your horses training. This can be full rest or a light ride on a lose rein (where it is safe to) or a combination of both. Recovery time is when your horses body heals itself from exercise by doing this your horse becomes fitter. If we work our horses hard all the time without rest then overuse injuries and illness can be more prevalent and affect their ability to train and get fitter.

Trauma

A fall or impact can cause contusions to muscles. This causes bleeding within the muscle resulting in bruising, however due to horses having fur it is not always possible to see if swelling is not present. If you know your horse has sustained an impact injury then massage is to be avoided in the first few days. Instead hose or ice the area. This reduces swelling and the cold helps relieve some pain. In some cases an impact can lead to myosotis ossificans, which is where bone forms inside the muscle.

Trauma can occur to joints, this can be from an impact which can cause joint disruption. As a result ligaments, tendons, bone fractures and cartilage damage can all occur. Joints can also become inflamed from less minor injuries and osteoarthritis can also occur in joints.

Bones can fractures or crack from impact or overuse. If the horse doesn’t get enough recovery time then micro cracks (stress fractures) can form. Bones heel much better than tendons and ligaments but this is dependant on where the fracture is.

Tendon and Muscle Strains

Tendons are less elastic than muscles so often when the muscle is tight the tendon takes up the load and as result is more likely to get injured. Unfortunately tendons also don’t have as good blood supply as muscle, so do take longer to heal. By allowing your horse recovery time and having regular body work sessions muscle and tendon strains can be reduced considerably.

Bone Disease

Bone disease can be due to nutrition or genetics. If it is genetics then this is harder to deal with but as an owner nutrition is something we can influence. Making sure your horse has a good balanced diet will help reduce bone disease. Making sure your horse is getting copper, zinc, magnesium and vitamin A and D. It can be difficult getting the right balance so if in doubt then seek advice from a nutritionalist. If bone disease is genetic then your horse needs veterinary guidance to develop a plan that will help reduce their pain and impact on their everyday life.

Past Injuries

Past injuries can leave scar tissue, which can create stiffness and be sore. Having regular body work can help reduce this. Joints that have previously been injured can develop osteoarthritis. Again veterinary advice may need to be taken to help develop a management plan.

Ulcers

Ulcers can be quite prevalent and often a result of stress. Removing the stress, altering diet and treating the ulcers will help to get rid of them. Quite often ulcers can form due to chronic pain. So it is worth looking at your whole horse when combating ulcers.

Myopathies (muscle disease)

Myopathies are often put under the umbrella term tying up. They are either genetic or acquired later in life. I am not going to go into much detail of what they are but this can cause horses muscle stiffness and soreness. If managed correctly with exercise, diet and body work then this can be hugely reduced.

As you can see there are a number of things that can affect musculoskeletal pain and the above is no way all of them. If your horse is in pain then do consult your vet as soon as you notice any change in behaviour. This will help reduce vet bills and your horses suffering. From there a plan can be put in place to manage your horses pain.

Horse & Rider, Human

The Core of it: Core and Riding

In recent years the core of a rider is being highlighted and discussed more than it ever has. People are starting to understand the importance of a good core and how it can help with riding. So often none horsey people think that you just sit on a horse and give it a squeeze and then the horse gets on with it and the rider just sits there being fairly inactive. This is far from the truth. So what muscles are involved with riding and how can we improve our bodies to help our horses?

What are core muscles?

Generally when talking about the core it is the deep core that is being referred to. The deep core encompasses the pelvic floor (and gentlemen you do possess one), transverse abdominis and multifidi.

The pelvic floor and transverse abdominis are quite easy to teach people how to engage as they are easy to feel. However the mutlifidi are a bit harder due to the fact that they are made up of lots of little muscles attached to the spine so trying to isolate to activate is difficult. By activating the pelvic floor and the transverse abdominis the multifid also activate and help to stabilise through the back.

The transverse abdominis is like a corset wrapping from the spine to the front between the ribs and hips. It is classed as one of the abdominal muscles. The pelvic floor spans the inside floor of the pelvis it supports the abdominal and pelvic contents.

How to activate your core

Pelvis floor

To activate your pelvic floor you want to draw up as though you are trying to stop peeing mid flow. For guys the best way to describe it is ‘nuts to guts’. A really good way to see if you pelvic floor is functioning is to actually try to stop peeing mid flow. If you find this difficult than working on engaging your pelvic floor will be really beneficial. You will also find it helps hugely with you riding.

Transverse abdominis

The best way to start is lying on your back with your knees bent. Find the front of your hip bones. Slide the fingertip to the inside of the hip bones and you should find it soft. If you then try drawing in as though you are trying to get a pair of trousers on that are a bit to tight you will feel the muscle activate underneath your finger tips. You want to make sure you are activating below the belly button.

Practice activating both the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis and try and hold for 10 seconds repeat this a couple of times. Once you feel you have achieved this try activating them together.

Try activating your core when riding. You may find the first time you activate your horse might stop. Using your core in this way helps control your horse through your seat. Once you get used to activating the core you will be able to adjust the amount of activation to allow you to fine tune the response you get from you horse. Have a play around with this.

The above outlines the deep core and some very basic exercises you can do to start improving your core activation and ultimately your seat when riding. In future blogs we will delve into more complex exercises and discuss other muscles that can also help with your riding.

Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury Management

Equine Joint Supplements

The area of supplements for horses is quite a minefield and its difficult to know what to give or not to give your horse. I know as a horse owner I have looked at many a product wondering whether it would actually benefit my horse. I have a 19 year old horse and have often looked into joint supplements but its hard to know which are beneficial or not. This post will hopefully help you as an owner to make a more informed decision on the matter

Horse joints

The main areas of focus would be the joints of the legs as they are predominantly weight bearing and therefore undergo a lot of wear and tear. Synovial joints are the most mobile so are often affected the most. Synovial joints are generally composed of a joint capsule with articular cartilage on the surfaces of the bones that meet. The synovial capsule allows fluid to be retained in the joint helping with lubrication and the articular cartilage is a smooth surface that allows the bony ends to glide over each other. These structures can become damaged over time through repetitive use and traumatic damage. Osteoarthritis (OA) can also develop which can cause painful and stiff joints.

Risk factors of joint damage and OA

  • High intensity activities
  • High volume of exercise
  • How many years training at a high level
  • Training surfaces- training on hard ground would have an impact on joints
  • Type of training- Jumping exercises would carry a much greater impact than leisure hacking
  • Conformation- how a horse is put together will affect stress placed on certain joints
  • Hoof balance- How a horse is shod and trimmed will also affect load on joints

From the above list it can be seen that as an owner you can reduce the risk to your horses joints by making decisions not to gallop, canter or jump your horse when the ground is to hard. Making sure you have a balanced training plan that allows recovery time. Allowing your horse to have regular bodywork sessions to reduce any muscle tension and to help with any conformational issues. Having a good farrier or foot specialist. Also a well balanced diet. All these can help reduce the impact to your horses joints without having to spend lots of money on specific joint supplements.

Joint Supplements

Above I mentioned what you can do to reduce the risk, which is the long run can be a cheaper way to maintain a healthy active horse into old age. However you may feel your horse needs a helping hand so what should you be looking for in a joint supplement. Below are some of the key ingredients that should probably be present for it to have any benefit.

Chondrotin Sulphate

Chondrotin sulphate is anti inflammatory, helps protect joints, controls water content in cartilage and reduces friction in a joint. There is some research to indicate that it can be absorbed allowing it to have some bioavailability to horses and helps with osteoarthritis. Combined with glucosamine it is thought to be more effective.

Glucosamine

Glucosamine helps with collagen synthesis, and reduces joint degradation. It has very good availability to be absorbed in the gut

MSM

MSM is available in the horses natural diet and provides sulphur which helps repair collagen, however through processing and drying this can be lost. It is anti inflammatory and has analgesic properties. As horses get older then their levels of MSM decrease so supplementing them may have some benefit.

Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids

Omega-6 fatty acids are considered pro inflammatory due to the fact that they are involved in vital body functions such as blood pressure, blood clotting and immune responses which are needed in the body.

Omega-3 fatty acids are deemed anti inflammatory because they decrease blood clotting and inflammatory responses as a result omega-3 can help to reduce inflammation in joints. Good sources of omega-3 are from linseed and fish oil.

So the above products in a supplement can potentially have a beneficial affect on joints but more research needs to be done. One thing you do need to look out for is the quantities of each ingredient in some products. If the product doesn’t have enough then it is pointless and you will be wasting money. Chondrotin sulphate glucosamine and MSM are not cheap ingredients so expect to pay a lot of money for a product that will be effective. Adding Omega oils to a well balanced diet and reducing the risk factors of joint damage will probably be a much more cost effective and simple way of keeping your horse fit and healthy into old age.

Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Autumnal changes in your horse

Autumn definitely feels like it is coming and I don’t know about you but my horses are telling me about it. One of my horses Travis has always been very opinionated about the arrival of Autumn, quite frequently all four legs will leave the floor followed by a grunt to say “I am not happy about this change in weather”. He seems to get a sudden fear of dogs alone in the woods, which the rest of the year is absolutely fine. Do you find that your horse has any behavioural changes or perhaps physical changes other than a thicker coat.

Another of my horses doesn’t change his mood or behaviour but is showing more signs of back stiffness. The colder nights can cause muscles to tighten and present as sensitive or sore to touch. Your horse may be showing signs of being uncomfortable when being saddled. Such as trying to bite, dipping away when the saddle is placed on the back, pinning years back, showing the white of the eye, tossing their heads. The list can go on. This can be quite mild or severe.

The above signs can also be indicative of ulcers present but if this is sporadic and coincides with when the temperature drops it could just be some tightness or stiffness due to the cold. Horses sometimes shiver to help keep themselves warm or tighten through their muscles when the temperatures are low. Try and think how you feel when cold. Your body closes down your muscles feel tight and tired this is the same for the horse.

So what can you do to help your horse

Rug or not to rug!

This is always a difficult thing at this time of year. My general rule is to rug when under 7 degrees or if below 10 degrees and it is raining if not clipped. However if your horse has shelter then rugging can be much less if at all (this does depend on breed). This is a matter of preference but as owners we do tend to over rug horses. The only exception I have been making recently with one of my own horses is because he has been showing some soreness through his back and it correlates with the colder nights. As a result I would suggest rugging in this instance so that his muscles don’t tighten up. This could also be applied to older horses, who generally experience more muscle stiffness. A light rug or sheet would just help keep the back warm during the night and hopefully reduce the occurrence of a sore back.

Massage

It might not be your horses back but a hind leg or shoulder that they suffer stiffness. Massaging the muscles around this area before tacking up can really helps loosen up by increasing blood flow into the area. If you are unsure what to do ask your body worker or massage therapist to show you.

Carrot stretches

Using carrot stretches before work can also help to loosen and engage the core. Keep them gentle and don’t hold them for long periods of time. We want the horses to mobilise through the body rather than hold a stretch. This will create a horse than is ready for exercise. In hand exercise such as stepping under, belly lifts, pelvic tucks, walking backwards can all help as well.

Apply heat

The use of heat can also help. Use a heat pad or hot water bottle but make sure it is not to hot. Placing over the area that is often stiff will help draw blood into the area and soften the tissue. Massage will have a similar effect

Warm up slowly

When starting your ridden work start off in walk for longer asking your horse to stretch long and low before collecting them up. Get your horse to bend to either side while still on a lose rein. This will encourage lengthening through the back and sides, engage the core and mobile joints. You can carry this into a trot as well, once you have loosened the horse then you should find that their movement should be loser. You may find that lunging before ridden work may also help. It also allows you to see how your horse is moving and where they might be stiff.

Lateral work further into your ridden session can also help to loosen up.

Stretching

Holding stretches is something you want to avoid when your horse is not warm. Always think of dynamic stretches i.e. movement through a range rather than static holds. Static stretching doesn’t prepare the body as well for exercise as dynamic stretches do. At the end of exercise when the horse is still warm or through massage then static stretches can be used to help ease tension in an area. Again this is something your body worker or massage therapist can show you.

If your horse does show signs of discomfort on a regular basis then a vet should be consulted to make sure there are no other underlying issues. Always make sure you have your saddle regularly checked especially at seasonal changes as your horse can change shape. Lastly regular massages can really help all horses from field companions to top level competition horses throughout the year.

If you would like to discuss any musculoskeletal issues your horse is experiencing please do get in touch with Pollyanna by using the buttons below

Biomechanics, Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Horse Pilates: Encouraging core engagement through movement

In the run up and during lockdown my clients and friends have increasingly been using the words Horse Pilates to describe part of what I do to help horses move better. To the point that even the Daily Telegraph have used that term in an article published recently. So I thought a blog post about Horse Pilates was needed.

What is Horse Pilates?

Human Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates. He develop it when in the UK to help injured soldiers from the War to recover. Pilates believed that mental and physical health are closely linked and this is something that can be taken and applied to horses. Pilates is a low impact set of exercises aimed at strengthening muscles while improving postural alignment and flexibility. Any fitness level can benefit and Pilates exercises should be part of any training or rehab plan for a horse.

The focus of Pilates exercises are on the core. However it should also include other areas such as the hips, abdominals, back, inner and outer thigh. The core is the foundation and these other areas are all connected and need to be able to function as a whole.

In regard to horses what we term carrot stretches were a series of movements developed by Hillary Clayton and Narelle Stubbs and can be coined as the first form of Pilates exercises for horses. These exercises help develop the deep core and spinal muscles. They are a combination of stretches, stabilising exercises and lifts which are the first port of call to develop core. However with any exercise caution should be taken that it is the correct exercise for your horse and therefore consulting a professional to help is really important.

Intermediate & Advanced Pilates

Hilary Clayton and Narelle Stubbs exercises could be termed your beginner Pilates for horses as with human Pilates beginner exercise should still be practiced by intermediate and advanced students as it makes sure the deep core muscles are functioning and that the global muscles have not taken over, which often happens in very athletic inviduals. If this happens then the individual is more open to injury and it would be the same in the horse. However a horse can be stretched further so including straight line pole work and walking backwards would be the next step up. The horse can be progressed further by introducing raised poles (cavelletis) and lateral movement such as stepping under. Pole work on circles and in trot would progress things even further, shoulder in from the ground all increase the demand and complexity of the movement.

By working with your horse from the ground you can also develop your partnership with your horse. You don’t want to be doing lots of reps. This isn’t about increasing cardio fitness but about developing finer movements that are controlled. As the horse is able to control their movement through the use of its core muscles then its ability to work under saddle will greatly improve. Their balance will be better and there will be improvement in dealing with a rider on board. This is also a key time to work on yourself and develop your core strength. Your horse will appreciate this hugely.

So every horse can benefit from Pilate type exercise being added to their exercise regime. However professional help should be sort to guide you as the owner as to what would benefit your horse. If you would like to discuss things further do contact Pollyanna.