The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

27.3.2022 Excerpt from ‘Understanding Horse Performance: Brain, Pain or Training?’

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

5. Feel along the back and spine

What to do: Using your first and second finger, press into the muscle of the ‘wither pocket’ just behind your horse’s shoulder blade, a couple of inches away from his spine. Pressing about as hard as you would to dent a football (so that’s a reasonable amount of pressure), move your fingers slowly along your horse’s back, feeling through the muscle as you go. Stay a couple of inches below his spine all the way, and keep going until you get to his quarters. To give you an idea of speed, it should take you about 5 seconds to get from wither pocket to quarters. Then do the same thing in the opposite direction, moving from quarters to shoulder blade. Repeat on the other side. Next do the same thing, but along the top of your horse’s spine, from his withers to his sacrum. Go in the direction of the hair to begin with, and if there was no adverse reaction, then move against the hair from sacrum to withers.

The ideal: A horse who stands relaxed, with no flinching, twitching or resistance, and muscles that feels soft from start to finish in both directions.

Check: Does your horse flinch? Does the muscle feel hard in some areas? Does his skin twitch, either where you’re pressing, or elsewhere on his back or shoulders? Does he move away from you, lift a leg and threaten to kick, or swing his head round towards you? Does his back arch away from the pressure?

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

March 27, 2022
Sue Palmer