“For centuries, humans have said to horses ‘You do what I tell you or I’ll hurt you.’ Humans still say that to each other – still threaten, force and intimidate… At heart, I’m saying that no one else has the right to say ‘you must’ to an animal – or to another human”. Monty Roberts
This may be the most important chapter of this book. Here you’ll find a set of ten practical exercises that you can do with your horse to help assess whether he could be suffering some discomfort that might affect his behaviour or performance.
The aim of these exercises is to assess balance, comfort, ease and freedom of movement, muscle tone, reaction to touch, soundness, symmetry of the musculoskeletal system, and symmetry of movement. Unexpected responses could flag up weakness, discomfort, stiffness, restriction in range of movement, muscle spasm, unsoundness, and asymmetry in either the horse’s musculoskeletal system or his movement.
If any of the exercises below flags up a concern, then I advise you to contact your vet or physical therapist (Chartered Physiotherapist, Osteopath or Chiropractor) for detailed assessment from a professional. A ‘concern’ is anything that is listed in the ‘check’ section of the exercise, or anything unusual or unexpected. If your horse is currently misbehaving or underperforming and you flag up a concern, then your first assumption should be that the behaviour or performance problem could be at least partly pain related. If your horse is going great, and you flag up a concern through these exercises, then I advise you to get it checked out before it potentially becomes a behaviour or performance problem. Remember the key message of this book, that your horse can only communicate pain, lack of understanding or lack of respect through his behaviour or performance. Ideally, we would recognise and relieve that discomfort before he felt the need to shout about it.
You can never use a single finding to lead to a diagnosis (and in any case, only a vet is legally allowed to ‘diagnose’, at least in the UK). I describe my work as being like a detective’s job; I have to piece all the clues together to come to the most likely conclusion, in conjunction with other members of the horse’s team of carers, which is led by his owner. As I’ve said before, what matters most is what the horse is telling you, what he’s communicating through his behaviour or performance. A horse can be very sore but still love his job, or he can have slight discomfort and be unwilling to work. Both are equally valid opinions, and your horse will appreciate the fact that you recognise and show consideration for his individuality. I read a great book recently that suggested you treat everyone as though they are your Grandma. That made me think, I wonder if we could apply a similar principle to our horses, treating them with the gentleness and respect that they deserve?
I’d love to build on the information in this chapter with shared knowledge, because between us we can help more horses. If you can describe a time when you’ve known something’s not right with your horse, an exercise you use to monitor his comfort and well-being, a tip for recognising there’s a problem, or anything else that could help someone who is struggling with a situation that you’ve been through yourself, please drop me a message… With your support we can develop an ever-expanding database of experiences for the benefit of all horses owners. For now I’ve included two bonus tips on the webpage as well as the printable record sheet to help you monitor any changes in your horse.
The recurring theme throughout this book is education. In this case it’s educating yourself as to what’s normal for your horse so that you can recognise more easily when things aren’t right, and what’s ideal and less than ideal. Below you will find ten practical exercises that you can use as a starting point for deciding whether your horse would benefit from assessment and treatment from a professional. They are written in the following format:
What to do: A simple overview of the exercise
The ideal: What you would expect to see if there were no concerns
Check: Some things to look for when you’re doing the exercise (you may come across others)
Find out more and get your copy of ‘Understanding Horse Performance: Brain, Pain or Training?’ today from www.thehorsephysio.co.uk.
© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio, 2021
Treating your horse with care, connection, curiosity and compassion