Category: Horses


Is Your Practitioner Competitive?

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.







Is Your Horse Fit Enough?

I entered by the old wood doors around back.  I had been to this barn many times and the familiar smell of hay and horses permeated the air.  Today I was called in for a routine checkup on a client’s dressage mare that was just coming back into work.

We had a long, tough winter.  Bitter cold.  Too much snow.  No one wanted to go outside into the bitter wind, not even the horses.  Some riders bundled up and braved the wrath of ole man winter but most of my adult amateur clients curled up on the couch instead.  Who can blame them?  It’s hard enough balancing work, family and riding but then add the weather difficulties too.  In fact there were many days I would have stayed inside… if I had the choice.

“She lost some fitness this winter” the client warns as she pulls off the blanket.  “But I wanted to make sure she felt okay now that we’ve started riding again.”

“Yeah, you can really see it in her top-line and hind-end muscles” I reply.  “What’s your plan for bringing her back into full work?” I ask.

“Not sure” the owners says.  “What do you recommend?”

I get asked this question often.  Sometimes because a horse has off a month or two due to unforeseen circumstances and sometimes because an injury has the horse laid up for longer.  Whether is rehabilitation or just getting fit, there are some guidelines to follow and some concepts to be aware of.

“Let me compile some information and email it to you”, I say.  “That way you have if for future reference”, I add.

I started thinking, I bet others are in this same predicament right now.  This would be a good time to share what I researched.  Basically, if you understand how the body reacts to exercise demands, you can develop a training program for your specific horse and discipline.  Of course, with injuries, always consult your vet for the best rehabilitation schedule.


Here’s what I sent her…


 The best scenario is to review the information below and then come up with your individual horse’s schedule based on discipline, age, health and future goals.  However, Dr. Lori Warren says, “as a rule of thumb, each additional month off beyond the first month of layup requires a month’s reconditioning”.  After prolonged layup, it’s important to work on general fitness first, paying attention to building muscle and cardiac fitness. Strength work and work in a particular discipline come later. Once work in a particular discipline is part of the horse’s routine, make sure only about 50% or 3 out of 6 rides in actually in the discipline. The other workouts can be in general fitness or cross training.

When first starting a horse, the most important aspect of fitness is the 2-12 months spent on long, slow, distance training.  The rule is to progress slowly and give alternating days of rest.  This is true for the horse who has had the winter off and the horse who is coming back from an injury.  The goal is to prepare the horse for 45-60 minutes of easy exercise at walk, trot, canter.  Once this stage is reached, then you can increase the objective according to the discipline.

The Big Question

When bringing a horse back after some winter time off, the question is how much fitness is lost and how fast will it build back up?

Fairly quickly the body adapts to the training and fitness increases.  After 10 days the horse will plateau in his fitness unless challenged more.  Dr. David Marlin suggest that a change of intensity in the training occur around every 2-3 weeks.  They key is to balance fitness versus risk of injury.  If you increase the intensity too quickly, you risk injury. On the other hand if you increase too slowly, you risk wear and tear type injuries.  However, the worst type of training for preventing injury is intensive three days a week back to back and then 3 days off.  No weekend warriors here.  Not if you want your horse to be sound.  Dr. Lori Warren also warns that large oscillations in fitness are detrimental to long term soundness.  “In older horses, it is particularly important to maintain fitness in the off-season because reconditioning takes longer as the horse ages.”  So as hard as it may be, you have to come out after work, rain or shine and keep the horse fit during the week and during the winter.


Not all horses respond the same to training.  Older horses lose fitness more quickly and gain it back much more slowly.  Past injuries and health issues will also slow the process.  Of course, genetics and confirmation play a role too.  If the horse finds the work easy, it may be too easy and actually delay fitness.  Of course, you will have less risk of injury if they find the work too easy. On the other hand, if the work is very hard for the horse, proceed at a slower pace and keep the duration short.

Other variables that influence your fitness schedule include intensity (how hard the work is), duration (how long) and frequency (how often).  High intensity for a long time on a frequent basis is a recipe for disaster.  Good practice is to change one variable at a time but not the others.  Increase the frequency every 2-3 weeks but not the duration or intensity.  Or increase the intensity but not the frequency or duration.

The body doesn’t gain fitness linearly. Some tissues and systems gain fitness more quickly and other take months to gain strength.  Let’s talk about these systems.

Types of Fitness

One way to measure a horse’s cardiac fitness is with a heart rate monitor.  With increased fitness, you will notice that not only is the heart rate slower during exercise but also recovers more quickly when you stop exercising.  To record this, your horse has to be wearing a heart rate monitor during exercise.  Other factors that will influence your horse’s heart rate include pain, heat, dehydration, excitement and heart problems. A change in your horse’s cardiac fitness will happen in as little as 1-2 weeks of starting training.

VO2 is the oxygen consumption by the muscles during exercise.  An important part of the cardiovascular system is to deliver oxygen to the working muscles.  Vo2max is a measure of the cardiac, respiratory and muscular systems’ ability to work at capacity.  The most substantial increase in VO2max happens in the first couple weeks of training. In addition, in the first couple months the body increases the red blood cells, hemoglobin and plasma volume to better carry oxygen to the muscles.  After about 4-6 months of training, the number of mitochondria which make ATP (energy the muscle cell can use from glucose) increases.

Fit horses sweat more easily and are better at dissipating heat before it overloads this system.  Thermoregulation is another system that reacts fairly quickly to increases in training. However, a minimum of 2 weeks is needed for the horse to acclimatize if moved to a climate with higher heat and humidity.



Time Course

Increase in VO2MAX

1 – 2 weeks

Increase in plasma volume

1 – 2 weeks

Improved sweating response

1 – 2 weeks

Increase in red blood cells & haemoglobin

2 – 4 months

Increase in muscle capillaries

3 – 6 months

Increase in muscle mitochondria

4 – 6 months

Increase in muscle aerobic enzymes

4 – 6 months

Increase in bone density*

4 – 6 months

Strengthening of tendons and ligaments*

4 – 6 months

*Available research on training adaptations of supporting structures is limited.


However, the most important take home message from this chart is that it takes 4-6 months for the bones, tendons and ligaments to strengthen.  The slow adaptation limits the entire fitness program and time must be given for these important supporting structures to adapt.  Even consider the ligaments of the back and neck, not just the legs.  It is these supporting structures that adapt more slowly and are susceptible to overloading injuries. 

Remember when rehabilitating an injured tendon or ligament to consult your veterinarian for the proper training schedule to ensure complete recovery.

So, for those you gave your horse the winter totally off because of the bad weather, you can’t expect them to come back into full work, collection and carrying capacity in 1-2 months.  It’s more like 6 months.  It’s an important reminder when we look outside at the dreary weather and decide to stay inside.  We may be okay giving our horse time off but we must realize that our plans for showing early in the season or moving up a level will have to be delayed.

What are we training for?

When getting your horse fit, it’s important to remember what you are training them for. Will they need power or stamina? Speed or distance? What happens when you change disciplines? Is the horse fit for galloping but you want to teach it collection? Giving the horse’s body time to adjust to the demands of a new discipline are equally as important as getting them fit in the first place. In addition, you may have the horse fit for what you can do but is the horse fit enough to go to the trainers where the demands will be higher? These are all important questions to ask oneself if you want your horse to stay sound both now and in the future.

Sprinters need large, powerful muscles with few capillaries and mitochondria that carry them quickly for a short distance and work primarily anaerobically.  In contrast, an endurance horse has thin muscles, packed with mitochondria and capillaries and work primarily aerobically.  Although much of this is determined genetically, you can train a horse to be good at one or the other but not both.

Dressage Horses

According to Dr. David Marlin, dressage horses in competition work at heart rates around 120-150 beats per minute.  To improve their aerobic capacity, they should be trained at around 150-180 bpm for around 10 minutes several times per week.  This kind of training can only be accomplished by fitting your horse with a heart monitor but usually a fit horse has to be at a hand gallop to reach a heart rate of 150-180 bpm.

While cardiac fitness is important in dressage horses, so is strength. After general fitness is achieved and you start working on discipline specific movements then muscle strength is important. When building muscle for specific movements, it’s best to begin with performing the movement for 20-30 seconds with rest in between.

While we know that dressage is primarily a aerobic exercise, it’s realistic to think that during intense strength training (ie piaffe) anaerobic (without oxygen) pathways are being used when the muscles are engaged and working hard.  Working anaerobically should only be asked from the horse once it has a fair amount of fitness. Otherwise, you will only be breaking the horse down.  Think of a race horse.  First they must be able to gallop a moderate distance before you can ask them to run all out a short distance.  This takes us back to the concept of intensity, duration and frequency.  In dressage, in intense exercises which require large powerful muscles to carry the horse (ie piaffe, passage, pirouettes), it’s best to first be able to increase intensity. The horse must slowly learn to increase the carrying capacity of it’s hind legs. As the hind legs gain the power, you can increase the duration. Only then can you ask for a few ½ steps or a few steps of ultra collected canter. Then over the course of months, you can only increase the intensity of that movement OR the duration (ie more piaffe) OR the frequency. It is still important to remember that it takes 4-6 months for the tendons and ligaments to respond to the increase in workload and also that working in a particular discipline should only take up about 50% of your training time.


Remember our goal should always be to increase skill, performance and resistance to injury. Training too hard too quickly sets the horse up for lameness. On the other hand, if you never challenge the horse by increasing either duration, intensity or frequency, your horse will never be fit enough to handle the demands of the sport.


Solve Your Horses’ Lameness Without Invasive Treatments: Introducing New Massage Techniques!

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.

Key Junctions

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:

  1. help the veterinarian know where to concentrate their diagnostics and work.
  2. efficiently treat compensatory pain, lameness and bad biomechanics.
  3. complement what you are doing with your vet and your horse for lasting results.
  4. 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!

(410) 440-8875


Feed Your Horse The Best: Whole Live Nutritious Food Part 4

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.

hawthorneHawthorn 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.





rasp leafRed 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.




pollenBee 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.



noniNoni Fruit has a vast array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and phytonutrients.  Noni fruit is thought to be a antioxidant, anti inflammatory, analgesic and an antibacterial.





rosehipRosehips are a rich source of vitamin C but also contain vitamin A, B and K.





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,





Feed Your Horse The Best: Whole Live Nutritious Foods Part 3

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…

nutr yeast 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.



kelpKelp (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.




spirulinaSpirulina (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.





hempHemp 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.

chiaChia 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.



pumpkinPumpkin 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.




sunflowerSunflower seeds are high in vitamin E.  The antioxidant properties of vitamin E are known to fight numerous diseases from asthma to arthritis.  They are also a good source of magnesium and selenium.




sesameSesame 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.

Feed Your Horse The Best: Whole Live Nutritious Foods Part 2

Whole Foods 2: Fresh Foods

Last time we talked about why whole foods are so great for your horse and the downsides of feeding processed foods.  If you haven’t read that article, you can find it here.  Today, let’s review some edible fresh foods for horses and what nutrients they have in them.  While some of these you may already give to your horse, I bet some you never thought of.  I want to mention that when introducing new foods proceed slowly as to not upset your horses digestive system.  In addition, realize that not all foods will be palatable to your individual horse.


Carrots are rich in beta carotene which converts into retinol, the most usable vitamin A for the body.  It is recommended that horses get between 24,000 & 50,000 IU per day.  1 cup of carrots has about 18,000 IU.  Green grass has vitamin A but in winter horses can easily become deficient because stored hay looses it’s vitamin content pretty quickly.  Carrots also contain vitamin K, C, E, B1,, B2, B3, B6, potassium, folate, copper, phosphorous, pantothenic acid and manganese.



applesApples contain polyphenols which are not only a great source of antioxidants but also have been shown to reduce blood sugar.  Apparently, the apple slows down carbohydrate digestion and reduces glucose absorption.  In human research, apples are good for the cardiovascular system, anti-cancer and anti-asthma.  Apples are a good source of vitamin C.




peasPeas are great antioxidants and anti-inflammatory.  They contain vitamin K, C, B1, B2, B3, B6, folate, copper, manganese, zinc, potassium, magnesium, iron and choline.





pumpkinsPumpkin reportedly safe to offer your horses.  I’ve never tried it but might this coming fall and see what they do.  I do feed pumpkin seeds and that we will cover in the future under seeds and such.  Pumpkin is high in vitamin A, B, antioxidants and many minerals.  Might be worth a try!

Mango pieces can be fed to your horse but NOT the pit/seed. Mangos are another good source of vitamin C and A.




bananasBananas are a great source of potassium but also manganese, biotin, copper, vitamin C, and B6.  The most antioxidants are from very ripe bananas and horses are happy to gobble them up.





wheat grassWheat Grass is like a horse superfood.  I grow this indoors during the winter or early spring to give my horses a special treat.  It’s full of minerals like iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, sodium and selenium.  Vitamins in wheatgrass include A, C, E, and several B vitamins. The most prevalent vitamin in wheatgrass is pantothenic acid.

Fresh herbs are a great addition to your horses diet.  Again these can be grown inside and offered during the winter months when it’s hard for horses to get anything fresh.  Although the discussion of herbs for your horse is beyond this blog here is a list of some herbs you can try: chamomile, red clover, calendula or thyme.

There are other vegetables and fruit (without pits) that supposedly are safe to feed your horse, I’ve just never tried them.  Obviously this information is not to replace veterinary care and I cannot be held liable for this information.  Just saying…



Why You Aren’t Getting the Performance Results You Want.

Performance Enhancement

Treatment Frequency

I’ve done this before, but wanted to try it again.  Dancer, my own horse, has been working really hard this spring.  He’s been doing great but hasn’t felt quite as good in his back as I know he can feel.  He’s NOT lame nor does he palpate to be sore.  Everything looks and feels as it should but he’s just not flowing in his trot.  In response, I begin the experiment.

Over a 3 week period Dancer got 4 acupuncture treatments.  About every 5 days.  WOW, what a difference it made.  He felt better after the first treatment but by the fourth he was really supple.  He is swinging over his back, easy to connect and easy to engage.  The best news… it’s been 10 days since the last treatment and he still feels wonderful.  I’m so amazed at how powerful this medicine is.

Prepping for Competition

How can this benefit you?  Think about your training.  Is there something your horse is struggling with?  Would it help if your horse felt better in his body?  Preparing for a big clinic, event or show?  Wouldn’t it be great to walk into that competition with your horse feeling amazing?

Changing Plans

Think on this.

Scenario #1 is the routine client.  I have many “routine” clients that get me out to work on their horse on a regular basis to ensure their horse feels it’s best.  This routine is usually about once a month.  I’m not advocating treating a horse every week for the rest of it’s life but too often I see us rely on acupuncture as a one time treatment.  I don’t think we are truly utilizing the power of this medicine.  Let’s try something different…Instead of once a month for several months, let’s try twice a week for 2 weeks every 3 months.  It ends up being the same amount of money but I think you will see better results.

Another schedule.

Scenario #2 is the client who calls me up to prepare for a big event.  What if instead of calling me out every 3-6 months for one treatment, we really make a big impact on the horse by doing 4-5 treatments right in a row.  Really give the horse the boost he needs.  Again, I think you will be extremely pleased with the result and you will be setting the horse up for success.

Listen Up

Research has proven that frequent treatment back to back is very effective even with long standing problems.  My horse just helped prove this.  As usual, when I listen to my horse I learn.  Dancer is teaching me an important lesson.  Frequent treatment is the key to success.  Let’s try it on your horse and see the great results.

Could your Equine Dentist be the Cause of your Horse’s Back Problems?

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.



overbiteThe inability to correctly move the jaw can be exacerbated if the horse also has an overbite and it’s incisors have become over long.

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.

Equine Acupoint Touch- for better performance & optimal health

Equine Acupoint Touch

Learn to treat your horses tension, trauma, injuries and system imbalances.

It’s all about feeling the energy and structures of the equine, fascilitating the horses release of tension, trauma, stress and energetic imbalances. Equine Acupoint Touch is a combination of acupressure, trigger point release, myofascial release and craniosacral therapy.  EAT was developed by Rebecca Douglass over the past 10 years by doing bodywork on thousands of horses.  Over the years her skills have turned into their own therapy.

Now Acupoint Therapies LLC is developing a training course to help horse owners, trainers and other practitioners learn theese valuable techinques.  Topics include:

  • Palpation Techniques and How to Feel Energy
  • Point Location and Selection
  • Channel Flow
  • Yin & Yang
  • 5 Elements
  • Qi, Blood, Essence and Body Fluids
  • Organ Function
  • Emotions
  • & Much More…

While the Veterinary Board won’t allow us to say we heal or alleviate any disease, I have seen time and time again horses perform at their best because they received Equine Acupoint Touch.  Do you want to join us?  Do you want to be part of the “beta” class for Equine Acupoint Touch?  Seminars and clinics will start in the Fall of 2013.  Contact Rebecca for more information.

Kissing Spine

Kissing Spine

Kissing Spine


It is estimated that as many as 80% of all horses have some touching of the dorsal spinous processes at some point in their life. Kissing spine, otherwise known as the Overriding of the Dorsal Spinous Processes is defined in Diagnosis and Management of the Lameness in the Horse by Mike Ross and Sue J. Dyson as “Impingements of the summits of the spinous processes causing remodeling of the dorsal aspect or an avulsion fracture reflects an insertional lesion of the supraspinous ligaments.” Pressure points between adjacent overriding spines are shown by local inflammation of the bone covering, small bone cysts, and false joint formation. Severity is graded between a 1 & 4. Grade 1 being narrowing of the interspinous space . Grade 2 is loss of interspinous space with moderate sclerosis. Grade 3 is severe sclerosis and thickening. Grade 4 being severe sclerosis of the spinous processes, osteolysis and a change in shape of the spinous processes. Lesions may not be limited just to the summits. Lesions are most commonly seen at thoracic vertebra 10 through 18 but have also been seen in lumbar vertebra 1 through 6. Ultrasound is used to view the condition of the ligament whereas x-ray and nuclear scintigraphy (bone scan) are used for viewing the bone remodeling. However, “active bone remodeling is not synonymous with pain. Increased uptake in nuclear scan does not appear to be well correlated with the severity of the clinical signs or the radiographic abnormalities” (Ross & Dyson, Lameness in the Horse). Horses with obtrusive back pain may have only mild impingement and mild uptake on the nuclear scan. Regardless of the radiographs, confirmation and bio-mechanical limitations may contribute to back stiffness. Kissing spine is also seen in horses that exhibit no back pain. Extensive evaluation of all involved structures should be performed even after kissing spine has been found. Other contributing factors and lesions will play a part in diagnosis. For instance, injuries to the supraspinous ligament are best identified with ultrasound and can cause local thickening and pain.


Symptoms include back pain, tight back, being “cold backed”, girthy or agitated when saddling, bucking, bolting, exploding when mounted, refusing to jump or do certain movements, grouchiness, unwillingness to perform, hollowing of the back, unwillingness to go forward, or not accepting the bit. Obviously, these symptoms could describe numerous lamenesses or problems and a veterinary diagnosis is needed to be sure. In order to be diagnosed, anesthetics, radiographs, ultrasound, nuclear scintigraphy and/or thermography are used.


When the musculoskeletal system becomes strained either from poor confirmation, overuse, asymmetry, trauma, posture imbalances, pathology or negative emotional states, the body responds with a long list of reactions. These reactions include increased tonicity, edema, distortions in the tissue, joint distortions, inflammation, and changes in the nerves, blood and fibers. Pain occurs and eventually changes in the widespread function of the whole body occurs (Chaitow, Modern Neuromuscular Techniques). The ligaments and muscles surrounding a joint are responsible for joint stability. Without proper function of these structures, joints may subluxate, cause damage to the capsule, cartilage, tendons, nerves, blood vessels and discs and of course to themselves. It is this pattern that we see in kissing spine. Therefore, treatment of each individual must address all of the reactions in the body. Usually a multi-discipline approach is most successful in handling the dysfunctions that contribute to developing kissing spine.


Treatment involves relieving pain, correcting the dysfunction and rehabilitating the horse to develop strong core muscles to support the horses back and allow him to hold rider weight. The following treatments have been used to address kissing spine:

NSAIDS: can help alleviate pain. Some horses respond better than others

Injections: Corticosteroids injected in the back and between the vertebra can alleviate inflammation and reduce pain. B12 can be injected into acupuncture points and be part of a Chinese medical treatment.

Shockwave: (positive pressure acoustic waves) is shown to be good for healing bone, tendon and ligament problems. Success has been documented with kissing spine patients.

Mesotherapy: pharmaceuticals are injected in the mesoderm layer of the skin to facilitate healing, reduce pain and address the surrounding muscles, nerves and ligaments.

Acupuncture: based on Chinese medicine, acupuncture relieves pain, rebalances the energetic body to speed healing in both bone and soft tissues and also works along the meridians to release the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia.

Myofascial Release & Neuromuscular techniques: a manual therapy that works on correcting fascial imbalances and snares that pull on the musculoskeletal system creating lameness and pain.

Craniosacral Therapy: energetic manual therapy that concentrates on the bones of the pelvis, sacrum, lumbar/thoracic and cervical spine and cranium (head). Obviously any imbalance here could lay the foundation for developing kissing spine and be a causative factor. This is a very gentle modality.

Chiropractic: can be helpful in prevention and treatment but make sure your practitioner is aware of your horses condition.

Infrared Therapy/ Magnetic Therapy/ Ceramic blankets and others: all work on reducing pain and inflammation.

Surgery: surgically repairs the dorsal spinous processes and eliminates the touching between the processes. Employed when response to other treatments have failed and does not address the underlying cause.

Anecdotal evidence suggests various levels of success in horses returning to full work. Some horses were retired, some could return to a lower level of work and some were able to return to full work and be top competitive horses. Age, fitness, confirmation, severity, symptoms and amount of rehabilitation all play a role in prognosis. Each case is individual. The underlying causative factors must be addressed and usually frequent therapy and treatments are needed. Time is needed to not only correct the problem but teach the horse a different way of using itself.


Horses should be kept in work even if it’s light work. Time off, stall rest etc. does not help correct the problem and may only be palliative. Core strength, muscle development over the top line, and stretching and strengthening the back are all very important factors for having success in bringing a “kissing spine” horse back to solid work. However, the rider/trainer must always remember that from day to day the horse may change how he feels, sometimes for no apparent reason. Patience is a virtue when training these horses and listening to the horse is imperative. Never should work be demanded or forced on them. Just like other rehabilitation situations, pushing for just a little more without over-facing is a very precarious balance and it is easy to cross that very fine line into over expectation.

Alterations in the training or exercise techniques may be needed. For instance, long lining, long reining and lunging can be very good for building core muscles without the horse having to carry rider weight. Keep in mind, over-flexion in the work actually allows the horse to drop his back, inverting the spine and aggravating impingement of the dorsal spinous processes.

Poor saddle fit can be a major contributor to back pain. Call in an expert to check saddle fit.


One of the best ways to build the core muscles of the equine body without the added weight of the rider is through long lining, Pessoa type systems and ground exercises. In long lining, the horse can be put through dressage exercises and encouraged to stretch the back. The Pessoa type systems are great for replacing basic lunging exercises, especially for tight back horses. Finally, core strengthening exercises on the ground can be found in “Activate Your Horse’s Core” by Narelle Stubbs and Hilary Clayton. These exercises will increase your horse’s mobility, strength and balance.

  • Sternum, wither, thoracic and lumbar lifts. (Note: Edward Robinson in Current Therapy in Equine Medicine found these exercises to be greatly helpful for kissing spine.)
  • Rounding, lateral bending and extension exercises
  • Engaging the core through weight shifts
  • Combining the above
  • Leg extensions


Start with a long, easy warmup including lots of walking. Add exercises for suppleness: shoulder in, haunches in, turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches, flexion and counter flexion and frequent changes of direction. All the while, encourage a loose swinging back and no tension in the top line.

Another important aspect is very correct work in short duration. It is better to do very correct training for 5-10 minutes with walk breaks in between than to haphazardly ride around for 30 minutes. For instance, ride the horse correctly over the top line for 5 minutes (while he can actually hold his body correctly), then free walk for 3 minutes and repeat. When this becomes easy, time can always be increased. The same goes for ground exercises. Duration and frequency can always be increased as the horse gains strength and flexibility. For anyone who has trained for a marathon or picked up a new sport, you understand how starting slowly and building is a key component for success. Let me also stress frequency. Rehabilitation doesn’t work if you only do it once a week. Instead, think of riding 5-6 times per week for 15 minutes with sets of quality work for 3-5 minutes. Building on this until you reach a 45 minute ride with 10 minute sets.


Not only does cross training keep the horse mentally fresh but it also encourages building of good stability muscles and general conditioning. Navigating trails, logs, jumps and hills will greatly increase your horse’s athleticism all on its own. No amount of ring work can replace this type of conditioning. Starting at the walk, as the horse gains strength, trot and canter can be introduced. Hill work even at the walk is hard work and a great conditioning exercise. Eventually trot poles, jumping and a return to regular work can be introduced as the horse builds strength.


“The direct application of human nutraceutical or herbal preparations to horses is often difficult because absorption, bioavailability, dosages, mechanism of action and side effects vary.”  (Current Therapy in Equine Medicine by Robinson) However, most side effects are seen when an herb is used for too long or in very high dosages. Using supplements and herbs to treat a horse is best when supervised by a practitioner well studied in this area.

Western Herbs

White Willow Bark: analgesic, anti-inflammatory

Devils Claw: anti-inflammatory, analgesic, great for arthritis; alternative to bute

Meadowsweet: anti-inflammatory, effective against ulceration caused by drugs, herbal aspirin

Calendula: rich in sulfur, blood cleansing, anti-inflammatory

Nettle: high in Vitamin C, tonic and blood cleanser, stimulates circulation

Comfrey: source of B12, stimulates cell production and used to heal bone, cartilage and connective tissue, improves circulation. DO NOT USE for long periods.

Hawthorn: vasodilator, improves circulation, tonic for the heart and circulatory system

Chinese Herbs

Chinese herbs are administered in formulas and the herbs act together synergistically to treat the ailment. All formulas are prescribed according to the individual’s chinese medical diagnosis and a well trained practitioner should be consulted. The following useful formulas are from “Clinical Handbook of Chinese Veterinary Herbal Medicine” by Beebe, Salewski, Monda and Scott.

Bone and Sinew Formula: promotes the rapid healing of bones, tendons and ligaments, improves circulation

Du Huo and Loranthus Formula: removes obstructions, supplements energy (qi)

Chase Wind, Penetrate Bone Formula: removes obstructions, reduces swelling, alleviates pain, strengthens muscles

Clematis and Stephania Formula: for stasis, unblocks and relaxes channels/meridians

Eleuthero Tablets: supplementing, strengthens ligaments, tendons and bones, invigorates blood circulation

Essential Yang Formula: warms and supplements

Corydalis Formula: moves energy (qi), removes obstructions in the channel, relieves pain, relaxes muscles, relieves spasms

Seven Treasure Formula: supplements yin and essence

Stasis-Transforming Formula: transforms stasis, disperses nodules, regulates energy (qi), clears toxins, alleviates pain


Nutritional excesses and deficiencies can play a role in developing disease and proper diet can effectively treat disease. Be careful of over supplementation and read labels! Concentrate on the basics first and only add supplementation where needed. Provide a well balanced whole food diet, free of processed foods and chemicals. Allow plenty of turnout and room to move around. Consulting a nutritionist who can taylor a diet to your individual horse’s needs is recommended.


How easily your horse progresses through rehab, the better you learn to ride, the more diligent you are in the rehabilitation schedule, the better the horse’s confirmation and the response to treatment all dictate the prognosis. I find the worst case scenario develops because the rider/trainer was inconsistent in their schedule and approach, not because the horse couldn’t succeed.



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