Chiropratic for Horses
Scott Anderson, D.V.M.
Chiropractic treatment does not replace veterinary care.
Some veterinarians are open to the idea of a chiropractor. Others
Many performance-related problems cannot be diagnosed through
standard physical examinations, nerve and joint blocks and other
diagnostics. In these cases, some horse owners and veterinarians
have used chiropractic treatment with success.
There are also cases in which medicines (anti-inflammatories,
muscle relaxants, joint injections) and time off do not improve
the horse. Some veterinarians have investigated and employed
chiropractics in an effort to increase their scope of
understanding of these types of problems.
Chiropractic treatment of horses is much like that for humans. It
involves maintaining the proper functions of the spinal column,
including providing a framework of support for the body,
providing flexibility of the back and neck, and protecting the
The spine is made up of many vertebrae which line up and move
with each other through a series of articulations, or joints.
When these joints are not moving as they should due to improper
position of a vertebra, chiropractic treatment is called for.
This improper position (called a subluxation by chiropractors)
can lead to stiffness, discomfort and interference with normal
Chiropractic treatment can address many horse health problems.
Most people seeking treatment for their horses complain of
performance-related problems-most commonly, a sore back. Other
symptoms include head tilt, stiffness in the neck when turning,
stiffness through the body when turning in a certain direction,
not picking up a lead, twisting or hollowing over a jump, or a
change in attitude about saddling, work or jumping.
Chiropractic adjustments usually take a series of two to five
treatments, varying anywhere from one week to one month apart.
Once the original problems have been resolved, follow-up
examinations are usually suggested four to six months later. Some
problems will recur, depending on the severity of the original
injury or other existing problems.
Some owners will have their horses examined and treated on a
regular basis (monthly, semi-annually, annually), depending on
how they use their horses. Many of the tasks we ask our horses to
do are demanding and can contribute to their need for
Some human forms of chiropractic care have been adapted to the
How can you move bones on anything as large and strong as a
Some chiropractors use forceful adjustments, while others use
adjustments that seek movement of the vertebrae through motion
generated by the horse. A chiropractor should be able to obtain
an adjustment without severe restraint or discomfort to the
Many horses will show signs of relaxation with treatment,
especially if long-term pain is being relieved. Horses may lower
their heads, get a glazed look in their eyes, yawn, and seem to
enjoy their treatment.
How do you find a chiropractor for your horse? Word of mouth is
often a good place to start. Find someone who has a good
reputation from more than one reliable source. They should have
training in animal chiropractics.
One certification course for veterinarians and chiropractors is
offered by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. The
course provides a good understanding for both professions of
chiropractic treatment for animals.
Unfortunately, there are people without training claiming to be
animal chiropractors. The potential for injury to animals is
high, so stay away from untrained help.
Chiropractic treatment does not replace veterinary care. Knowing
where to turn for a performance-related problem can be confusing.
Consult your veterinarian first on any problem.
Veterinarians and chiropractors trained through the American
Veterinary Chiropractic Association are listed with the AVCA at
A number of situations can lead to a horse needing chiropractic
A faulty or poorly fitting saddle.
Trauma, such as falling, backing into a wall, or being cast in a
Leg problems causing compensation through the back.
Type of performance work.
The cause of the subluxation must be considered in order to
prevent the problem from recurring.