Having grown up riding in Vermont without the benefit of an indoor arena, it was just part of having horses that they got a sabbatical every eight months…the shoes came off, their coats and beards grew shaggy, and my tack was cleaned, oiled, and stored through the winter months. (Even if we did get on some sunny, snowy day, it was always bareback in order to benefit from the warmth of our horse’s body!)
Anyone can tell you that a few months away, lounging, sleeping, and eating to your heart’s content, can have an impact when it is time to re-enter your everyday routine of work and exercise. It can make you grumpy, you might be a little off your game, and when it comes to your fitness routine, it can make you sore or point out that three months have gone by and yes, you are indeed aging.
With a nod to all those northern riders who are now in the midst of bringing their horses back into full work after several months of leisure, I checked in with TSB author Dr. Renee Tucker, a veterinarian and certified chiropractor and acupuncturist whose book WHERE DOES MY HORSE HURT? provides horse owners hands-on “Body Checkups”—ways of determining where their horse might be sore or injured, and who best to call to fix the problem: veterinarian, chiropractor, masseuse, farrier, saddle-fitter? (When there are so many avenues to a potential cure, it is good to have some professional help picking a direction.) I asked Dr. Tucker what we should keep in mind when bringing our horses back into work in the spring, or any time after months of layoff.
“From my perspective,” says Dr. Tucker, “it is a great idea to have a chiropractor check your horse when you start back to work in the spring. Or, you could do Body Checkups yourself to discover if your horse has any body issues. Sometimes we assume because the horse wasn’t ‘working,’ during a period of time that he or she will be fine when we are ready to saddle up again. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Many horses fall while out in the pasture, or even just slip badly, and in doing so ‘wrench’ their body out of adjustment.
“In addition, when you insist on getting horses ‘in shape’ by working them a lot, rather than making sure first that they can physically do the work, trouble can develop. Trouble in the form of pulled muscles and tendons. Even worse, your relationship with your horse can ultimately suffer because your horse needs help (he or she is sore or hurt) and you don’t understand what he or she needs.
“Every spring, I see a LOT of horses that are suddenly stiff on one side, or they can’t canter in one direction, or they just don’t want to DO anything. Here’s an example:
“I walked up to Joyce’s barn and saw her mare, Tilde, in the cross-ties. I had thought Tilde was about 8 years old, but I knew I could be wrong, as my memory is not what it used to be. (I blame it on my children!) Tilde just had that ‘old horse’ look. You know, with her head hanging down, not engaged with her surroundings, standing akimbo, and not moving much. So I figured Tilde was more like 20.
“Anyway, Joyce told me that Tilde was just not herself this spring. In the round pen, she kept her head toward the outside in both directions. Tilde was stiff all over and did not want to canter at all. Joyce said Tilde had never been like this before.
“I did a couple quick Body Checkups on Tilde’s atlas and sacrum—the two ‘anchor points’ of the spine that can give you a lot of information really quickly. Tilde’s atlas and sacrum were both ‘out’ (subluxated). So was the rest of her! I could only guess that she had slipped in the snow, ice, or mud and fallen.
“Once Tilde was adjusted, she perked right up! Her eyes focused on her surroundings and she started interacting. She changed her stance, standing square and comfortable. She even ‘looked’ loose, no longer tight and stiff. Apparently, Tilde’s body was bothering her so much, she just couldn’t deal with it and had gone ‘internal,’ as some say. And now, thankfully, she was back!
“I had been wrong to think Tilde must be about 20 years old. And now she looked like the nine-year-old she was.”
“You can learn to do Body Checkups yourself,” says Dr. Tucker. “They are easy to learn and your horse will love you for it!”
You can find complete instructions for the Body Checkup for the horse’s ribs in the FREE DOWNLOAD available on the WHERE DOES MY HORSE HURT? page at the TSB online bookstore.
CLICK HERE to download the free sample chapter and Body Checkup (look for the FREE CHAPTER DOWNLOAD link in RED on the right side of the page).