Monday, July 27, 2009

After the Clinic and a Visit With the Chiropractor

One of my commentators on my posts on the Mark Rashid clinic asked what I was going to apply in my own horse world from my learning at the clinic. For me the biggest take-aways were first, the concept of finding the point of resistance and mentally softening into it, to avoid being part of a brace and to offer the horse a soft place to move into - see my post on horse #1 for more about this. And second, the idea of leading your horse with your intent and thought (which is also there in the book about Harry Whitney I wrote about in an earlier post), with the objective of reducing aids to almost nothing or even eliminating them altogether so that you blend with the horse, thought and body, so that the horse's body becomes your body and the horse's feet your feet. I already had the second idea in mind in a less well formed way as a result of our earlier work with Mark, but it really snapped into focus for me.

So I came to the barn on the Monday after the clinic ready to work on some things with Maisie. But Maisie didn't want to come out of her stall - she stood facing the window and I had to really urge her to turn and face the door. Then she had some difficulty doing turn on the haunches and although she did good softening work at the halt and walk, and backing and transitions, once we got to trot she struggled. She started rushing, which for her is a sign of anxiety. Then she balled herself up and bucked - not a huge one but big enough to get my attention. It was clear that there would be more bucks coming. With any horse, I would think first about a physical issue if the horse bucks, and with Maisie's history I was almost sure it was a physical problem - I wasn't listening to what she was telling me - the not wanting to be ridden, and difficulty with lateral work should have told me - she had to yell at me to get my attention - "Hello! I hurt and can't do what you're asking!" In order to finish on a good note, we went back to our walk and halt work briefly, and then we were done.

So we scheduled a visit with our wonderful chiropractor, Dr. Alice Marold (who is a member of the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association), who came on Thursday. Since my younger daughter had just had herself tuned up by the chiropractor, and she and Dawn tend to get crooked and out of whack together, we had Dawn done too.

One piece of very good news is that Maisie has no digital pulses to speak of, so the laminitis episode is behind us. She actually needed the chiropractic pretty badly - a number of things were messed up - the laminitis had caused her to carry herself in a contorted fashion, and then she had her episode of the swollen hind leg that resulted in her resting it at night and thereby twisting her back and hindquarters. No wonder she was sore!

As she was working, Dr. Marold reminded me of something I had known, but had mostly forgotten - the horse's spine, like ours, actually has 5 joints between each vertebra and the next one, due to the spinal processes that stick out to the sides, and it is often these smaller joints that can give us and horses the most problems.

Both horses greatly enjoyed their session with Dr. Marold - I didn't get any pictures because I was the horse-holder. She's really good at listening to what the horses say - she asks them before she does each set of adjustments - she also does muscle massage and myofascial work - and does what the horse thinks is the most important thing first. The horses really like that she pays attention to what they are saying, and once she's done what they think is important, they tolerate her doing everything else. They do get bored when she's writing things up, however - she says they think that isn't necessary because if she were a horse, she'd remember things without all that paper and writing!

I described some of Dawn's recent excessively mareish behaviors, and Dr. Marold said there are some hormone changes that horses experience as they get older that may produce some of these behaviors. Dawn did have some digital pulses, and her neck is getting a bit thick, so Dr. Marold drew some blood to check her thyroid and insulin levels as a first step. Depending on what that shows, we may also do an a.m. and p.m. cortisol blood draw as well. She says even horses in their early teens may begin to develop some hormone issues that affect their behavior, and that may evolve as they age into full-blown metabolic syndromes.

Dr. Marold said she would teach me how to do blood draws. She says it's not hard - horses have big veins - and the risk is low, particularly compared to intravenous injections, which I have no desire to do because of the risk to the horse if you do it wrong - I do know how to do intramuscular injections, which aren't hard. One new thing I learned was how to tell when the serum has separated sufficiently from the red blood cells to be decanted and sent to lab - she showed me what the blood draw tubes looked like at different stages of the red cells settling out.

Maisie had the rest of the day Thursday, and Friday, off from riding. I rode her Saturday and have to say she wasn't really with me. She seemed distracted and much more interested in the other horses than she was in staying connected to me. We did, after some effort, get our backing in place, as well as walk/halt transitions, and managed to do some lateral work without her rushing - turn on the haunches one step at a time, correctly. But she was very spooky and reactive, and felt like she might blow up at any moment - it was also extremely windy which wasn't helping, so we called it a day. I was feeling fairly frustrated until I remembered that, even though it is almost the end of July, she was only just getting back into regular work when she had her laminitis episode, and isn't used to regular work nor is she fit at all. One problem we also had was that our arena isn't useable after it rains for several days and even then not until it is dragged - the (long-suffering) husband is out of town so that will have to wait.

Yesterday we had a much better ride, partly because I thought more carefully about what the program should be. I also switched her back into the Rockin' S single-joint snaffle from the KK double-jointed snaffle, which I think helped settle things down on this occasion - she was very soft in my hands and did very little bracing or pulling. We did a little of the walk/halt/back work, with softening and moved on to trotting. This time, considering her lack of fitness, we didn't do any serious softening work or turns, but just worked with light contact on doing stretches of trotting followed by walking, with some halts and backing thrown in for good measure. I wanted a nice, not rushed trot with a good cadence, and without any excitement, and that's what I got. A good session, and we ended on a good note, trotting for several hundred yards on a trail leading away from the barn. We walked back and she was done.

Tuesday we have the dentist coming to do most of the horses in the barn, and that should mean she and Dawn will be completely tuned up!


  1. Kate,
    Looks like you had some pretty interesting topics in the clinics that were addressed. I'm sure you'll be getting on well with Maisie soon....their health really does effect every aspect of training and riding. I wasn't quite sure what you were speaking about when you said the Chiropractor "asks" the horse before the each adjustment and does what the horse thinks is important? How does she know what a horse is thinking? Just curious? Luanne

  2. Luanne - Our chiropractor, when she's getting to do a particular area of the body, will gently touch it - if the horse isn't ready yet for that area, the horse will give her the eye or move away. We pretty much don't restrain the horse while she's working - the horse can move its head, neck and body so it can tell her how it's feeling. Horses that want an area done will often move that area towards her, or lean into her when she touches it. For example, my mare Lily would move her body so that her neck was next to the chiropractor so she would do that area first. If an area really needs work, she'll come back to it as many times as necessary until the horse accepts that it needs to be done - usually if she's already addressed what the horse considered most important, the horse will be ready for it. It does take horses that are new to chiropractic a little time to get used to the idea - but usually they start feeling better pretty quickly and become very cooperative - they know she's working to help them.

  3. Reading about the possibility of Equine Metabolic Syndrome, a pre-cursor to Cushings, My mare Miss Kola was getting the fat pads in all the wrong places, The Vet & I decided, there was no point in the blood draw and put her on Thyro-L (levothyroxine). Wonders never cease, it has done a marvelous job of helping her to drop the weight and she is clearly feeling better, better mood, a much happier horse. I swear by it. I've tried two forms of it and find the grey powder form to work best, I have to mix in applesauce for her, but it really has done the job! Now just keeping up the routine. Also getting rid of grain all together and going with the Equibalancer pellet feed. I've found that the girls are not ravenous all the time. I think we talked a bit about the Equi-balancer feed before. Awesome stuff! Good luck, Glad she got her chiropractor work done, sounds like results!

  4. Callie - thanks very much for the suggestion!

  5. Sounds like things are working out very well. That's great that her tune-up/chiro helped, too.


  6. My vet does both chiropractic and acupuncture. Fantastic treatments for horses. When I first had my previous horse treated, people thought I had bought a new horse, the change in his attitude and way of going were so dramatically better.

    Glad you "listened" to your girl and worked it out. How much better than thinking it was a training resistance and trying to force her to cooperate as some people might do. She's a lucky girl to have you.

  7. I consider my chirpractor an invaluable part of the team in keeping my horses sound and happy in their work. I kow how much it does for me as well when I am adjusted!


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