AMY Taylor MSci cert HSA EEBW is from Coleraine and is a fully qualified and insured Veterinary Physiotherapist and is a member of the National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists (NAVP). Amy provides a mobile veterinary physiotherapy service for small animals and equines across the North Coast/ Londonderry/ Antrim areas. She also holds a qualification in Equine Body Work and have obtained her BHS Stage 1.
Her aim is to continue working towards further BHS Stages in the hope that she can combine teaching and Veterinary Physiotherapy elements in order to achieve the best out of horse and rider.
Amy has a particular interest in equine biomechanics and postural imbalances. During her degree, she completed two dissertations – one of which looked at the analysis of pressure absorbance on landing after an 80cm fence using different of saddle pads, and the other, the effect of different lunging gadgets on back profiles in relation to head and neck positioning in the working trot.
Amy has her own horse, ‘Ralph’, an 11-year-old Cob and she likes to partake in local working hunter shows, as well as some jumping, however at the moment due to no outings (thanks Covid!), they are working on their fitness levels and general schooling, hoping to be ready for when they can get out and about again!
Horse Week’s Bree Rutledge spoke to Amy to find out what simple things horse owners can do in the current circumstances (and at any time) to keep their horse’s back healthy, in preparation for competitions when they resume…
THE horse’s back plays a vital role in their athletic performance. It works in unison with the head, neck, abdomen and hindquarters in order to achieve our desired outcome. It’s where we place our favourite (and most expensive!) tack, where we sit and where we communicate with our animal. It works immensely hard to carry us and is placed under quite an ordeal of stress, so it’s needless to say; it needs to be looked after. But how can we keep our horse’s back healthy? Here are some tips!
1) Have a Good Team Behind You
It goes without saying, a committed team of Vets, Farriers and Physiotherapists will help keep not only the back, but the whole horse healthy. Regular shoeing can help eliminate excess strain placed along the back, for example, research has found that as little as 1cm excess toe growth can place up 50kg of excess strain on the horse’s back… No foot, no horse right? A good Physiotherapist can help identify niggling pains and help create remedial exercise plans in order to build weak muscle.
2) Look After Yourself
Rider asymmetry has been described as a major source of equine back problems. Sitting as symmetrically as possible, and keeping your core strong allows you to sit gently. Keeping yourself fit also safeguards your horse’s back. When we take into account the weight of us, our tack and whatever other equipment we have, we are exerting a lot of pressure on the back!
3) Make Sure Your Tack Fits
Good saddle fit is essential for maintaining back health. The horse’s back can change shape due to changes in workload, nutrition and other environmental factors during the course of the year and therefore, it is important to get your saddle checked frequently! Finding lumps, bumps and white hairs on along your horse’s back, as well as adverse ridden work may mean it’s time to get your saddle refitted.
4) Mount From A Block
Where appropriate, mount your horse using a mounting block. This avoids unnecessarily twisting the saddle. Instead of grabbing the cantle to pull you up, reach across to just behind the right side of the pommel.
5) Carrot Stretches
Did you know that performing carrot stretches daily for six weeks has been shown to increase spinal muscle mass significantly and therefore, in turn strengthening the back and core and increasing the ability to carry a rider? They also help increase spinal flexibility and neck mobility, which are needed in most disciplines!
6) Ground Work
Do not underestimate the power of groundwork! Creating a good basis on the ground makes for building top line without the pressure of the rider and saddle interface. Lunging is a good opportunity to see how your horse is moving and pick up on any improvements that can be made, which can’t necessarily be seen in the saddle. Adding a training aid when lunging can help assist the horse to carry themselves in a desirable position, which assists in the correct development of musculature. However, I must err on the side of caution with these aids, as incorrectly fitting them or having them too tight can cause excess flexion of neck (chin to chest!) and lead to adverse effects and musculoskeletal pain. Fitting them too loosely would, however, be deemed as pretty pointless, as they would have no effect on the horses way of going!
7) Long and Low
We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘long and low’ and most of us try to incorporate it into on schooling sessions frequently. But, there are some things we have to ensure; although your horse’s neck may be extended to the ground, you need to make sure they aren’t just pulling themselves forward on the forehand! They need power from the hindquarters. They should not just be leaning on your hands either, as this again reinforces the idea of them working from the forehand and not through the back and hind end.
8) Hill Work
Working a horse up and down hills is a great way to activate the hind limb to propel the body in a natural way. Using inclines facilitates the abdominals, brings the hind limb under the animal and therefore helps to elevate the back. Walking downhill requires neuromuscular control.
9) Transitions/ Rein Back
Transitions, transitions, transitions! Any kind of transition – walk to trot, trot to walk, trot to canter, canter to trot, walk to canter etc – requires the horse to use their core, back muscles and hind end muscles in order to propel the horse forward. This is an exercise that can be done in both, ground work and ridden work and is easy to incorporate into any kind of exercise. Rein back requires the horse to step backwards by moving the feet in diagonal pairs. It requires a high level of proprioception and uses core stability to cope with the body mass of the horse shifting back.
10) Pole Work
Regular pole work has a multitude of benefits due to the versatility and variety of pole layouts. Pole exercises can help increase core strength and in turn aid in healthy back development. They also improve the engagement of the hind quarters, giving the horse power from the back end to help lift through the back and therefore improving cadence and expression when moving.
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