How did you decide you wanted to get into Physiotherapy & what is your favourite thing about your job?
I think behind every equine physio is a very tricky horse! That feeling that a horse is struggling physically or experiencing pain but being unable to pin point it is what led me down this path. My favourite aspect of the job is that every single day is different and I am constantly being challenged!
Is there a part of your job that you don’t enjoy?
There are a few days a year that the weather is so bad that it would make an office job look appealing but thankfully they are very few and far between!
What are the most common injuries you have to treat?
Generalised back pain. Physically horses are just not built to carry us and carry out the types of work that we ask of them. Very often this results in a build-up of muscle tension or pain through the spine.
Do Physio’s have different qualifications and if so what ones should you be looking out for when looking for a physio?
Yes, there are several different routes to qualification. We are currently working towards regulation within the industry. Until then it is important that owners are mindful to choose therapists who are fully qualified and insured.
Is it important to work together as a team with your dentist and farrier? For example, does the horses jaw & teeth have an effect on the rest of the body?
It is absolutely crucial to adopt a holistic approach where your physio works in conjunction with your dentist, farrier, saddle fitter and trainer (if appropriate). This team should be led by your vet and your therapist may need to refer your horse back to your vet for further investigation.
Yes, there are anatomical links between the jaw, shoulder and even the hind end. It is a fascinating bio-mechanical link which means that your horse cannot push effectively from behind if movement is restricted through the jaw!
What’s the one exercise you recommend every rider does with their horse?
There is no particular exercise that should be recommended for every horse but I always encourage riders to think about cross-training their horses. Where appropriate we want to include as much variety as possible in a horse’s regime. This will result in healthier muscles, joints and tendons which will be less prone to injury. Try not to school on a surface every day. Think about whether you could school on grass or go for a hack? Maybe you could lunge your horse once a week or go for a canter up a hill? Have you done any pole work lately or ground work? Variety is key! Your physio can help you come up with an exercise programme for your horse.
What signs should you been looking out for to suggest that your horse is in need of a physio, how often should your horse see a physio?
You should be looking for subtle changes in behaviour and movement. Has your horse started to buck? Have they become cross when you approach with the saddle or tighten the girth or have your canter transitions become sticky on a particular rein? How often they are treated depends on how much work the horse is doing, its stage of development and its medical history. I have well developed riding club horses that I treat annually and 1.50m jumpers that I see weekly. Your horse should be assessed by a qualified individual and they will suggest appropriate treatment intervals for your horse.
If you could tell riders the one thing not to do with their horse, what would it be?
I am not a fan of “gadgets” such as draw reins, bungees etc. Although they may have a place in very experienced hands for certain horses they are all too often used to cover up a bigger problem. The main thing for owners to understand is that muscle does not become strong overnight. If your horse will not work in an outline, then it has not built the correct muscles to support this way of going. A gadget will force them into this outline and unless used with great skill and sympathy you run the risk of fatiguing the muscles you are hoping to build, making them sore and therefore less likely to be used correctly during the subsequent training sessions.
What is the most interesting thing you learned from your time as an equine physiotherapist?
I am always amazed by just how tolerant horses are. As prey animals horses have a genetically programmed instinct to cover up signs of pain. The most important thing that I have learnt is that we really need to pay attention to the small changes in behaviour and movement as horses will endure a surprising amount of discomfort before resorting to “naughty” behaviour.
What exercises should you be doing with your horse on a weekly basis for stretching out their muscles properly?
Carrot stretches are useful for stretching muscles through the neck and back but also for building core strength. As the extent of the stretch is controlled by the horse they are a safe way of building flexibility and strength. This booklet produced by Gillian Higgins is a great resource for owners: http://www.horsesinsideout.com/ArticlePilates1.pdf
Well there you have it, Ruth has basically given us a mini bible on equine physio, with some great points to really make you think & be aware of your horse’s needs.
Until Next time,
Darielle & Orla