The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

25.10.2022 Describe a Typical Working Day

I was recently asked to describe a typical working day…

I drop my son to school, and then travel to a yard to treat horses. I usually treat between 4 and 6 horses in a day, depending on how long the travel time is. Some horses I treat at their yard, others travel to a clinic base to see me. Whilst my son is young, I work during school hours only, so I need to be home in time for school pick up.

The horses I work with range from high-level competition horses (particularly dressage and show jumping), to children’s’ ponies, to retirees. Whilst physiotherapy encompasses everything from rehabilitation to performance and much more in between, I largely work with horses from a maintenance and performance standpoint. I get to know the horse, the rider, their routine, and what’s ‘normal’ for them. I search for the small changes that I can make in terms of pain, muscle spasm, stiffness, and restriction in range of movement, and I work with these to enable the horse to work more efficiently and correctly. The more easily the horse can perform the movements that are asked of him, the better feel he gives the rider. This enables the rider to ride better, and encourages them to reward the horse more often. Since horses thrive on reward, this leads to an improved work ethic, and so the circle of improvement continues. Because I see the horse regularly, I can pick up on the early signs of dysfunction. Usually, this will show up on my assessment before it shows up in the horse’s behaviour or performance. The ideal is to advise the owner on how best to address this dysfunction before it becomes so called ‘bad behaviour’ that can result in disappointment, or in punitive training techniques.

When I first meet an owner, I ask them to fill in a detailed history on their horse. This includes areas such as feed, turnout, tack, work, environment, medical history, and much more. I ask what the current concern is, and what they would like from me. It’s important for me to understand what the owner wants to achieve with their horse so that I can best guide them. Team work is helpful, and the owner is the centre of their horse’s team, which might include coach, rider, physio, saddler, equine dental technician, farrier, vet, and nutritionist. Myths abound in the equestrian world, and often others on the yard will have an opinion on what’s wrong, and what the owner should be doing about it.

I watch the horse move, assess range of movement, and palpate (feel through the muscles). Along with the owner, we can then formulate a plan to move forwards. Treatment includes hands on therapy, advice, and education. Having ridden all my life, and competed in dressage, show jumping and eventing, I understand the language that horse riders use. This makes it much easier to communicate effectively, to explain what I need from them to help their horse.

I am passionate about the work that I do. I meet interesting people, and I learn something new every day. The horses are my best teachers, and I do my best to listen to what they are trying to tell me. I enjoy working with the team that surrounds the horse, and learning from other professionals. I feel incredibly lucky that I am able to combine my love of horses with my paid work to make a career.

What advice would you give to someone meeting challenges in becoming a Physiotherapist?

Follow your dreams, it’s never too late. Keep studying because you never know where a course or knowledge will lead you. Talk to people, shadow them, soak up experiences. Believe in yourself. If you love your work, then every day brings joy.

Keep an eye out for my next book, ‘Recognising Pain in Ridden Horses: Performance, Partnership and Potential’, co-authored with Dr Sue Dyson, published by J A Allen, due 2023. Sign up at to be kept up to date with new information as it comes available. Watch a FREE 30-minute documentary on recognising pain in ridden horses here.

Here’s a FREE 30-minute presentation by Sue Palmer on how to recognise pain in your horse.

Other books by Sue Palmer M.Sc. MCSP:

‘Horse Massage for Horse Owners’

‘Understanding Horse Performance: Brain, Pain or Training?’

© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio, 2022

October 25, 2022
Sue Palmer