Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Benefits of Heat

Once you have gotten past the acute stages of healing an injury, applying heat can be both soothing and healing. But did you know the best source of heat comes from the body itself? The body will create heat when massage is administered. This heat from within the body will separate muscle fibers that are stuck together and increase circulation to the injured area.

Using heat and massage for chronic conditions before participating in activities will help prevent re-injury. The cold laser is another method of increasing circulation to a healing injury.

Do not use heat treatments after activity, and do not use heat after an acute injury or if an infection is present.  At that time, ice is preferable, keeping tissues in a state of “suspended animation.”


When Should Massage Be Started?

When your horse is sore from a hard workout, massage should be done as soon as possible. Body work can reduce the amount of time necessary for the horse to return to its optimum performance level.

If your horse is sore from a saddle that does not fit, a kick, a collision with a fence or stall door, poor shoeing, a bite, or any of the other million calamities that our horses seem to find, massage can make the difference between a minor injury and one that becomes more complicated the longer it is left untreated.

The more time that passes after an injury, the more the tightness and soreness in the muscles will travel throughout the body and affect movement and performance. If there is swelling and pain, no massage should be applied until the swelling and/or heat is gone.

The sooner massage is started, the better, unless the injury is acute. If a muscle is torn, massage should wait about 6 weeks.

For more severe injuries, veterinary clearance to begin massage is suggested. However, massage to non-injured parts of the body can be very beneficial if the horse is on stall rest or other restriction. Massage can help prevent atrophy and stress to non-injured muscles that may be compensating for the injured one.


Low Level Laser Therapy

Low Level Laser Therapy, also known as Cold Laser Therapy, has been in use for over 40 years, but was finally approved by the FDA in 2002. Laser therapy has primarily been used to relieve pain, heal wounds and scar tissue, and regenerate nerves.

There are over 2000 published studies on the cold laser showing absolutely 0% negative side effects. What drug can show the same results?

Cells in the body produce a chemical known as ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) to run the body and heal tissue. All of our body’s activities result from the use of ATP.  Low Level Laser Therapy stimulates a structure within the cells called the mitochondria to produce slightly higher amounts of ATP. With more ATP at the cell level, tissues heal faster, and relief comes faster.

Four to twelve treatments may be needed for complete healing of an injury or relief of pain, but I have found major relief after just one session with the laser.


Did You Know?

Did you know that there is no joint connecting the front leg of the horse to the body? The front leg literally hangs from the withers, producing a limb that acts as pendulum when in motion.  The scapula is attached to the withers by the trapezius muscle.

The muscles of the front limb must create the lift and suspension of forward motion. Then they must straighten the limb and lower it to the ground. This cycle of movement is repeated by the muscles of the trapezius, rhomboid,brachiocephalicus, latissimus dorsi, and pectorals for every step the horse takes.

You can see why massage is necessary to free up tight muscle tissue, enhance blood circulation, and improve muscle tone. For horses involved in competition, equine massage therapy can boost performance by improving range of movement, because you are improving muscle quality and circulation.


Rollkur and Its Effects on the Neck of the Horse

From Sustainable Dressage:

The shape of the neck is what is most visibly affected by riding the horse deep and rolled in since it is used as a tool for bending up the heavy back and/or off-setting the horse’s balance. The neck is very agile and most horses can bite their own chest, flank or rump if they make an effort. The vertebrae in the neck do not have the spinous processes that do those of the chest and back. and they work a bit like a chain, being very mobile in most directions. The muscles attach directly onto the vertebral bodies.

The spinal column of the neck does not follow the contour of the neck as seen from the outside. Rather, it is S-shaped inside the flesh of the neck. At the base of the neck the column comes out quite low. Then the spine bends upwards to be located near the top of the neck at the poll. It is natural for the horse to have this curvature of the spine of the neck, and though the curvature varies slightly from horse to horse it is basically the same. It can, however be changed through training or lack thereof.

Generally you can say that a horse showing a lot of underneck has a lower set base of the neck, spine-wise. It usually also has generous muscle bulk on the underside, but the two go hand in hand. If the horse has weak muscles supporting the base of the neck from above, it sags. The muscles from withers to poll take over, and the under neck stabilizes and stops the bulging bottom from protruding too much.

The greater bow of the S-curve at the bottom makes the neck shorten. In dressage there is much attention paid to the “arching” of the neck. But this is not an arch that one would want to increase, rather the opposite. The vertebral column of the neck should rather straighten than curve – the telescoping neck. It is the outside of the neck that arches in appearance. The bottom curve of the vertebral column lifts and straightens, the top part stays about the same, and between the very top vertebra and the skull, full relaxation of the muscles lets the head fall into place. The muscles around and in front of the withers help lifting the base of the neck, while they in their turn are aided by an active back.

In this way the shape of the neck is a good indication of how well the horse uses his back. The aim is to have the horse do this “topline stretch” both over the back and over the neck.

If you want to teach a horse to lift the base of the neck, straighten the vertebral column, lift the back and so on, the easiest and most productive way to do this is to ride the horse with a tendency for forward-down-out movement of the head and neck originating in stepping actively under with the hindlegs.

Now, I wrote tendency. It does not mean that the young horse should be ridden with his nose at the ground grubbing like a hog. No, a tendency for forward-down-out. The horse shall seek to stretch out but not actually do so. Rather contact the bit and stay there. The mere tendency makes this mechanism of lifting the base of the neck work. To begin with, there’s little, but the stronger and more well trained the horse gets, the better the effect. The topline muscles of the neck work at their medium length, and the muscles at the underside are disengaged. The head falls relaxed from the 1st vertebra and needs no fixing by muscles, but simply hangs by it’s own weight.

In 2000, Dr Vet Horst Weiler concluded his studies on illnesses in and around the attachments of tendons and ligaments in horses. In his studies, he found that 80% of horses used for dressage and jumping had injuries around the attachment of the nuchal cord on the head. Horses used for hacking, trotters, ponies, coldbloods, had these injuries much less or not at all. The injuries consisted of bony build-up on the site of the insertion at the back of the skull, bony nodules inside the ligament, mineralization of the ligament, etc. These are all the result of excessive stress and inflammation, because the body tries to reinforce an area threatened by rupture.

In an article in Dutch magazine Bit in 2003 Het Knikje – Overbelasting van de nekpees, Weiler’s answer to the question of what causes the overloading comes as rather a shock for dressage riders – It occurs when the horse makes the highly sought flexion in the poll in dressage training. Overbending, riding deep and round, or with the chin almost on the chest or behind the perpendicular is the cause of the problems, according to him.

These particular types of injuries are caused by a pulling,  torquing, or twisting stress on the ligament insertions. Now, remember that all horses graze, and they do it with their noses “on the ground”. But non-dressage/jumper horses had normal x-rays and skulls. Those horses graze too, so just stretching the head down is apparently not harmful. The sheering action on the ligament probably happens as the riders impose extreme poll flexion, curl their horses noses into the chest, and work them there repeatedly, for lengthy periods of time, or pull hard while doing so.



The Animal Guides Me in Their Treatment

When I work on an animal, the treatment points to the next step I should take. I may have an idea of the problems when I start, but it is essential that I watch how the animal responds. Sometimes, when muscle fibers release, others may contract. There is no such thing as a muscle in isolation from the rest of the body. My challenge is to be fluid in my thinking, to be able to turn on a dime.

Some of my favorite 4-legged clients will guide me as I work. They become active in their own treatment by leaning into my hands, telling me I am in the right spot, ignoring my hands, or telling me I am clueless!, or flinching away, which signals that that spot is painful.

Fascia gives the body its shape. Healthy fascia is elastic and allows the body to stretch and move free. An injury, the wear and tear of daily life, exercise, stress, and fatigue can all result in restrictions of the fascia. Left untreated, these restrictions build up and result in pain and loss of athletic ability. Many people are surprised to discover an increase in the ability of their equine or canine athlete after myofascial massage.


Pain Relief Without Drugs

The cold laser I use is different from the lasers used to perform surgery. The lower frequency of light of the therapeutic laser used at horse shows by me and other practitioners does not cut or cauterize tissue.

You might want to try the soothing effects of the laser on your own aches and pains, so you know what your horse, dog, or cat is experiencing. Laser light takes the soreness out of painful tissue and enhances the delivery of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the injury site. This increase in circulation allows the tissues to expel lactic acids or other metabolic wastes along with inflammatory substances that contribute to local pain and swelling.

You can experience natural pain relief without the risks associated with pain medications. Most studies conclude that much faster healing takes place from injury when cold laser therapy is included in the recovery treatment.



An article from Sustainable Dressage


Riding Front to Back – Hand Riding

To address the outline of the horse from the front is like painting a loaf of dough brown to make it baked. It is simply going about it the wrong way. It’s trying to mimic the finished results by adding it’s appearance, not by developing it’s prerequisites. The rein aids are a fact in dressage, there is no way around that. Some of the more sterner “purists” hardly acknowledge that the hands have any role at all to play in dressage, but renouncing rein aids is, of course, equally wrong. Relaxing the jaw, positioning to the inside, bending, etc is all done with the aids of the hands. So it’s not about that.

It is about the way the horse works. Energy, rhythm, balance and collection are generated in the quarters. The quality of the work of the quarters influences the quality of work of the whole horse. The influence of the rest of the horse on the quarters is literally non-existent, unless the horse is working correctly behind to start with. So training should start with, and continue to concern the quality of work of the hindquarters. Without that, one can bend and twist, stretch and loosen every part of the horse, and the quality of movement will still not improve. Most proficient rollkur riders know that. That is why they extend the trot and canter explosively forward, frequently, and also the reason for rushing around in medium trot working to get “active hindquarters”. Since the horse has to contract his underneck muscles in this work, and since the attention goes backwards to the chest or between the knees, these horses have to be chased forward for them to become active behind.

Signalling Submission

A horse shows his inferiority to another horse by lowering his head. The lower the head the more submission. It also works the other way around; if you lower the head of the horse he feels inferior. It can be a way of managing the relation between horse and rider. It can also be a way of robbing the horse of his pride, depending upon the extent to which it is done.

Field of Vision

The horse is very dependent on being able to adjust the head to focus his eye-sight at different depths. A horse that looks for something at the horizon lifts the nose to almost horizontal level, and looks along the back of his nose. When a horse focuses on something close, he changes the angle to approach the vertical, and looks at it straight out in front. 90 degrees to his nose.
Alison Harman, University of Western Australia, rider and neuroscientist:
“The field of view runs in the direction of the nose. Instead of it being in front of their head the way it is for us, it’s actually down their nose and sort of towards the ground. Above and below the nose, the horse simply couldn’t see.” Catalyst: Riding Blind – ABC TV Science >>
When the horse is made to hold his head well behind the vertical in deep or rollkur, this means that he, at the most, sees the ground immediately before his feet, in focus. You can clearly see that on showjumpers approaching a fence with the neck curled in. As the rider finally lets the horse up, he realises there’s a fence ahead. Ears point forward and he seeks the fence. If the rider were to keep the horse curled in, the odds are that the horse would not clear the fence because he cannot see it and because it restricts his freedom of movement.

There is much talk about riding forward when riding deep. The trouble is that the horse cannot see forward, and therefore has trouble thinking forward.


The Joy of Laser

Many of you have heard of Laser surgery where light is used to cut tissue. Laser technology has progressed from the extreme application of burning and cutting to the approach I can now use with my equipment.

Simply stated, laser light can be used to energize living cells. Using correct protocols for individual conditions, cold laser therapy can produce dramatic changes to tissue.

Laser irradiation has an anti-inflammatory effect on tissue. Blood vessels dilate, which increases circulation. Pain receptor activity is suppressed; endorphin release is increased, and the metabolism within each cell is increased.

Cold laser therapy (also called soft laser) activates the production of immune cells. New capillaries are formed, which is essential for quick wound healing. At the same time, the fibrous tissue of scar tissue is reduced. Nerve cells are repaired, minimizing or eliminating the numbness of a major injury or wound.

And all these benefits are achieved without side effects. No drugs. No over the counter medicines. Lasers are safe and work quickly.


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