Physical Therapy for Your Horse

How therapeutic exercise programs can help keep equine athletes and recreational horses alike feeling their best

Physical therapy. When you hear those words, you might think about regular office visits for supervised stretches, exercises, and icing, all in the name of rehabbing from injury or easing aches and pains. But physical therapy can apply to horses, too. Physical therapists like me work with horses to help them optimize movement, recover from injuries, and reach peak performance. In this article we’ll discuss the basics of equine physical therapy and how it might help your horse.

The Four Pinnacles of Equine PT

Trained and certified physical therapists use a comprehensive assessment model addressing four key areas to help equine athletes stay sound or recover from injury. After veterinary diagnosis and referral of the case, therapists start by determining if horses have full range of motion. Second, they ascertain whether patients can move through that full range. If not, the animals are most likely lame—and the veterinarian needs to stay involved.

The third area therapists evaluate and manage is motor control, which involves assessing and retraining dynamic strength and stability. For example, a horse with poor core strength might struggle to perform a canter transition without throwing his head in the air. Identifying that core strength is limiting his ability to push into the canter is an example of addressing the problem, not a symptom. In this scenario, core strengthening exercises, such as lateral tail pulls or walking over elevated cavalettis, will be more effective than practicing canter transitions repeatedly.

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