by Karen Brown
techniques initially developed for humans eventually find their way
into veterinary medicine. Among the modalities that have been adapted
to the animal world is osteopathy. It was originally developed over
100 years ago as a means to detect and heal disease in the human
body. The premise of osteopathy is that a living body is an
inter-related entity with an inborn ability to maintain or return to
optimum health provided that the structure, or musculo-skeletal
system, is functioning within the boundaries of its natural balance.
dressage riders and world champion cutters, ropers, and barrel racers
are only a small segment of horsepeople who use osteopathy as a means
to keep their horses in top physical condition. Indeed, these
trainers and riders readily admit that regular osteopathic treatment
has kept their horses winning at the top competitions in their
sports. These horses are also competing longer and more frequently
than their same-age counterparts.
would a horse owner want to obtain the services of an osteopath? In
fact, there are hundreds of symptoms that might indicate the need for
an osteopath. Lameness of all kinds is only one category of symptoms
that may be addressed. Given the interconnection between the
musculo-skeletal system and the rest of the body, it is quite common
to have a lameness issue that is caused by a problem somewhere else
in the body. Any type of persistent resistance or unwillingness to
flex or bend is a sign that the horse could have a structural
example, a horse with a heavy parasite load will have a group of
blocked vertebra in the thoracic spine. Another horse with an
infection in any organ in the pelvic room will have a different group
of blocked vertebra, this time in the lumbar spine. Horses with these
kinds of visceral disorders will have difficulty moving freely, even
when the disorder may not yet be detectable by clinical testing.
Visceral disorders first must be treated by a veterinarian; once they
have been resolved the osteopath would manipulate any remaining
structural or visceral imbalances. The horse would then regain
ultimate freedom of movement.
about the horse that has a stiff shoulder? No amount of shoulder-ins
or leg yields has made any improvement. Physical examinations have
elicited no cause for the horse to be limited. Months of training
have achieved little or no improvement in the shoulder. Perhaps there
is a restriction in the movement of the scapula, one or more ribs, or
in the withers. The restriction could actually be coming from the
back end of the horse. Because of the neurological connections
coursing through the body, the probability of a sacrum problem is
about the horse that can’t keep his weight over his pivot leg in a
spin or cross-fires in the lope? This, too, could be from blockages
in the sacrum, pelvis, or stifles. These types of imbalances are
seldom revealed in a standard lameness test and, generally, the horse
manages to do his job. The osteopath can often remedy these types of
issues immediately and with lasting results.
you know of a horse that spooks “for no reason”? It’s possible
that his eyesight is unclear from vertebral blockages in the wither
area. One of the nerves that runs between these vertebrae is the
oculomotor nerve which provides information to the eyes. If that
nerve is pinched, its impulses will be distorted and the brain will
not be able to properly decode what the eye is seeing.
you ever had a horse that wouldn’t let you touch his ears? Or tried
to kick every time you brush his flanks? Many horses stick their
tongues out of the mouth or move it over the top of the bit. These
types of behaviors are always attributed to a bad attitude, yet all
of these kinds of symptoms point to neurological disturbances caused
by imbalances in the musculo-skeletal system.
any discrepancy from normal function can be assessed in an
osteopathic examination. The first rule of observation is that
“Everything means something.” Practically every horse
owner has noticed an oddity about their horse’s body or behavior;
yet no one seems to know what or why the condition exists. This is
where the expertise of an osteopath is essential.
knowledge of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) provides the
physiological data he needs to connect those strange body symptoms or
behaviors to the other body parts that are actually in distress and
are the sources of those “symptoms”. When the body is viewed as
an independent collection of parts, however, these types of symptoms
are ignored and thus, valuable clues to the source of disease are
practitioners study the same science taught in veterinary school;
however, they extend their education to include intensive scrutiny of
the ANS. The ANS is the internet of the body. Through its channels,
the body communicates between body parts and these parts react
together when something is wrong. Osteopaths are taught to follow the
trail from surface symptoms to the source of the problem. That source
can be a long way from the obvious symptom and without focusing on
the systemic-wide functions of the ANS the two would never be
considered as part of the same problem.
who currently practice osteopathy have found that it expands the
knowledge gained in university and from there, they develop an
integrated approach to their practice combining osteopathic
principles with standard medical protocol. Osteopathy is a modality
that, once learned, becomes an integral part of the vet’s protocol.
It’s NOT an alternative medicine; it becomes another tool of the
trade on a par with drugs, surgery, and clinical diagnostics.
takes years of training to become competent in osteopathy. Excellent
palpation skills, specialist-level knowledge in anatomy,
biomechanics, and physiology, and training in manipulation techniques
are only part of a comprehensive education. The equine osteopath
should either be a licensed veterinarian or be working within the
scope of each state’s veterinary practice laws. Anyone without
proper schooling, certification, or insurance should not be allowed
to work on your horse.
you would like to learn more about osteopathy or would like to locate
an osteopath in your area call The Vluggen Institute of Equine
Osteopathy at 512-448-3152 or go to www.vluggeninstitute.com.