Equine Physical Therapy Must Be Individualized

Biomechanics expert: The wrong rehab program for a horse can be counterproductive.

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Equine Physical Therapy Must Be Individualized
Physiotherapy can improve muscle development and help rehabilitate horses recovering from pain or injury. However, in some cases exercises—if not adapted to the horse—could accentuate musculoskeletal or neurologic problems or create new ones. | Photo: Adam Spradling/The Horse
Physiotherapy can improve muscle development and help rehabilitate horses recovering from pain or injury. However, developing a custom program for each horse’s unique situation is critical to prevent stimulating the wrong movement patterns, said one equine biomechanics expert.

“It’s important to be knowledgeable about what you’re doing with physiotherapy exercises and select appropriately for each horse at each stage of his development,” said Rachel Murray, MA, VetMB, MS, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, Assoc ECVDI, an orthopedic specialist at Rossdales Equine Hospital, in Newmarket, U.K. She spoke on the topic during the Centaur Biomechanics Virtual Equine Sports Science Summit on Oct. 3.

Stable (core) exercises, groundwork, ridden exercises, dry and water treadmill work, swimming, and even changes in management (turnout, feeding height, etc.) can lead to major improvements in a horse’s musculature, comfort, and performance—so long as you take individual aspects into consideration, Murray said.

Each exercise must be adjusted to each horse, she said. That means selecting the right muscles to activate by hand or electrical stimulation, as well as choosing the right placement of training aids such as elastic bands. It also means accurately determining ground pole height and spacing, treadmill water height, treadmill speed, and more for each horse at each stage of his development

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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