I was in the barn. Quietly working on a client’s horse. Two women were having a conversation down the isle. I wasn’t trying to eaves drop but I couldn’t help but over hear. “Susan is great, she has gone to Fill In The Blank School and my horses are always better after they see her. She’s only good for massage though. If you need anything else, you better try Jeramiah” said the one lady. “Oh really” said the other, “My friend told me that Jeremiah was better at massage and to see Dr. Nix for other body work”. “She said that Susan was not very educated.” “I heard that Kathy was great at energy work although you can’t tell what she is doing.” So on and so forth.
First, I know that there are good and bad trainers, good and bad therapist and good and bad farriers. While I may have an opinion about another practitioner’s work, I keep it to myself. In reality, no one person is perfect. You have to find what works for you. Honestly, most people making the judgements about a particular practitioner being good or bad usually don’t even know enough to make that decision anyhow. Some practitioners are really good and know a lot but aren’t good at expressing it. Some practitioners don’t know as much but have a great bedside manner. Even others are great with horses and not with people. You get the drift?
The women meant well and were only trying to share their experiences. However, I know each of these practitioners and while it is true that each has their strengths and weaknesses, they all are good. Public perception is the key to having a good business in the horse world. As we know, the public can be quite fickle in how they make “rational” judgement. In fact, there are books written on how little we actually remember the facts when things happen. Usually we remember how we felt. Why am I saying this? To discredit these women… no. To make people sound like flakes…no. Just to open our eyes that sometimes we make decisions and we just aren’t qualified to do so.
Where Am I Leading You?
There is something you don’t realize. Each practitioner out there doing bodywork or energy work is tapping into the same universal life force (or qi) to help your horse. Each one has their twist/name/language but that is only where it differs. How do I know this? Let me explain. Let’s start with definitions.
Massage: using manual techniques to release restrictions in muscles, fascia and soft tissue.
Chiropractic: using manual techniques to re-align structures such as joints and the spinal column.
Acupuncturist: using needles to regulate the qi of the body to allow the horse to heal itself.
Craniosacral Therapist: using their hands to feel changes in the craniosacral rythym and release restrictions.
Reiki Practitioner: using their hands to channel the universal qi to facilitate healing
QiGong Therapist: another type of energy work based on chinese medicine.
And so on…
Each of these modalities uses some type of touch or hand work to interact with the energy of the horse. It is all energy work. I don’t believe in splitting hairs here. You can take a practitioner from each school and ask them to evaluate your horse. They will all find the same thing but will describe it differently based on their education. They will all be right and they all can help. Anyone who tells you any differently is being competitive!
I speak from experience. I do acupuncture, acupressure, craniosacral therapy, massage and reiki. I cannot tell you where one begins and one ends. Once I put my hands on the horse, I use all those modalities to give me feedback about the horse and use all those modalities to facilitate the horse healing itself. I could describe what I feel either from an acupuncturists school of thought, a CST practitioners language, a massage therapist vocabulary or a reiki practitioners consciousness. While there are many differences in each of these modalities and each of them takes many years of learning and practice to master, they all deal with the universal life force that exists in every living animal.
So next time you try and decide what modality is best, stop trying to kid yourself. Unless you are a master of all, you won’t really know. Give each practitioner a chance to help your horse. And dismiss any practitioner that tries to tell you why they are best.
New Massage Techniques
Over the past couple months I have been studying and practicing a new kind of massage called the Masterson Method. This work is based on the techniques and the life work of Jim Masterson, a renowned equine massage therapist who has worked on many international horses. For more information on the Masterson Method read this article.
What’s so great about this kind of work? It falls in line with a host of other techniques I use everyday. Jim’s special twist is a combination of massage, cranio-sacral therapy and myofascial release. Although that’s not how he advertises it, that’s what it is. Having studied craniosacral therapy, positional release and myofascial release, Jim’s techniques made total sense to me and to the horse (you could tell by their reaction). The Masterson Method added some cool ways to help me unlock tension in key junctions of the body from head to tail. I am happy to now offer this work to my clients.
These key junctions include the tmj, poll, withers, shoulders, neck, ribs, thoracic and lumbar vertebra, sacrum and SI joint, hips, stifles, hocks, fetlocks and feet but as you can see, all areas of the body can be treated with this method.
Your Horse Will Tell You
In addition, this kind of therapy you do with a horse not to the horse. As the practitioner, I constantly check in with the horses’ reaction and body language to determine where therapy is needed and how long to stay on a particular body part. If you watch the horse, they will tell you everything. Having this extra piece of communication really gave purpose to what I was feeling with my hands.
Many times I am asked how I feel what I do. It’s all energy. If you practice long enough you can feel where it’s flowing, stuck, too active or deficient. Couple that feeling with a reaction from the horse and you got a great two way communication system to really help horses feel better in their body. Often, just some simple techniques can help a horse unlock and become freer. A full on treatment can really make a big difference.
While bodywork can’t replace veterinary care, it is a great way to accomplish four things:
- help the veterinarian know where to concentrate their diagnostics and work.
- efficiently treat compensatory pain, lameness and bad biomechanics.
- complement what you are doing with your vet and your horse for lasting results.
- address body issues that are keeping your horse from performing its’ best.
I am now including this work in every treatment. The hardest part is finding the time! With so many techniques now in my tool belt, I can’t fit them all in. Luckily, I get to see my patients more than just once. If you’d like to schedule a treatment and experience these new techniques, please call Rebecca today!
Whole Food 4: Herbs and More
In our final month of whole foods, let’s talk about a few herbs and “other” foods that are packed full of nutrition.
Hawthorn Berries are high in antioxidants. They contain the flavonoids such as quercitin, and oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs)- the same antioxidants found in grapes. In Europe, they are used as a heart tonic and to treat circulatory and heart disorders.
Red Raspberry Leaf is high in vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, iron and vitamin B. Most horse people are familiar with raspberry leaf as a uterine relaxant and it’s suggested use for mares when “in heat”. Some horse owners have reported limited success with using raspberry for those reasons. I advise horse owners to tailor a herbal prescription to their individual horse’s needs and not just rely on over the counter preparations.
Bee Pollen is another excellent source of amino acids. Bee pollen is considered a super food that interestingly we can’t artificially produce. It is full of vitamin and minerals and many have acclaimed it’s super powers. My only concern is the plight of the honey bee. They are dying out fast and while scientist know of multiple causes, there seems to be little hope for these great pollinators.
So that completes our list, although I wouldn’t say it’s complete. I just wanted to give you a sample of the many foods available that pack a punch in nutrition. Supplementing our horses doesn’t require synthetic or man made vitamins and minerals that congest and clog our horses systems up. Not only do we over supplement our horses with vitamins and minerals but many of the synthetics are not utilized by the body and are actually harmful. Hopefully this list gave you a place to start in providing a rich source of vitamins and minerals to your horse without having to pay the expensive price tag on processed supplements.
Remember this information is not to replace veterinary advice or care. Always consult a equine nutritionist when changing your horses diet.
Don’t forget to contact me if you’d like a topic covered in a future blog. Until next time,
Whole Foods 3: Seeds and Such
Last month we talked about some great whole foods that are not only packed with nutrition but are treats our horses love to eat. Today I want to talk about seeds and some other dried foods that are great additions to an equine supplement you are attempting to make or looking to buy. Check these out…
Nutritional Yeast is an excellent source of amino acids, B vitamins and provides the compounds beta-1,3 glucan, trehalose, mannan and glutathione, which are associated with enhanced immunity, reduced cholesterol levels and cancer prevention. Nutritional yeast also has the minerals iron, selenium and zinc. Note that it has been heated and deactivated so there isn’t any active yeast. (This is especially important for people who add it to their diet because it won’t cause or aggravate any candida growth.) You will find this listed in holistic supplements for horses and therefore is something you should know about.
Kelp (a nutritional seaweed) is an excellent mineral supplement containing most of the trace minerals and some ultra trace minerals. It also contains proteins and the vitamins A,B, C, D, E and K making it a great nutritional supplement. Kelp also contains a biological available form of calcium and iodine. Your source for kelp is important as some products are mislabeled and some products have toxic metals in them. It helps to do a little research on the source of kelp before you feed it to yourself or your horse.
Spirulina (a bluegreen algae) is known to be a good source of protein, carotenoids, iron and minerals. Loaded with antioxidants, spirulina, is being researched for it’s role in immune function, cleansing out toxins and fighting diseases such as cancer.
Hemp Seeds are a great source of protein and amino acids, essential fatty acids and phytonutrients. Similar to flax seeds, hemp seeds are high in omega 3 fatty acids but additionally provides significant amounts of the more rare ‘super’ polyunsaturated fatty acids, notably gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SDA). Supplementation with GLA and SDA appears to alleviate the symptoms of atopic dermatitis and other skin diseases.
Flax Seeds. please read my previous article about the benefits of flax seeds by clicking here.
Chia Seeds. According to Mountain Rose Herbs they contain “Essential fatty acids alpha-linolenic and linoleic acid, mucin, strontium, 30% protein, Vitamins A, B, E, and D, and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, iron, iodine, copper, zinc, sodium, magnesium, manganese, niacin, thiamine, silicon, and anti-oxidants.” They are concentrated little powerhouses of nutrition. Unlike flax seeds, chia seeds are digested and do not need to be ground.
Pumpkin seeds are also packed with omega 3 fatty acids. They are a good source of magnesium and zinc. Studies show they help improve insulin regulation and lower inflammation in the body. In addition, pumpkin seeds are a good source of tryptophan which the body uses to make serotonin.
Sesame Seeds. The World’s Healthiest Foods says “Not only are sesame seeds an excellent source of copper and a very good source of manganese, but they are also a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, molybdenum, selenium, and dietary fiber.”
It’s amazing how these little seeds can have such nutritional value and therefore great disease fighting and health promoting properties. It makes me not only want to include them into my horses diet but also my own.
How equine dentistry affects performance and muscle development.
Is this why your horse lacks muscles over the back?
You may not know that although still practicing on a very limited basis, being an equine dental practitioner was my previous profession. I had a thriving practice from 1998 until 2012 when I severely cut back on dental work to pursue other professional activities. Over the years, I have seen a better awareness of the pros of regular dental care on horses. However, I want to revisit the subject and how it relates to muscle development over the topline.
Years ago when I first got started, I was working with another female dentist in Virginia. When we would arrive on the farm, we could look out in the pasture and pick out horses with hooks. They had this quality about them. An atrophy of the muscles in the top line, even if they were in regular work. Despite dental problems causing weight problems and pain it also seemed to affect the carriage of their bodies. Although there can be many reasons why a horse could have poor muscle development over their back, dental abnormalities can definitely be one of the causes.
Why? Well, first lets describe what dental hooks are. When the alignment of the upper arcades of teeth are rostral to the lower arcades then the first and last cheek teeth do not line up correctly. Given that horses have a continual eruption of reserve crown over the life of their tooth, this can result in a protuberant tooth development in the areas that are not in occlusion. Ok what does that all mean? Basically the upper teeth are sitting forward of the lower teeth and the teeth not meeting up get too long. At least, this is the most common presentation.
When charting this dental hook we would say the 206 had a hook. Each tooth is numbered according to the location in the head (arcade and # of tooth). Usually hooks are present on the 106, 206 (rostral hooks) and 311, 411 (caudal hooks). In performing a routine dental exam and “floating” these hooks would be filed down to be in alignment with the rest of the arcade.
So what does this do to the horses mouth and jaw? Besides being painful, inhibiting masticating and obstructing the flow of food this problem also locks the jaw from proper movement. The horse not only chews from side to side but also has a anterior/posterior (front to back) movement to the jaw. When else does this jaw move anteriorly and posteriorly? Whenever the horse lowers or raises its head.
Which brings me back to muscle development. If the horse cannot lower it’s head properly to bring the back muscles up then how can it develop top line muscle? If the horse cannot relax the lower jaw (mandible) and let it move freely, there will be tension in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), subsequent tension in the poll and neck and, of course, tension in the topline and hindend respectively. See why we could pick them out of the herd?
How does this relate to bodywork? Whenever I discover pain, tension or sensitivity in the top line, mandible, TMJ or poll, it’s a reminder to me to check the horses teeth. There could very well be a structural misaligment of the teeth that is causing the issues. It’s one of the many things to cross off the list when trying to get to the bottom of a symptom. Have a good, certified equine dentist check your horse at least once a year just to be sure.
What are the benefits of acupuncture for your horse?
With acupuncture becoming widely accepted and veterinarians literally seeing the benefits, no wonder acupuncture has spread to the four legged community. It’s not uncommon to see veterinarians and acupuncturists working in vet offices and clinics supplying a much needed medicine to cats, dogs, horses etc. The vet community even has an organizing body (IVAS) to certify veterinary acupuncturists. States such as Maryland are also certifying licensed acupuncturists to work on animals.
In addition, the FEI has ruled that acupuncture can be used on competition horses without breaking FEI rules. Studies have shown an reduction in anesthesia needed by 31% when acupuncture was used during animal surgery. Effectiveness has been studied and documented in clinical trials.
So what does this all mean to you and your horse? Well, we already know that acupuncture used often and that it’s effective now lets look at some real down to earth examples of how you can experience the benefits of acupuncture.
- Dollar savings. how much does it cost to have hocks injected? $500-$1000. Many horses can forgo hock injections (and other invasive treatments) and be treated with acupuncture instead. Not only does it reduce pain but also treats the underlying cause of why the horses hocks are getting sore in the first place.
- Less anti-inflammatories. This goes along with #1 in saving money too. Acupuncture is so effective at treating pain, anti-inflammatories are not needed. This is even better news considering the link between NSAIDS and ulcers and Corticosteroids and their many side effects.
- Increases performance. This could be just from allowing the horse to be more comfortable when performing. Think of the consequences of making a race horse more comfortable during running. Just shaving a second off their race time can make the difference between 1st or last.
- Less down time. Acupuncture is effective in quickening healing time in muscles, fascia and bone. I have seen it first hand with suspensory injuries with ultrasounds to validate.
- Happiness. Acupuncture treats both physical and emotional symptoms. But lets be realistic, if your horse feels better he will act better. Chronic pain wreaks havoc. Ask anyone.
So here’s a short list of scientifically proven diseases that acupuncture has helped.
- skin conditions
- back pain
- neck pain
- behavioral problems
What does fascia have to with riding horses?
Rider Position, Spinal Twist
How many of us have an imbalance between the right and left sides of our body? Probably just about everyone. It particulary shows up when riding. I myself have trouble with my left shoulder girdle and my right hip, Interestingly, I recently came across a theory in “Anatomy Trains” by Thomas Myers that explains some of these disparities between our right and left sides. First let me give some background in myofascial release.
What exactly is fascia?
Fascia is the fibrous body or connective tissue that holds the body together. It is a mesh or web that infiltrates every part of the living body and acts as a glue. Without it the body would be a puddle of gooey mess and bones on the floor. If one could remove all of the other components in the body and just leave the fascia you would still have the shape and look of the body. Damage to this system causes distortions in the system and therefore compensations and pain. Sometimes these symptoms are not near the located site of distortion. Strain on muscles or fascia for whatever reason (injury, improper posture and training, overuse etc.) will create trigger points and also a electric charge. This electric charge will travel through the fascia to surrounding muscles and beyond (in both directions along the meridians lines) causing distortions along these lines. This snag in fascia is communicated across the entire system below conscious awareness and the body creates a change in shape in the connective tissue that stays unless altered for better or worse. Releasing these restrictions not only bring the body back into balance and allows us to use our body more properly and efficiently but also relieves pain.
Thomas Myers writes about the lines along the body called fascial meridians where the strain will “run” and connect to various body parts. This is why one may have a pain in one part of the body but need a fascial release in another part of the body to relieve it. One such meridian that I want to discuss today is the Spiral Line. First let me say that dysfunction in the spiral line usually involves and affects other fascial meridians lines. However, as it relates to my own body’s imbalance I found it extremely interesting.
The spiral line begins at the junction of the occipital bone with the temporal bone on the back of the head. It crosses over the mid line and wraps underneath the opposite scapula, around the rib cage, crossing the mid line again to the iliac crest. From here traverses down the anterior lateral part of the leg, into the arch of the medial foot, across the foot to the lateral side of the heel, up the lateral side of the leg, across the buttocks then up the back alongside the spinal column and finally ending on the occipital. Remember this runs bilaterally connecting each shoulder to the opposite iliac crest. The spiral line also plays a role in the diagonal pair lameness we commonly see in horses.
However, more importantly is the common compensatory postures that arise from restrictions anywhere along this line. They include ankle pronation or supination, knee rotation, ilio tibial (IT) band problems, pelvic rotation, rib rotation in relation to the pelvis, one shoulder lifted or anteriorly displaced, and a head tilt or rotation. In me this manifests as a problem with my right shoulder high, left shoulder girdle including ribs displaced and pulled to my right iliac crest which makes my right hip seems to float in nowhereville. To compensate then I have trouble with uneven leg length issues.
Body work is needed on the splenius, rhomboids, all the attachments on the anterior spine of the iliac crest, iliotibial tract, tibialis major, peroneus, biceps femoris, sacral tuberous ligament, sacral fascia and erector spinae muscles.
Fascia and Riding Horses
So what does this all mean? It means that the fascial restrictions in the spiral line and sometimes other fascial meridian lines are responsible for the postural rotation or spinal twist we feel and see in our riding. For instance, if the rib cage is restricted and protracted on one side it will involve the shoulder pulling the upper back and lower neck toward the shoulder. In relation the opposite side of the pelvis will also shift toward the lower shoulder. The sternum may collapse and the head tilt forward. Finally one or more knees may rotate inward or outward, and the ankles may develop tightness.
How do we correct it? One by working on it while riding and teaching yourself to let go of holding patterns. This can be a slow and painful process but teaching yourself positional awareness is an important tool in body balance. Second, yoga exercises. In particular, spinal twist poses like the Triangle pose and the Seated twist, Warrior pose and Upward Dog. Third, go for treatment in acupressure, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy that release myo-fascial restrictions.
Do you realize how important regular acupuncture treatment is?
Are you giving you and your horses body enough attention? I find that horses and riders as major athletes are not tending to their bodies enough. Imagine this, you just got off work, fought traffic heading to the barn, you jump out of the car, take a deep breath and go catch your horse. In your rush to get in a ride before dark, you hastily walk your horse toward the light of the barn when suddenly he spooks, jumps right on top of your foot. As you scream in pain, he panics, jerks away and runs off. After your friends help you catch your horse you sit and nurse your bruised toes. Your horse seems fine and your foot is just sore, nothing broken.
But, two days later you notice that you’re still walking with a limp. You go to your doctor only to hear that it will just take time to heal but nothing is really wrong. In the meantime, your horse seems out of sorts too.
What can you do to make sure you and your horse get back to greatness in no time flat. GET SOME BODYWORK!
Complementary and alternative therapies are not meant to be a once in a while kind of treatment. They are meant to keep the body in balance through the ups and downs of everyday life. It is almost impossible for a body to remain in balance on its own. Especially when subjected to stress, wear and tear and the hectic life of today’s culture. Lack of body balance can manifest as a whole host of issues from muscle and connective tissue injuries to insomnia, headaches, digestive upset, organ dysfunction, emotional upset… the list is endless.
There are many ways to bring the body back into balance including massage, myofascial release, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, asian body work, yoga, pilates, qi gong, tai chi, alexander technique, feldenkrais, nutritional therapy and herbal therapy to name just a few.
And yes, I even need to remind myself not to neglect my body or my horses’ body because I run out of time, have too much going on or just too tired. Luckily, my horses are always my best teachers and yet again they have taught me a valuable lesson.
Most of you know how valuable acupuncture and craniosacral therapy has been to my black horse (Indy) that dealt with chronic pain issues. Even me, who sees the results on a regular basis, still tends to forget that energetic work is my best line of defense when things go wrong. But my chestnut (Dancer) has been quick to remind me. In the past, he has received regular treatments because (1) I know how important they are for prevention (2) I see his performance blossom when he gets them and (3) well just because I can! Most recently, Dancer started acting sore behind from starting more collected work. Being the beginnings of an issue, he is not lame (so a vet probably wouldn’t be helpful) but I wanted to act quickly to prevent a major injury. So, I rested him… no help. Tried medication… no help. Finally I went back to his regularly scheduled treatments and viola… Dancer is back to his ole self.
The message… get regular treatments for you and your horse. Your body & your horse’s will thank you. Believe me when I say that some prevention now will be well worth the savings in the long run. I have seen it time and time again with clients, both human and horse.
In my quest to not only become a better practitioner but also a better rider, I am constantly engrossed in journeys to expand my knowledge. Therefore, I feel compelled to share some quotes and notes from my most recent book readings. The following info is applicable to all horse owners but especially those wanting to better understand the physiology of horse movement and biomechanics.
Usually when vets treat musculoskeletal problems they can only concentrate on resolving the changes that have already taken place in the body. For example, treating bony changes in the hock and usually the accompanying hock pain. They usually don’t treat or speculate about the causes that precipitated these changes. Alternative practitioners and riders should be asking what predisposed this horse to these changes. What imbalances in the body or the riding has caused this diagnosis. Sara Wyche states in The Horses Muscles in Motion that “the only way we can ride the horse without causing him permanent damage is by utilizing the way in which he, himself, raises the forehand off the ground: namely by using the muscles of the back and of the hind limbs.” Sara goes on to say that degenerative changes in the bones of the horses back are a sad reflection of the way we ride. Personally in my practice, I have found this to be a major reason why most horses suffer from restrictions in their sacrum, pelvis and lumbar regions. Sometimes it is from past experience and riders but non the less precipitated by humans.
So along this thought pattern, we concern ourselves about the condition of the muscles for they propel the horse forward and are responsible for self carriage, the condition of the ligaments and tendons for they allow the muscles to properly influence the bones, and the bones for they supply the structural foundation. Especially important is the pelvis for it protects the internal organs and is the powerhouse of the horse, being responsible for attachment of large muscles that transfer movement to the spine and forward. Therefore, the pelvis, sacrum and their fibrous junction, the sacro iliac joint , is truly the bottom line and one of the most important structures in the ridden equine.
The psoas and iliopsoas are deep muscles which are important in the horses ability to raise the forehand. The psoas muscle begins inside the ribcage. “Its origin covers the area of the last three ribs, including part of the diaphragm muscle, and the underside of four of the lumbar vertebrae. From here it narrows to insert on the medial side of the ilium. The iliopsoas consists of two parts, one that begins under the lumbar vertebrae and one that begins under the ilium and sacrum. The two parts unite, and insert on the medial side of the femur.” (Taken from the Horse Muscles in Motion by Wyche) The psoas minor and iliopsoas muscles are perhaps the most important muscles in the ridden horse. The successful transfer of power and impulsion from the hindquarters is dependent upon them. In addition, the quadriceps femoris which extends the stifle and is linked to the hock aids in the horses ability to collect. This dynamic interaction of muscles is apparent in engagement of the hindquarters. For in order for the horse to bring his hocks under his body, the pelvis must be lowered and the lumbar spine stabilized. This is in large part the responsibility of the psoas minor and iliopsoas muscles.
This brief description is not comprehensive but allows us to start thinking in a biomechanical way (1) how we ride the horse, (2) how we train them to use themselves and (3) how we prevent injury by encouraging the proper use of self. Maybe next time we will cover rider biomechanics . Until then,