Have you ever over done it during a training session, or felt a little sore riding again after taking a break? Horses are no different, their bodies respond in the same way as ours to over exertion and trauma. Therefore any horse be it a happy hacker or a top performance horse would benefit from regular physical therapy sessions. In addition horses have to compensate for their riders imbalances, the little strains and injuries we pick up during day-to-day life all contribute to us becoming a little imbalanced, which over time can become quite profound but we do not notice until we experience pain or a conscious loss of mobility, the horse is compensating well before we are aware. Furthermore, farriery, saddle fit and dentistry all have an effect on how a horse carries itself and can result in physical compensations when things are not quite right.
Horses can’t talk to us in words but through their behaviour they can let us know something is wrong, it is up to us as their care givers to recognise these signs and take steps to alleviate any pain or discomfort.
These signs may include some or all of the following (this list is by no means exhaustive!)
- tactile defensiveness either to the touch or whilst being tacked up
- unwilling to move forward
- refusing jumps or knocking poles
- unable to back up
- not tracking up
- working with quarters in or out
- unable to execute lateral work
- changing canter leads behind
- not striking off on correct canter lead
- unwilling/unable to work up or down inclines or hills
- change in disposition
- change in eating or sleeping habits
- carrying head to one side
- tilting head
- unwilling to bend one or both ways
- excessive shaking of the head
- reluctance to be touched around poll/ear area
- excessive stretching of head and neck
- arranging bedding to lift heels of the feet
Dr Sue Dyson has been leading research into establishing a ridden horse ethogram which recognises certain behaviours which indicate that the ridden horse may be experiencing pain and/or discomfort before lameness is noted. Further information can be found on The Saddle Research Trust website which you can access through the link on my Contact Me page.
As there can be many reasons for any of these signs, the horse should be seen by a vet in the first instance. On their permission, physical therapy can then be carried out to help restore function.