Horses can suffer musculoskeletal pain and injuries anywhere along the axial skeleton that comprises the skull, vertebral column, sternum, and ribs. Bringing these horses back to form post-injury can be difficult and time-consuming, but possible thanks to both time-tested mobilization exercises and cutting-edge physical therapy techniques.

During the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Focus on the Sport Horse program, held July 20-22, in Louisville, Kentucky, Philippe Benoit, DVM, MS, of Clinique Equine des Breviaires in France and former veterinarian for the French show jumping team, described methods for rehabilitating horses recovering from any number of back problems.

After a thorough clinical exam and movement evaluation, “the first technique of rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disease is to obtain progressive movement and mobilization of the affected areas,” Benoit said. The main idea behind rehab, he said, is to restore a horse’s normal motion.

Owners can perform various mobilization techniques when the horse is cold (before being exercised), warming up, and warmed up.

Benoit said rehabilitation exercises owners can perform when before the horse is cold include:

  • Stretching exercises such as carrot stretches to engage the cervical (neck) and thoracic (mid-back) areas;
  • Massage from a qualified physical therapist;
  • Walking in-hand forward, backward, and on a figure-eight; and
  • Keeping the horse’s back warm with a blanket or hot packs.

When the horse is warming up:

  • Electrical stimulation from a veterinarian;
  • Applying weighted boots a