HORSE owners today face a difficult balance to help their horses achieve good health and mobility, while minimising risk of injury. In my work, I have found that it is very important to start our horses’ lives right, and keep good training and longevity to the fore of our priorities.

As a therapist, I witness many unusual behaviours, unbalanced structures and restrictive functions in horses. Tension patterns, areas of tightness that arise in the horse’s body, will inhibit natural movement to a greater or lesser degree. Some are obvious, yet some are subtle and less easily detected.

Horses can produce incredible levels of athleticism, but only if their bodies maintain full mobility of muscles and connective tissues. When approached intelligently and holistically, muscle treatments guarantee a healthy flow of oxygen and nutritional yield to cells, to keep body and mind in balance and aid deep relaxation. Therapy stimulates correct muscles for strength maintenance, increased stability and tension release so horses enjoy pain free, symmetrical movement.

A horse is full of dreams

Equine therapy focuses on performance horses helping them to achieve optimum physical condition and injury prevention. Yet, moving forward with science, we realise that certain techniques applied in the early years of a horse’s life, provide excellent foundation for sound physical development and future career. As with children, a horse’s early years heavily influence their entire future, impacting personality, behaviour, relationship-forming, performance and susceptibility to injury. Certain therapies have been specifically developed to help the young horse cope with anxious and stressful times such as changes in environment, human encounters weaning process, and the beginning of training.

The precious early years

Experience has shown me that combined therapies have a profound impact on equine early years. We can safely implement specific therapies to all breeding stock – broodmares, foals, youngstock, stallions and geldings – ensuring they receive the best possible start. Foals and young horses experience inconsistent, awkward stages of growth and development and some youngsters incur injuries that will not become apparent until much later into their ridden years.

One very important aspect often overlooked is that of learned posture and motion behaviour in the youngster. Issues here can further exacerbate tension the horse carries from its early years into all s/he does, so the cycle of unwanted behaviours and poor posture continues. Tension patterns impact how the horse thinks, feels and learns and will significantly restrict performance.

When to start checking and correcting

By observing youngsters in their natural environment, much can be gleaned of equine mobility. Static and dynamic observations can assess the horse’s stance and movement. It is very important that newborn foals have a veterinary or physiotherapeutic examination to identify and reduce effects of the very common physical one-sidedness (asymmetry) that may occur during birth. Greater asymmetry of the pelvis may be a result of being born from mares standing up compared to mares lying down. Treatment at this early stage can address this before it becomes a problem, enabling the youngster to maximise her/his full athletic potential.

During the first month in particular, foals are vulnerable to many influences as they adjust to new environments and learn to manage increased exercise. Foals born with or procuring an abnormality that affects the musculoskeletal system needs immediate help to be able to grow and respond without any compromise to future ability. Most foals are born with some degree of limb deviation, mostly due to soft tissue weakness or laxity but, with the onset of exercise, this should be corrected.

Rotational limb deformities can develop any time until growth plates close. Deviations can be inwards or outwards. Manual correction to gently flex and extend the foot will help to stretch the tendons and one of my most recommended treatments, as well as combining kinesiotape to encourage the tendons to contract. This type of therapy can work wonders to stabilise their anatomical structures. The more severe the preference the foal has for one side over the other, benefits greatly from regular massage and stretching treatments. As the foal grows, s/he may appear to be balanced, but back and core muscles are still developing and this can cause the back to sway. During development, appropriate muscles need strengthening and conditioning to ensure symmetry while growing. Part two next week.