Can an Equine Chiropractor Help Your Horse?

A Chiropractor examines a horse.
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Many people who ride horses don’t consider the fact that—despite popular myth—a horse’s back is not actually designed to carry a load.

When a horse carries a rider, it must use its muscles and balance in unnatural ways. Ideally, horses are schooled in a way that strengthens their muscles, and the rider rides in a way that helps the horse balance. Unfortunately, this is frequently not the case.

When is Treatment Necessary? 

A horse that is poorly balanced and misaligned can experience back pain, which is often expressed through undesirable behavior. Even some lamenesses can be attributed to spine and joint dysfunctions.

While good riding and a properly fitting saddle are instrumental in caring for our horses’ backs, many horses (and riders) benefit from chiropractic treatment, as part of holistic care. Chiropractors focus on the skeletal structures of the horse and use manual manipulations to bring these structures back into their proper alignment. 

If your horse is experiencing any of these symptoms or behavior issues, chiropractic treatment may be helpful:

  • Difficulty bending or flexing
  • Obvious back or neck pain
  • Difficulty picking up leads at a canter
  • Signs of resistance such as bucking, rearing, swishing tail
  • Uneven gaits
  • Difficulty with gait transitions
  • Spooking
  • Bolting
  • Head tossing
  • Toe dragging
  • Uneven shoulders or hips
  • Crabby while being groomed
  • Holding the tail to one side
  • Rooting
  • Rearing
  • Becoming under or over-flexed
  • Pulling
  • Jigging
  • Lameness
  • Stiffness
  • Lack of impulsion
  • Difficulty maintaining collection
  • Cold-backed or cinchy
  • Nappiness
  • Won’t stand on three legs when hoof cleaning or for the farrier
  • Short strides at the trot or canter
  • Refusals at jumps and being ring sour
  • Stumbling or knuckling over with front or rear legs

A consultation with an equine chiropractor should start with a thorough examination of the horse, including looking at its history, care and use. The chiropractor may ask to see the horse move at all gaits and perhaps even ridden. If the chiropractor learns the rider has back or mobility problems, and they are qualified to do so, they may make recommendations or provide treatment for the rider as well. It is not unusual for the horse to react to stiffness in the rider.

bearded veterinarian gripping at back of spotted horse
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What Will the Ciropractor Do? 

The chiropractor will use manual force on certain points on the horse’s body to bring the structures beneath back into normal alignment. Ideally, this will restore the joint to normal function and range of motion. The first consultation and treatment may take an hour or more. Follow-up appointments may be recommended, usually within a week of the initial treatment, and then further apart as any specific problems begin to resolve. 

Some veterinarians are trained in equine chiropractics. Some chiropractors treat both humans and horses, which can be helpful in pinpointing how imbalances in the rider affect the horse. People who specialize in chiropractics may complement their practice with other therapies such as infra-red lights, massage, myofascial release, acupuncture or pressure, therapeutic touch or stress-point therapy. The regulation of alternative therapies such as chiropractics is different from place to place, so it may be ideal to do research and find out what qualifications are required in your area. Word-of-mouth recommendations are a good indication that a chiropractor has had good results with other horses.

There are times when chiropractic treatment is not recommended. If your horse has a lameness or a very specific center of pain, it’s best to check for injury or even fracture before proceeding with chiropractic treatment. Using chiropractic treatment on some problems, especially undiagnosed fractures, can cause even greater injury. Always consult with a qualified chiropractor. That way, you can be sure that the practitioner has the proper training and experience.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.