3 Ways Dr. Shields, PT can Collaborate with your DVM

It’s time to stop thinking of veterinarians and physical therapists as two separate entities. Instead, think of how they can work together to help you and your horse achieve your goals. Find out how they can help you in the blog below. 


Do you take a team approach to the care of your equine partner (and yourself!)? Some riders view their veterinarian as a proactive partner in reaching optimal fitness for their horse. Others only speak to the vet twice a year for spring shots and for emergency visits. If you do take a team approach to your relationship with your veterinarian, you may be reluctant to hire a Doctor of Physical Therapy. At first, they sound almost like two competing forces. But, in reality, these two essential services work together to help you and your horse achieve your equine fitness goals. Veterinarians diagnose lameness, develop a plan of care, however most of the time the owner or barn staff are left doing the daily treatments. That is where a physical therapist comes into play. Physical therapists are highly trained movement and exercise consultants. They look at potential biomechanical issues that could be causing lameness and prescribe exercises to solve the root of the problem. Both veterinarians and physical therapists can do their best work when they collaborate. 

Effective Injury Rehabilitation

A Doctor of Physical Therapy and a veterinarian can work together in situations requiring either long-term or short-term injury rehabilitation. For example, a vet may come out to the barn to stitch a laceration on  your horse’s hock. Then, they may refer you to a Doctor of Physical Therapy for bodywork, scar tissue management, and to assist with wound healing. During recovery, your physical therapist would work with you to ensure your horse does not lose any fitness during the stall rest that may be required. Throughout this time, the Doctor of Physical Therapy would send the DVM regular updates. The veterinarian would come out as needed for diagnostic checkups and to remove stitches. 

For long-term or more serious injuries, the vet would diagnose and start treatment before referring to the Doctor of Physical Therapy for continued treatment. For example, if your horse tore his suspensory tendon, the vet would perform the initial diagnosis and start treatment. Treatment could involve stem cell therapy or surgery. After the acute injury phase, it may be safe for the horse to start some light controlled activity to strengthen the tendon while healing and avoid loss of condition in the horse. At this point, the veterinarian would refer the horse to Dr. Shields. Physical therapy could take place at the horse’s barn or at Shields’ Fields. 

After Dr. Shields takes over daily care with careful prescribed exercise, stall rest, hand walking, and more, the veterinarian would come out on a weekly or monthly basis to evaluate the horse. For example, a monthly ultrasound would inform both the veterinarian and physical therapist on how the healing process is proceeding and whether treatment needs to be adjusted. Together, the DVM and DPT would work as a team to give the horse the best chance of recovery after an injury. 

Improve Equine Fitness

Are you constantly struggling with equine fitness? No matter how many trot sets you do you still don’t see any improvement. Your veterinarian can check the horse over for any medical issues that could be preventing muscle gain such as poor feed, undiagnosed ulcers, or even conditions such as PSSM

The physical therapist, on the other hand, can identify musculo-skeletal issues such as asymmetries and lack of flexibility that could be leading to incorrect movement patterns and therefore poor muscle gain. Once the veterinarian has ruled out medical or lameness issues, your Doctor of Physical therapy can help you get your horse back to fighting fit. 

Diagnose Chronic Lameness

An acute injury is one thing. But can a physical therapist and veterinarian work together on chronic issues? The answer is a resounding yes. 

For example, a horse has been struggling to pick up the canter on the right lead for the past few months. The trainer has tried everything and is beginning to suspect a medical issue. The rider wants to do right by her horse, so she calls in both her physical therapist and veterinarian. After thorough diagnostic analysis, the veterinarian cannot find a medical reason for the issue. 

Here, the physical therapist would step in and evaluate the relationship between the horse and rider. The biomechanics of equestrians has a direct impact on the movement patterns in our horses. In this example, the sub-par canter transition was directly related to a biomechanical issue in our rider. 

In this scenario, both the veterinarian and Doctor of Physical Therapy were crucial to successfully finding the root cause of the problem. The DVM ruled out any internal issues such as ulcers, kissing spine, etc. The DPT, on the other hand, was able to take a different perspective on the problem and analyze the horse and rider relationship. 

Stronger Together

The old saying “two heads are better than one” is especially true when it comes to creating a team approach to your horse’s health and equine fitness. Together your DVM and Doctor of Physical Therapy can help you get your horse into optimal shape. With the help of your team, you and your horse can recover from injuries faster and with better results, as well as overcome stubborn ongoing issues. 

It’s time to stop thinking of veterinarians and physical therapists as two separate entities. Instead, think of how they can work together to help you and your horse achieve your goals.

Add a Doctor of Physical Therapy to your team today. 

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