5 Signs Your Horse Needs a Physical Therapist

It’s easy for us to know when we need to see a physical therapist. Most equestrians come to me when they’re in pain while riding or struggling with a specific issue. Unfortunately, horses can’t use their words to tell us exactly when they feel pain or are having difficulty. But, as always, horses find a way to tell us what they need– we just have to listen. 

The list of signs that your horse needs a physical therapist is extensive and not by any means exhaustive. It’s a good idea to work with a Doctor of Physical Therapy on a regular basis in order to prevent injury and maintain your equine partner’s health. But if you’re not sure if you need to bring your horse to a physical therapy clinic or not, watch for these five signs to know for sure. 

Behavioral Changes

Has your previously beginner safe mount gone from pony-party friendly to fire-breathing dragon? Behavioral changes in your equine partner can be caused by a wide variety of things. Poor saddle fit, improper handling or riding, injury, and routine changes could all cause a wild swing in the behavior of your horse. If nothing has changed recently, it’s a good idea to call a Doctor of Physical Therapy to evaluate your horse. 

A physical therapist can look at your equine and evaluate any areas that are particularly tight or painful and prescribe exercises to alleviate your horse’s discomfort, and get them back on track to beginner-safe. For evaluations like these, your physical therapist will likely ask to work with a veterinarian in order to accurately diagnose if there is an injury, or if your horse just needs a different exercise routine. 

For example, asymmetrical tightness through your horse’s back can make previously easy movements quite difficult. Bucking, rearing, bolting, and freezing are all examples of behavior that could be your horse’s way of telling they’re having trouble completing an exercise. Taking your horse to a physical therapy clinic for a thorough evaluation sets them up for future success by finding the cause of dangerous behavior. 

Unexplained Lameness

Are you struggling with an unexplained lameness in your horse? Wouldn’t life be so much easier if your horse could just tell you where it hurts? Is your veterinarian unable to find a cause of the lameness?  Does your horse have a lameness that seems to rotate location from day to day, but you’ve been able to rule out Lyme Disease? Are you dealing with a lameness that only occurs when you ride, but not out in the pasture? A Doctor of Physical Therapy can evaluate how your biomechanics are impacting your horse and whether you could actually be the cause of your horse’s soreness. 

Improper movement patterns could also be unevenly wearing down your horse’s joints, leading to stiffness and, before too long, chronic lameness as well. An evaluation at a physical therapy clinic can help you prevent injuries before they occur by supporting your horse with healthy movement. 

Asymmetrical Posture/Carriage

When you look at your horse’s conformation, what do you see? Does he have an “upside down” topline with the muscles underneath his neck bulging, but little to no muscle up top? Does he have a thickly muscled shoulder but a small trailing hind end? Is his left shoulder more heavily muscled than his right?

Your horse’s conformation can tell you a lot about their physical fitness and health. If you start to notice asymmetrical muscling, then you know it’s time to call a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Asymmetrical muscling is a sure sign that either you are working to one direction too often, or that your horse is not moving in a healthy way. A physical therapist can show you how to stretch, massage, and perform the right exercises to rebalance your horse before an injury occurs. 

Asymmetrical Movement

Just like humans, many horses are right- or left-handed. While this is not a large issue in and of itself, it can become an issue if it starts to impact your riding performance. For example, if your horse can perform a haunches in quite easily to the right, but not to the left, then you’re struggling with stiffness throughout the right side of the body. 

Poor quality of movement to one direction versus the other can easily set back your riding career and prevent you from reaching your goals. A physical therapist can work with both you and your horse to regain equal function in both directions. If you wait too long before evening out your horse’s movement patterns, the tissues and ligaments that are compensating for the asymmetrical movement will start to show signs of strain and damage. This is because your horse is using inappropriate muscles to compensate for areas of weakness instead of using the appropriate biomechanics to complete a movement successfully. 

Change in Workload

When you move up in your riding career, how do you know your horse can handle the additional strain? Too often, most equestrians don’t know that their partner is struggling until an injury occurs. Trailering your horse to a physical therapy clinic after increasing your workload is an excellent way to get a deeper understanding of how your horse is handling the added expectations. 

A Doctor of Physical Therapy will be able to evaluate your horse for signs of strain. This can include asymmetrical muscling, poor gait quality, stiffness, and even hyperflexibility. In order to get the most out of an evaluation like this, it’s important to have a pre-existing relationship with your physical therapist so they understand what your horse was normally like prior to increasing the workload. 

At the end of the day, you don’t need a reason to visit a physical therapy clinic. Even if you feel that you and your horse are doing great, you can still get a lot out of a physical therapy evaluation. A Doctor of Physical Therapy can help you understand you and your horse’s biomechanics on a deeper level, as well as teach you new ways to build your horse’s health and fitness. 

Interested in visiting my physical therapy clinic at Shields’ Fields? Contact me for an appointment today.