Category Archives: Injury Prevention

What is the Secret to Horse Show Success?

The number one cause of injury is overuse: working too much, too fast, too soon, or too often. As riders, it is a huge responsibility to protect your horse from these training errors.  It is tempting to overdo it when there are shows you want to go to, or if you have a young and talented horse. There is a limit to how much training the body can absorb. Rest and recovery are as important as hard work.  Realigning the body with massage therapy is another key to preventing injuries.  Flexibility is an important indicator in the prevention of injuries. The horses I know that avoid injuries and are at the top of the leader board  are the ones who are on a carefully planned fitness program, have superior nutrition, regular body work, are ridden on good footing, and have knowledgeable farriers.

Pain is a warning signal that needs to be listened to. Pain is an important signal that something is about to go very wrong. If you saddle up your horse and he has a strong reaction, pay attention to that. If your horse starts refusing jumps, listen to him. If your horse comes out of the stall very stiff, or is taking longer to warm up, there is discomfort present. If dealt with early, many sources of pain can be alleviated through deep massage. If pain signals are ignored, they will inevitably get worse. Something minor can lead to something very serious, or permanent,  in a muscle, tendon, ligament, or joint. When in doubt, use the cold laser, or have body work done. Needless suffering can very often be avoided.

Once an injury occurs, scar tissue forms as it heals. This tissue is not as elastic as the original and thus is more prone to re-injury. As I keep saying, prevention is the key to a long and successful athletic career.

 

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Is All Pain Bad?

Pain is a valuable and natural tool that notifies us when there is a condition that needs tending to.  Immediately taking or administering (in the case of our animals) painkilling medicine without first reflecting on what message the pain is sending is not useful. The medication will temporarily treat the pain, with side effects, but whatever caused the pain is most likely still there. I prefer a cure to treatment!

Pain is not a disease. Pain is a symptom.

Muscles have two major functions: they contract to create motion, and relax to return to its full length and allow another muscle to pull in the opposite direction.  No other tissue in the body does this.  Muscles move bones that are attached by tendons. To move bones back to their starting points, the muscle that made the movement has to relax so the opposite muscle in the pair to bring the bones back to resting position.

What happens if this dance doesn’t run smoothly? If the first muscle doesn’t fully relax, the bones cannot return to their restful, or healthy postural position. Alignment and balance are then adversely affected. Stiffness and immobility (lameness) gain control of the body, robbing it of strength, stamina, and graceful movement. When the body is balanced (the massage work I do is called body balancing) it is in a state of health.  When postural balance is restored, pain symptoms disappear.

I recently worked on a mare that looked to be in pain in her front end. One leg was twisted so that her hoof pointed in. Her walk looked painful as well. I found an area of very tight muscles in one shoulder (I have no idea how they got like that. This was my first meeting with her.) It did not take long for her whole posture to change. Her leg starting to turn until it was fairly straight. At the end of her bodywork session I asked to see her walk, and she just strutted out of the barn. We were all smiles, and once again I was elated to see an animal relieved of pain just by re-balancing some tight muscles.  A week later I heard from the owner that the mare is moving well.

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Trotting Over Poles

Article written by Natalie Voss:

Horse owners might spend hours improving their horse’s gaits and behavior under saddle with training exercises, but there is still much that we don’t know about the finer points of a horse’s gait. That knowledge gap has made it difficult to analyze the true effectiveness of certain exercises that are a common part of many riders’ routines.

Michigan State University researchers recently conducted a pair of studies to analyze and compare the way a horse’s legs and joints move during the “swing” phase when the leg is carried forward through the air and the “stance” phase when the hoof is grounded and the leg is bearing weight, both over level ground and over poles.

Study author Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, MRCVS, said many trainers use work with ground poles to improve the horse’s technical skills, while veterinarians and therapists use poles to rehabilitate horses from injury or neurologic conditions.

“Therapists use hoof-eye coordination exercises to rehabilitate horses after neurological diseases,” said Clayton. “These include walking and trotting over, around, or between poles or other obstacles. The challenge for the horse is to see the objects, plan where to put his feet, then use neuromotor control to place the feet correctly.”

Although the practice is tried-and-true for rehabilitation, scientists didn’t know how well or why it works, so they set out to study the specifics. Researchers attached markers to different points on horses’ legs and measured the heights and angles of the joints as the horses trotted over flat ground, over low poles, and over high poles. A series of force plates recorded the weight on each of the horse’s legs as they moved through the series of poles.

Of particular interest:

When horses trotted over the poles, they cleared the poles using increased flexion in all of their limb joints, rather than pushing their whole bodies higher off the ground.
Since horses weren’t pushing their bodies higher in the air to clear poles, the vertical force between the hoof and the ground did not increase, indicating that there was no increase in weight-bearing when horses trotted over poles—a point that might have been considered problematic for horses overcoming some injuries.
Based on the measured angles and forces, it is unlikely that the leg’s soft tissues are stressed more when horses trot over poles versus trotting over flat ground.

Like humans, horses learn about the experience of moving their body over an obstacle like a pole.

“During the first few times trotting over the poles, horses tend to exaggerate their response so they lift their hooves higher than is necessary,” Clayton explained. “As they practice, they learn that they don’t have to exert as much effort and that a lower hoof trajectory is adequate.”

That reduced effort doesn’t mean the exercise loses its benefits over time, however: The amount of flexion the joints undergo is still substantially greater over poles as compared to flat work, so the exercise helps increase joints’ range of motion, especially in horses that are recuperating from lameness, Clayton said.

Clayton recommended trotting over poles as a good therapy for horses being rehabilitated from physical injuries after their movement has become symmetrical at the trot.

She cautioned, however, that the study was performed in horses that were sound at the trot, and the effects of trotting over poles in unsound horses have not been studied. Therefore, do not begin pole work until your veterinarian confirms that the horse has returned to a satisfactory soundness level.

Additionally, although her study did not touch on how the work impacts older horses, Clayton said it would make sense that the exercise’s mental and physical benefits could be good for seniors if they are sound.

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Is Your Horse Heavy on the Forehand?

The goal in riding, in our bodies, and our horses, is balance.  Poor balance and posture is a symptom that the body is stiff and in pain.  A horse that is heavy on the forehand is a horse with bad posture. An uneven gait is often the result of bad posture.

I worked on a horse recently that was so downhill it looked like it’s chest was sinking to its knees. His rider said she was tired of having to hold him up, of having him lean on her.  I found his pectoral muscles to be tight but stretched out.  The pectoral muscles support the rib cage, and if they are stuck in an extended position, if they have not contracted back to a good postural balance, it is impossible to elevate the forehand. Trying to do collected movements on this guy was a losing battle.  He was severely limited by his weak and inflexible muscles.

There is a massage technique for raising the chest and I spent quite some time and effort trying it. At first I got nowhere. I had to go back and work more on the pectoral muscles (there are four) before he was ready to be lifted.  The second or third time around I started to see the withers and back raise just a bit.

 

This is the beginning. It will take a few sessions and good riding to reverse the effects of bad posture in this teenaged horse. I am confident that it will happen. The horse was relaxed and happy at the end of the session and I got a good report of a comfortable and relaxed ride today.  Working towards good posture and flexibility will be the key to prevent injuries that can occur when a horse is heavy on his forehand. With posture restored, horses feel more tranquil and less stressed. Postural balance is good for the mind as well as the body!

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A Vicious Cycle

What happens when your horse gets injured? There is the initial pain and then reduced blood carrying oxygen to the injury site. The reduced circulation then causes an involuntary spasm or contraction.  The spasm helps create a protective splint, which is natures’ way of immobilizing the injured area. The spasm, while in some ways protecting the area, creates more pain, and therefore more spasms. Quite a system, right?

In the beginning of recovery, there is inflammation.  There is a purpose to inflammation: it helps the body clear out damaged tissue and muscle fibers. Icing will keep the inflammation from becoming extreme.

New muscle fibers will form as the injury heals.  It is crucial, once the body is healed, to keep all tissue, new and old, flexible and pliable with massage and gentle exercise.  Cold laser therapy can help with healing damaged tissue, but spasms formed during the injury must be manually removed.  I never massage a newly injured horse, or work on any area that is inflamed. Once time has passed, massage is essential to keep the muscles pliable and encourage circulation.

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Using the Cold Laser to Prevent Injuries

Alberto Salazar is a running coach to Olympic medalists and many other successful runners. Observers have noted that Salazar’s athletes are not only fast, they seem to avoid the injuries that plague others in the sport. An article in the Portland Business Journal reveals the latest Salazar method: the use of laser therapy to prevent injuries, or speed healing.

“We use the lasers at the first sign of injury to limit an exaggerated inflammatory response that can delay healing and help the athlete return to training more quickly,” Salazar says in a short interview.

Proponents believe that laser treatments can reduce pain, and speed healing of all body tissues–muscle, tendon, ligament, and bone. Some studies have found it superior to ultrasound.

Before tendons become inflamed and swollen causing pain to the patient (whether two or four legged) and causing a  loss in strength and motion, low level laser, or cold laser, can be a very effective therapy.

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Restoring Harmony to the Equine Body

When there is an imbalance in the  alignment of the body, the result is aches and pains.  The pains lead to a learned response from muscles to try and avoid the discomfort, further distorting the body.  When I watch a horse walk, I look for all the clues that show which muscles are tight and causing asymmetry . The massage I do works to lengthen the overly tight muscles, and to help the extended muscles to contract in order to bring the two sides of the horse into balance.

Any repetitive motion creates muscle and tissue shortening. Eventually the torso becomes crooked, which creates restrictions and pain. What I do is a number of techniques to release muscle shortening , spasms ,and adhesions that may have occurred as a result of injury. To lengthen tissue, to restore length of motion, is my goal with each equine athlete.

Many people give their horse time off when it shows signs of muscle soreness or tension. Rest is important, but if there are knots in the muscle fibers, they will still be there no matter how much rest the horse has. Those knots have to be manually removed. You will see the results immediately, as your horse moves with a new fluidity.

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Long Lasting Relief!

When there is pain, it is safe to assume that there is something wrong in the function of tissues. Those tissues could be in muscle, ligament, tendons, nerves, or cartilage.

Every tissue in your body is made of very small cells. An injured tissue is merely cells not working, and struggling to recover.  Light at specific frequencies can stimulate the cells to function better. That is the beauty of low level or cold laser therapy. The light energy from the laser gives a jump (just like jumper cables to your car battery) to cells.  Treatment time can be measured in minutes.  There are no side effects. And best of all patients, whether two or four legged, get relief because their injured tissues are restored. There is no chemical masking of the pain with a drug.

The laser can speed the healing of sprains and strains, tendinitis, wounds ,and other chronic conditions that are stubborn to respond to any other therapy.

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Where is the Problem?

Myofascial release is a technique of applying extended pressure to the complaining body part. Normally fascia is relaxed, but any kind of trauma, scar, or emotional tension can create kinks in the fascia. This not only impacts the problem area but can spread throughout the body. Think of the fascia as webbing or a sweater that encases all of our muscles, bones, veins, nerves, ligaments and more. Pulling one thread in the sleeve will send shock waves throughout the sweater. Everything is connected.

If you try myofascial release on your own body, you may wonder why I am still alive! The animals, mostly horses and dogs (though there have been pigs, llamas, and goats in the mix) seem to recognize that I am there to help. The process of balancing the structure of the body is not always pleasant. Animals seem to be better than we are at not avoiding hard stuff! Maybe it is more natural for them to let go.

By offering our animals the healing that massage and alternative bodywork therapy can give, we can give something back to them for all that they have given to us.

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How Can My Horse (and Myself) Perform the Best?

The process of participating in sports and getting a body conditioned strains muscles and tendons even when no injury is present. The simplest way to relieve this strain is through myofascial release.

Fascia is a specialized connective tissue layer surrounding muscles, bones, and joints, and gives support and protection to the body. It consists of three layers – the superficial fascia, the deep fascia and the sub serous fascia. Fascia is one of the 3 types of dense connective tissue (the others being ligaments and tendons) and it extends without interruption from the top of the head to the tip of the toes.

The fascia, or soft connective tissue that surrounds muscles, is stretched and made supple during performance enhancing massage. The massage increases blood flow and spreads muscle fibers that have been squeezed together. Both processes can help repair micro-tears and prevent further injury.

Myofascial release can be done before exercise to release any knots so the muscles can work properly. Afterward, massage can push out some of the waste product (lactic acid), for example, to prevent common muscle soreness.

MFR PR photo

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