While horse people across the country are breathing a sigh of relief to be back in the saddle following months of Covid-19 lockdown, chances are, depending on your fitness level, you were pretty stiff and sore after those first few rides. And that will make two of you! Your equine partner has also spent time acquiring the horsey version of the “quarantine fifteen.” It may not be weight gain, but a loss of muscle tone, stiff joints, or loss of top line.

Getting your horse back in shape takes time, but even the best fitness program can be enhanced with a little help from a massage, acupuncture or chiropractic treatment. Over the next three weeks we will speak to an expert from each form of equine therapy and examine how these three treatments differ and how they help your horse.

Dr Scott Hie.

Horse Canada asked Dr. Scott Hie, a doctor of chiropractic who has been practicing since 1996 and is trained to work on horses, dogs and cats, some basic questions that every horse owner and rider should know. (Be sure to talk to your vet before starting any form of treatment on your horse.)

HC: What does chiropractic work achieve in horses?

SH: That is a somewhat tricky question and answers can be long-winded, so I’m going to aim for the straight and easy…

1. It ‘may’ improve the biomechanics which translates into better function such as picking up leads better, striding out better, and having more ‘push’ or power for the hind end.
2. It has the possibility of reducing pain and thus increasing comfort, which could result in a more relaxed horse and improved behaviour.
3. You also may see improved muscle firing and thus a change in tone and strength.
4. Note that all effects are due to changing how the nervous system fires.

HC: Is the work on horses very different than work you might have done on human patients?

SH: Not really, you just have to be aware of the differences in bone structure and anatomy, but the main goal is still to help improve function

HC: How do you assess where the problem issues are in a horse before treatment?

SH: A lot comes from what the owners tell you about what they felt while riding or working with the horse. The other things to notice are the way the horse may be standing or resting its legs and also the way the animal walks out of the stall.

HC: What are the most common issues you see?

SH: I see a lot of issues in the horse’s lower lumbar and pelvic region. You will see issues in the withers from bad saddle fit or slips and falls. The neck region will have issues, but I find a lot of those might be secondary to the hind end not working correctly.

HC: What outcome should an owner expect after one or a few treatments?

SH: Typically you should see marked improvement within a 1-3 days. especially if you allow the horse to have that [treatment] day off.

HC: How many treatments are necessary to correct an issue? Should horses be in a regular maintenance program, or just when there’s a problem?

SH: There is no right or wrong answer, as it really depends on each circumstance. You will typically find that a lot of the top competition horses are on a program, whether that is every 4-6 weeks to every 2-3 months. Some will just choose to call when their horse is having an issue.

HC: How does a horse owner know when you are needed vs. injections or massage or acupuncture?

SH: That question really comes down to the working relationships between the owner, vet, massage therapist and chiro. It is always best to consult your vet if there is any question as to a trauma, heat, swelling, or lameness, and if they think it’s something a chiropractor, acupuncturist or massage therapist can help with, then they will likely give the okay.