The muscles of the haunches control the pelvis and the hips. If these muscles are tight, the hind legs will not be able to swing freely and the pelvis will not be able to rock. Equine sports that require a lot of thrust, such as racing, jumping, and eventing, can create a lot of soreness in the haunches. If your horse flinches, or threatens to kick when you groom this area, he is probably trying to tell you that the gluteal muscles are hurting.
Tightness in the muscles of the hind end can restrict the swing of the pelvis. To compensate, the body of the horse will have to get forward motion and thrust from the hip joints, which will overstress those joints. Sports massage is the solution to restore healthy, balanced functioning of the muscles that create movement in the hind end.
I usually start most equine massages with the back muscles. I have the owner walk the horse on a straight line away from me and then back towards me. Then I have them walk on a smallish (12 meters or so) circle around me in either direction. So much can be seen at the walk. I can see if the pelvis is level and if the tail is centered and swinging freely when the horse is walking away. I can watch the pectorals and the straightness of the neck when the horse is walking towards me. On the circle I can see if the horse is bending.
I make a mental note of the problem areas, but then work on the back first as it is what connects the front and hind ends. If I can relieve pain in the back, the horse will be more relaxed for any deep tissue work that comes afterwards. If the back muscles are tight from having the weight of a rider, my focus will be on spreading muscle fibers.
If the back muscles are very sore, I will go more gently and focus on the muscle attachments at each end.
If there are no problems in the long back muscles, I still will do a relaxing massage to start off the body work. Endorphins will be released, and the horse will be happy!
The sacroiliac joint is the only moving joint between the backbone and the pelvis.
When this joint becomes dislocated, the bump will appear. When the horse lands from a jump, the rear foot may reach too far forward under the horse, or slide forward. The entire weight of the horse (and rider) is being supported by that one leg. The movement of the leg coming too far forward rotates the sacroiliac joint so far that the supporting ligaments (usually just on one side) tear. This causes the front of the pelvis to move up and forward out of its normal position, creating the bump.
There may initially be pain and a reluctance to use the leg on the side of the injury. The horse may refuse to jump at all for a while. Strides may be short. Eventually the pain subsides, but unless the dislocation and muscle tightening is corrected, the movement of the leg will always be limited.
In the past, it was believed there was no treatment or help for hunter’s bump, but more recently it has been shown that cold laser, chiropractic, and massage therapies are effective.
When standing, does your horse stand square, or do his hind legs appear to be trailing out behind? When trotting or cantering, does your horse feel strung out? The cause could be that the pelvis has rotated. This can happen when a horse jumps a jump that is too big for his fitness level. Also, if the horse lands with his feet out behind and the rider sits down hard at the same time, the pelvis can be shoved into a position that causes pain in the stifle, hocks, croup, lower back, and even the withers. Myofascial release and stress point therapy can reverse this condition. Hand walking down a steep hill will encourage the horse to maintain the position after it is corrected. It may be necessary to include chiropractic treatment if the condition is severe.
If your gelding wants to cross canter, or kicks at non-existent flies on his belly, or counter bends at the canter, he may have scar tissue that is causing discomfort. Sometimes the symptoms won’t show up until he moves up the levels: what was mildly irritating at the baby level may become impossible to ignore as the jumps go up, or the movements become more complex. The more the horse has to use his abdominal muscles, the more uncomfortable and tight the gelding scar will feel.
I have learned that if I see a restriction in the pelvis, the cause may be coming from the gelding scar. Myofascial release can be very effective for this problem. Within 10 minutes you will have a more cooperative and happy gelding. Often, what was thought of as a pelvic misalignment will correct itself once the tight scar tissue is softened.
During pregnancy, the cartilage of the pelvis softens and stretches to allow the foal to pass through. It takes several months after foaling for the pelvis and the muscles connected to it (psoas,adductor) to regain stability. During that time, injury to the pelvic area can happen very easily, especially when spring rains make the ground slippery. If your mare is standing wide behind, if she has little action in the hocks when trotting, if she has difficulty picking up the canter, she may need an adjustment of the pelvic area. Myofascial release and massage can reverse the condition, but rest will be needed. Recovery will take some time.
I went to watch the dressage lesson of a regular client. I noticed her horse was having a hard time bending right, and his right hip was much higher than the left. We scheduled an appointment for a few days later. The owner told me that the horse had had a chiropractic adjustment a week ago, but I checked all the obvious places, like his spine and rib cage, to see if I could find the cause for the bending problem first. Every bone seemed perfectly balanced and in line, except for his pelvis. He had what is called a pelvic rotation misalignment. The owner told me the horse had some wild play time in turnout, which was a good clue. If a horse slips, or bucks hard, or falls, there goes your chiropractic adjustment! I picked up the hind leg of the lower side, lifted gently, and held it as long as I could (this horse is big! a draft/warmblood cross!). I had the owner walk him away from me. There was an improvement, but not enough, so I moved on to looking for stress points. Bingo! I found a huge stress point where the long back muscles and gluteals meet. And diagonally there were stress points at the costarum, which is a major side flexor. The horse closed his eyes, chewed, and gave a big exhale. Watching him walk away showed a big improvement. He was not 100% square, so I will check him in a couple of days. It might take two treatments, but we caught the problem early. As for the bending issue: once the pelvis is level, bending becomes easy once again.
The photos are not great. Taken on a dark and stormy day.
Before body work. Stiff and uneven.
After body work. Pelvis is level and he’s bending more.