Especially when you consider that a riding horse is expected to carry 10 to 25 percent of its body weight on its spine, it is not such a stretch to consider that this is often times a common culprit of lameness that cannot be traced to an identified injury (tendon/ligament strains and tears, stress fractures, etc.) Just as with people, it is not uncommon for a limb to be affected by a spine that is out of alignment.
Some common symptoms of a horse that is out of adjustment can be as follows:
- Movements or performances lacking usual brilliance
- Lacking coordination for poles, cavaletti, and jumps
- Difficulty executing particular moments
- Resistance to collection work
- Short or choppy strides
- Resistance to bending or "stiff mouthed" on a particular side
- Cross-cantering, constantly swapping leads back and fourth
- Behavioral changes -sudden spooking issues or irritability (I have seen a horse with cervical vertebrae so out of alignment it literally was affecting her vision and making her uncharacteristically spooky!)
Because most of these symptoms can also be those of injuries and illness, it is important to FIRST rule any of those out with a veterinarian. Oftentimes a good vet has a feel for when these problems are injury related or not.
A Chiropractor will also ask to see your horse in motion to get an idea of its way of going and will take note if the horse seems to have lacking range of motion in a particular leg. They will also observe the horse standing and check for uneven hip and ear placements. Once this has been assessed and the owner and/or trainer has provided a general case history of what the horse's normal behavior and work schedule consist of, adjustments will be made to help to re-align the spine.
Most chiropractors prefer a "hands-on" approach of using their hands, arms, and body weight to help push the horse back into alignment. Others use small rubber mallets. Oftentimes they will also encourage the horse to move itself and either assist the adjustment, or do it themselves. Rolling in soft footing is often encouraged as it can help fix small alignment issues - if your horse can easily flop from side to side odds are he is well-adjusted!
Because the body has a memory, a long-standing misalignment may take several adjustments to fix. It also takes time for the horse to find their "new" way of going if they are used to compensating for such an issue. Sometimes an adjustment can bring to light other lameness issues by causing the horse to relax and no longer try and "cover up" faulty shoeing or small injuries. Case in Point: the last time my own horse saw his chiropractor, after his adjustment we found he was off in a front foot, and later discovered that a change to his shoeing was the needed fix.
As with human doctors, it is best to find a chiropractor via word-of-mouth as adjustments done incorrectly can do more harm than good. Beware the practitioner who does not ask for a full history, is hesitant to discuss credentials, and who cannot explain what they see and how they plan to fix it.
For more information, you may find these websites helpful: