Tack n' Talk

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Archive for October, 2011

Hydrotherapy: Why and how it works.

Sea water has been recognized as an aid to the treatment and prevention of leg problems in horses for centuries.   Red Rum, the infamous Grand National winner, would not have been racing at all for not the benefits of training on the beach!

A common modality, cold water hosing, cools the skin surface but the uncontrolled water temperature  may not be cold enough to affect the structures most often involved in injury.  Cod sea water, in particular, has an anti-inflammatory effect which facilities healing and helps guard against injury.  Consequently, inventors over the past number of years have been patenting numerous devices replicating the benefits of cold sea water into a controlled environment.

To understand how cold water hydrotherapy works, we first need to understand how the horse’s body reacts to trauma.  Enzymes and proteins are released when cells are injured causing the blood vessel walls in that area to dilate and become more porous.  The lymphocytes are directed to the site of the trauma passing through the porous membranes, entering the injured tissues to being fighting the infection.  Extra fluids, carrying oxygen and proteins for tissue repair, also gather around the injured area as tissue damage triggers the secretion of hormones which are responsible for pain the horse feels.  Pain, heat and swelling are the three main symptoms of inflammation.  Pain helps prevent the overuse of the affected area.  Heat results from the increased blood flow and swelling helps immobilize the area.  All necessary in the healing process of the injured area.

When inflammation rages out of control hindering the healing process, hypoxic injury may occur.  The flow of blood and lymph tends to stall when additional pressure by the fluid build up increases.  The safest way to break this destructive cycle of secondary cell injury, hypoxic injury, is to use the horse’s circulatory system to remove excess fluids that have collected in the tissues.  There are two natural ways of removing excess fluids – applying heat and applying cold.  However, heat should never be applied to an acute injury!

Cold water therapy triggers three basic reactions.  At the cellular level, the metabolic response of the cells is reduced so less oxygen is needed to function and therefore less hypoxic injury occurs.  Cold therapy also decreases the permeability of the blood vessel walls reducing the amount of fluid that accumulates in the injured area while the cold numbs the area to a certain degree acting as a topical analgesic.

Cold hosing is one of the simplest forms of hydrotherapy and a new injury can benefit from being cold hosed for about 20 minutes at a time as often as possible.  Shorter periods of time are not beneficial as the blood vessels are not given enough time to react.

Ice can provide concentrated cold response which can stimulate faster results.  The only disadvantage is that the horse’s body heat them up rendering them ineffective after a short period of time.  However, applying ice for 15 – 20 minutes every 2 hours seems to have the best effect.  Longer applications may lead to tissue damage.

Over the past 20 years there have been major advances in the design of Equine Spas.  During the 1990s there was considerable amount of anecdotal evidence that was reports to the excellent results achieved in horse leg injuries.  Trials were conducted at the University of Sydney to establish an independent verdict on the benefits of cold water hydrotherapy.   Positive results were found across a whole range of leg injuries.  As well, horses with open wounds responded very rapidly to treatment, hoof growth was stimulated, laminitis responded well and even navicular syndrome responded in 2 out of 3 cases.  Today, equine therapeutic spas have spread across Europe and North America with similar results being experienced!


What is Equine Reiki?

It is said that Reiki is a simple  oriental method of working with energy. It is non-invasive and it holds no religious attachments.

Reiki originally came from Japan  and was founded by Mikao Usui who was very much about working on oneself.  It was a method that could be used for self-healing, self-development & spiritual development. Healing others was a minor aspect of the system; it was simply something you could do if you followed Usui’s system.  The word Reiki means  ‘a system that has been arrived at through a moment of enlightenment’.

Now being classed as a complementary therapy,  when Reiki first came to North America in the 1970’s, Reiki teaching has focused  more on Reiki as a treatment technique, which involves the hands-on treatment method of channelling of specific energy.

It is said that one of the most dramatic observations of Reiki is that the “Reiki” doesn’t appear to run out, which means that Reiki practitioners can continue treating people and animals all day and the Reiki will flow just as strongly as when they started at the beginning of the day. Apparently, this differentiates Reiki from many other healing systems as other techniques involve the use of the physical energy from the body as the energy source, which drains the physical energy from the practitioner.  This means that the overall effectiveness of the treatment is dependent upon the wellbeing and vitality of the practitioner and the number of patients that can be treated in a day depends upon the practitioner’s ability to ‘recharge’ his physical energy.

Reiki is thought to be intelligent energy, it goes where it is needed.  Reiki practitioners are not trained to diagnose problems, they may have an inclination as to where the problem is, however, legally Reiki practitioners are not allowed to diagnose a problem or suggest treatment. If the client would like a diagnosis for their symptoms, they should seek veterinarian advice.

Unfortunately there are no scientifically proven cases of how Reiki can help your horse, however, listed below are some of the problems that some have found Reiki to be of help:

  • Sweet itch
  • Tendon Injuries
  • Ligament Injuries
  • Laminitis
  • Colic
  • Loading problems
  • Spooking
  • Emotional issues
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite loss
  • Weaving
  • Wind sucking
  • Cribbing
  • Stall walking
  • Physical Injuries
  • Pre-show nerves
  • Competition stress (for horse and rider!)
  • Performance
  • Separation anxiety
  • Owner horse relations
Before a Reiki Practitioner performs a Reiki treatment on your horse, first seek approval from your vet. This can consist of a simple phone call, to establish that your Vet is happy for your horse to receive Reiki.  Please remember that Reiki is a complementary therapy and should not be intended to replace medical or veterinary care and advice.

Equine Chiropractic

The horse’s spine is a collection of irregular bones called vertebrae that fit together in a specific order and articulate with each other, through one or more pairs of facet joints, to allow movement. The spine allows a range of movement such as lowering and raising the head, arching or dipping the back & bending from side to side. Discs are present in between each vertebrae to absorb the shock & concussion produced by movement. The horse’s spine, unlike the human’s or dog’s, is a fairly rigid structure, the majority of movement being in the neck and in the lumbar area just in front of where the spine connects to the pelvis (equivalent to our hips).

The spinal cord runs through the spinal column with nerves that emerge at intervals along its length. As these nerves exit the spine, they divide into various branches and go to the joints, muscles, internal organs and skin. Nerve impulses travel from the brain and spinal cord, out of the spinal nerves to all parts of the body. Similarly nerve impulses travel back to the brain via the peripheral nerves and spinal cord carrying information as to the relative states of all the various areas of the body.

Sometimes a joint between 2 vertebrae may become slightly fixated restricting the normal range of motion and decreasing flexibility. This could be due to a fall, a bad stumble, getting cast or a badly fitting saddle. Although many slight joint fixations resolve themselves through muscle activity, such as rolling, or normal spinal movements such as bending and stretching, some fixations can persist.

When this stage is reached some physical symptoms will probably be seen. This could range from subtle changes in the animal’s performance to muscle spasm and soreness, stiffness, or lack of collection or impulsion or even a degree of inco-ordination. There may be nerve pain in long term cases and, where a nerve is being pinched there could be numbness or pins and needles. It could even show itself as a behavioral problem such as a cold back, bucking, not wanting to “bend” on one rein or refusing fences.

When it gets to this stage then an external influence is required to restore normality.

The chiropractic adjustment consists of a short, sharp thrust to a specific area which releases muscle spasm, alleviates pain and returns the joint to its normal range of motion. This allows the body to restore its own natural balance and harmony.

The treatment will not hurt the animal, in fact most animals thoroughly enjoy it! It is quite common for an animal to become increasingly relaxed as the treatment progresses even to the point of becoming drowsy.

Proper animal chiropractic treatment requires education, training and experience and it is extremely important to carefully consider who is doing any chiropractic care you need for your horse.  Always consult with your veterinarian prior to chiropractic care and always check that the practitioner has recognized qualifications otherwise they may not be what they say they are!

Massage Therapy – Good for your horse!

By:  Larissa Cox

Far too often, we wait until a problem rears its ugly head before we realize our horse needs some form of therapeutic intervention.

Equine Massage - good for the horse and rider.

Massage therapy is very beneficial for horses since more than sixty percent of a horse’s body is made up of muscle. When the muscles become contracted and tight they can put pressure on the surrounding tissues which only increases the discomfort. This muscle tension causes circulation to decrease, movement restriction, and muscle pain or irritation. If something is not done to ease the muscle tightness, the problem will only continue to worsen. Muscular problems and injuries occur frequently in horses and cause a variety of training issues and movement problems. This is especially critical for competitive horses that are expected to be in tip-top shape all the time even though they endure a lot of muscle strain and stress during competitions. Equine massage can help relieve the common muscles problems of horses. With therapy, a performance horse is now able to compete at is full potential by relaxing any muscle spasms, increasing muscle tone, enhancing circulation and promoting a full range of movement by the horse.

Massage Therapy relaxes muscles and helps bring much-needed oxygen to the muscles to invigorate and repair even slight damage that may unknowingly already be there by working with the circulatory system. When the muscle is relaxed, tearing of the tendon is kept to a bare minimum, sometimes even prevented. This is one of the reasons Olympic Athletes, both human and equine, rely on their Massage Therapists.

Equine massage is an alternative therapy for horses. Riders or owners can be taught how to do the massage at a variety of schools or massage training facilities. Or there are many professional massage therapists who are trained in sports massage for animals. Equine massage can be a therapeutic experience for both the horse and rider.

What is Equine Thermography?


Since ancient times the detection and monitoring of heat emitted from the body has been used as a diagnostic and management tool. The ancient Egyptians used to monitor skin temperature change by moving their fingers across the body surface.  Hippocrates, one of the best known Ancient Greeks was recorded applying wet mud to a cloth and draping it over the patient’s thorax. He determined that the area to dry first was the problematic point and in so doing took the first ‘thermogram’ over 2400 years ago.

The science of Digital Infrared Thermal was initially developed for military applications, but since the end of the Cold War it has been made available commercially. InfraRed (IR) technology is now one of the fastest growing diagnostic and management tools available in the medical and veterinary fields.

Equine Thermography is a non contact technique using InfraRed technology that provides a pictorial image of the surface temperature of the horse’s body. Sensors within the camera convert infrared radiation (heat) emitted from the surface of the skin into electrical impulses that are shown on the image as areas of colour. White represents the hottest temperature and is found on areas where there is major blood flow, down through red, yellow, green to blue and finally black which represents the coldest areas. A blue streak indicating a lack of temperature can indicate pinching or pressure for example on a nerve root, while a pink or white area can indicate soft tissue, muscular or tendon damage.  As there is a high degree of thermal symmetry in the body, abnormal or asymmetrical changes which are usually indicative of a problem can be easily identified.

The Equine Thermography procedure only takes a few minutes, during which time the Thermographer examines the horse thoroughly through the camera lens. The horse is not touched during the inspection, making it ideal for young, nervous or sensitive horses. The results of the inspection are instant.

Thermography has been used extensively in the equine world since the 1996 Olympic Games.  Thermal imaging as a science has many applications, but for horses there are three main benefits for using this technique.


  • Pre Purchase Inspection or Sale to confirm there are no “hidden” problems with the horse
  • Check saddle fitting and rider balance
  • Monitoring Competition horses during training to ensure that no undue stress is placed on the horse which may result in a potential injury
  • Thermal imaging is not only static but a video of movement can also be made.


  • Identify damaged tendons, ligaments, Navicular, laminitis and the source of non specific lameness
  • Musculoskeletal injuries
  • Easily examine the horse for tooth and jaw problems
  • Locate the source of miscellaneous strains, sprains and injuries

Treatment Monitoring

  • Monitor ongoing conditions to assess the level of improvement or deterioration during treatment
  • Monitor Hoof Maintenance and balance.

The horse’s body is designed to be in balance and both sides should be symmetrical, i.e. temperature levels in muscles, tendons and ligaments on both sides should be relatively equal.  A thermal inspection will quickly identify areas of abnormal heat or cool.  Hot areas can indicate injury or inflammation or areas that are cool which can indicate lack of blood flow or circulation.  These may be caused by “physical” damage to the horse or may simply be as a result of working the horse in an unbalanced manner leading to additional strain on one side or even damage caused by badly fitting tack such as saddles.

While not a complementary therapy, Equine Thermography aids in the detection of problem areas which can then be evaluated by conventional or complementary practitioners.

LASER THERAPY…what is it?


Laser therapy, a very popular therapy in the UK, seems to be now gaining recognition in North America.  Laser is  an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

Lasers, have been best known for their ability to cut and have been used in the medical field for surgery.  However, the laser light for therapeutic purposes is of a much lower power and also of a different wavelength.  Lasers do not heat up tissues and usually uses light in the 400 – 1200 nanometer range.  This is the light in the infrared range of the spectrum.  Light below 750 nm is visible and light about 750 nm is not visible.

Low Level Laser Therapy, commonly known as LLLT (also cold laser, soft laser, LILT) is a form of phototherapy which involves the application of monochromatic (all the same wavelength) and coherent (all the waves peak at the same time or are “phased”) light to injuries and lesions to stimulate healing.

LLLT is used to increase the speed, quality and tensile strength of tissue repair, resolve inflammation, and give pain relief.

Laser therapy aims to biostimulate individual cells to revitalize and reactivate their own healing processes.

Low Level Laser Therapy aims to biostimulate. Because of its low power nature, the effects are biochemical and not thermal and cannot cause heating and thereby damage to living tissue. Three distinct photobiological effects are known to occur when using Low Level Laser Therapy:

1. Healing growth factor response through:

  • Increased ATP and protein synthesis
  • Improved cell proliferation
  • Change in cell membrane permeability to calcium up-take

2. Pain Relief through:

  • Increased endorphin release
  • Increased serotonin
  • Suppression of nociceptor action

3. Immune system support through:

  • Increasing levels of lymphocyte activity
  • Photomodulation of blood

Low level laser therapy optimises the speed of repair in acute injuries but will also stimulate the body’s repair processes in cases of non-healing or chronic conditions. It is an attractive form of treatment for animal athletes, due to the prospect of shorter recovery and lay-off times.

I use SpectraVetLasers as they offer safe, reliable and effective treatment of musculoskeletal injuries and conditions commonly suffered by performance horses. The portability of battery-powered diode laser systems enables treatment to be carried out in the barn, the trailer, or in the field, allowing the immediate and therefore more effective treatment of equine sports injuries, such as muscle tears, haematomas, and tendinopathies.  For more information on Laser Therapy Services and price lists,  please visit  Equine Laser Therapy.

Why your Horse needs YOU to see a Physiotherapist!

By Lissanthea Taylor, The Equestrian Physiotherapist

It might sound a little bit like I’m blowing my own trumpet, but I’d like to see that all horse riders have a Physiotherapist/ Physical Therapist to assess and treat their body. Your horse’s health and training will be worth it.

If you’re not straight, your horse can’t be straight. At the higher levels, this becomes more subtle, more important and better still, likely to be your secret weapon in getting good marks. A Physio can tell you if you’re straight, and can assess the likely reasons you’re not. And it is much easier to treat you, as a conscious thinking person, than it is to treat a horse with a sore back that is limping from an uneven rider!

If you’re not able to sit with soft control and stability, and move with your horse then you’re not really able to speak his language clearly. Bracing, holding and breath holding will confuse your horse- even if you’re straight. He’ll be wondering what’s wrong. He can’t be soft if you can’t. And you can’t be balanced if you’re not able to control your position using good co-ordination between your deep muscles and superficial muscles. If your deep muscles aren’t working, you’ll have to brace your big muscles, which means you can’t breathe, you can’t move lightly and gracefully and you can’t go with your horse.

Have you ever wondered how a horse looks completely different with a more skilled rider? The same horse that has gone in the same frame for you for years, now looks completely different. Is it the horse that is different? Not likely. But the skilled rider allows the horse to move freely, to express his movement and to be confident in the contact. The way to change the way your horse goes  is to change you, then you can work on him. And if you have ridden in the same way for years, your brain tells your muscles to use certain patterns and strategies, and to re-wire those patterns requires fundamental changes to the way you use your body, which are too complex to learn on the horse. To change you need to break it down, re-learn the movement and integrate it back in to your riding.

A Physiotherapist is also the person who can tell you if there is actually a reason you can’t make the corrections to your position and riding because of muscle shortness and tightness. Perhaps you physically cannot put your heels down, sit evenly on your seat bones or pull your shoulders back because your body doesn’t have the flexibility that these tasks demand. If you cannot actually do it, all the metaphor, reminders and ideas your instructor gives you will come to naught, except for frustration! Physiotherapists are EXPERTS in movement analysis, and in working out WHY you can’t do a movement beautifully- and sometimes it isn’t immediately obvious. There are factors of pain, time and compensating for other areas that show up in one area that come from other areas of the body. Sometimes pain is detected by your brain in other areas than the true source of the pain, which can be very confusing to the person experiencing it. These are the questions that a Physiotherapist will answer for you and give you a path to change it.

Physiotherapy traditionally has strong associations with all forms of sport, with music and dance, with various occupations that have physical demands but Physiotherapy is not something that is yet strongly associated with Equestrian Sports, and this puzzles me. Riders are athletes and they have incredible and unique movement demands to sit on and guide a horse, and to influence the horse enough to be accurate and in control, and then be secure and strong enough in their own position to keep out of their way and let them shine! It’s a pleasure and a challenge to bring my riding knowledge together with my clinical experience and expertise, and in the very near future add some meaningful research to allow us to train smarter and make meaningful changes to riders quicker.

Please have a look at www.theequestrianphysiotherapist.com for further information, comment here for a reply, like The Equestrian Physiotherapist on Facebook and follow me @equiphysio on Twitter.