Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pain in the A$$

As horsemen, I think that we all tend to forget that horses were not designed to be used for our purposes. In other species we have found a way to enhance or utilize what they naturally do in the wild. Herding dogs, for instance, use the basic principles of wolf pack hunting to gather and move sheep. Sheep naturally grow wool for protection against the elements. Cats naturally hunt mice, cows naturally make milk, and pigs naturally use their scenting ability to find food underground. We may have selected to enhance a certain quality, i.e, scent dogs, vs. herding dogs, but we still are merely utilizing and manipulating a natural instinct.

From breed to breed, the basic structure of a horse has changed very little, if at all, in the past 10 thousand years. While some were selectively bred to better suit the purposes of man; the drafts to pull; Thoroughbreds to run,; Arabs to travel extreme distances; no part of their structure was designed to carry weight upon their backs.

As my equitation has developed, I have learned to recognize the correct form and function of how we ask our horses to move, carry themselves, and the extent of their impulsion. While we do try to enhance the horses natural ability to jump, run, or even "flirt" (Have you ever seen your otherwise poky pony suddenly develop a hugely lofty, extended trot, with a beautifully arched neck and tucked under head all at the site of a strange horse walking alongside their pasture? (dressage horses)) we have added an unnatural burden to their natural abilities.

Ironically, I started writing this post last night and woke up this morning to read a great little story by BrownEyed Cowgirls on her experience with chiropractic work and expect to read in her next post, how it made a significant difference in the life and behavior of a pony she owned. I imagine there are thousands of horses out there that suffer from chronic back pain. Some may be stoic about it, while other may turn "bad" because of it.

The bottom line is that horses were not designed to carry weight on their backs and if you look at their structure, you can see how preposterous the idea of it is. Since I have learned to recognize the signs of a horse being "out" (having their back out of alignment) it seems that ever where I look I see horses with a serious problem. No kidding! I am not just being over zealous, I assure you. When we bounce around on them, ask them to bend in unnatural ways, jump, run or spin, all with our fat asses on their backs:) we are pushing and pulling on a structure that was intended to be straight and without the stress of weight.

Case in point- I know a lady who has developed a lucrative strategy for reselling horses. She has become an expert at recognizing horses with chronic back pain, the ones that other think are "problem horses", buckers or bad minded. She buys them for a song, takes them home and employs a really good equine chiropractor. She claims that in at least 7 times out of 10 cases, the horses "bad" behavior is completely eliminated within 2-4 sessions. Of the remaining three, two will take months of training to get over the habits they developed as a response to their pain, and one will be forever ruined. It breaks my heart to think of the last one...of a horse so tortured by years and years of chronic pain, of people trying to "fix" his issues without seeing the obvious, that his mind has been lost to it. Can you imagine?

I ride horses. I am not light. But I do try to remember, when I am asking my horse to spin like a top, or to bury her hind feet into the ground for a 15 foot stop, that what I am not asking her to do is not reasonable considering her design. I try to balance what I ask of her, by the care I give (or pay to provide) to her in return. I would encourage any horsemen, especially when they become frustrated with a horse failing to meeting the expectations of the their training, to consider the stretch, the leaps and bounds of faith a horse has already taken to do our bidding, against their inherent nature.


  1. Excellent post!

    My mare tends to crowhop and balk at going any faster than a trot, and I've wondered if maybe she could benefit from chiro work or warm up stretching.

    These skeletal pics make horses look less the huge strong creatures that their outside bodies resemble and more weak and fragile.


  2. Wow-I am really tired of blogger eating my comments...
    Anyway, as I was saying...Great minds think alike.;)
    I've got a long way to go with the posts I am doing, but I'm hoping to show people that recognizing when a horse actually needs chiropractic work is not really all that difficult.
    I never went looking for a horse with back issues, but I sure have ended up with a bunch over the years. Backs, teeth and feet-usually one or more of these three reasons is why most horses end up at auction. Well, at least until the market crashed and people just started getting rid of everything.:(

  3. Thanks for your informational post! As someone who has had a lot of anatomy and physiology classes, it really is amazing that any animal (including us!) has adapted to modernization. Our bodies have all paid the price!

    Regarding that bear kids and I saw that on our local news station too, and I cannot believe that the media acts like it is a giant bear either! It looks like a starving yearling to!!!

    Hope that you are feeeling better! :)

  4. Yes, thank you. Our barn owner (old cowboy) likes to laugh at people who try anything and calls it hocus pocus and that he has a bottle of Eddie's Magic Cure All Pills that he'd like to sell us. But I tell you what, I notice a HUGE difference in my crazy little mare after an adjustment. She doesn't give as much attitude, she picks up her left lead better and she doesn't try to kick when I pick her back feet. It's just amazing. I will be checking out browneyed cowgirls post for sure. The only problem is finding someone to come out as we do not have a trailer and the last time we had it done, we had to trailer the horse an hour and 1/2 away. She trailers ok, but ends up soaking wet when we take her out from being so nervous.