The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

27.2.2022 Excerpt from ‘Understanding Horse Performance: Brain, Pain or Training?’

From Chapter 12: Does your horse score 10/10 for comfort?

4. Feel through neck and girth area

What to do: Feel through the muscles in your horse’s neck, particularly around the base of the neck. Use the tips of two or four fingers (as opposed to the palm of your hand), pressing as hard as you would to dent a football. You can move along the bottom of each side of the neck from the jaw to the shoulder, or you can zig zag up and down the neck, or both. Cup your fingers and thumb around the muscle at the bottom of each side of his neck and squeeze along the muscles from jaw to shoulder, again pressing about as hard as you would to dent a football. This can be a tricky exercise to get right, and it may help to watch me doing it. You can see a video of me assessing a horse at… Next feel around the top of the shoulder blade, between the shoulder blade and the bottom of the mane. Then using all four fingers, stroke more gently behind the shoulder down the area where the girth would lie. Be careful as you assess the girth area, lots of horses are very sensitive here and some may bite or kick to let you know just how sore they are.

The ideal: There is no reaction from the horse, and the muscles in the neck feel like plasticine or play dough throughout.

Check: Does your horse clench one part of his neck muscle in reaction to your assessment (often the base of the neck)? Does he move his head and neck away in discomfort? Does he flinch when you assess the girth area, or threaten to bite or kick? Does he try to move away? Does he seem ‘ticklish’ or ‘over reactive’ either in the girth area or between the shoulder blade and withers?

For the rider / trainer / instructor

If you’re an instructor with a client who’s struggling to achieve what you’re asking of them, you can suggest these exercises and help them to find the right treatment for their horse. They’ll get more from their lessons with you on a horse who’s physically better able to cope, and your obvious care for the horse’s wellbeing will help to build greater trust and respect. If you’re a professional rider and one of the horses you are riding is finding something overly difficult, or not performing as well as you would expect him to, these exercises could help his owner see that his performance might improve further with extra help from a vet or physical therapist. This would allow you to improve your scores, or work or compete him at a higher level, and owners will appreciate your breadth of feel and understanding for the benefit of their horse.

For the therapist

As a saddler, dentist, farrier, or other equine paraprofessional, you can point owners in the direction of this book and these exercises to help them recognise when their horse needs help from another professional as well as yourself. This will make your job easier since you’re not trying to multitask and cover work that others could do more easily, and it further improves the service you are offering to both client and horse. Increasingly clients are (quite rightly) expecting service over and above ‘the norm’, and with so much information freely available on the web, they expect every equine professional to be the fount of all knowledge. Since none of us can possibly know everything (and if someone claims that they do, perhaps they are not the right person to be working with), one priority is to point people in the direction of the right help. The trick is to know when and how to do that, and where to point them. I sincerely hope this book will help, for the sake of ridden horses throughout the world.

“A horse doesn’t care how much you know, until he knows how much you care.” Pat Parelli

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© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio, 2021

Treating your horse with care, connection, curiosity and compassion

February 27, 2022
Sue Palmer