Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Assessing Pain in Your Equine Athlete

A crucial element to being a good trainer or rider is the ability to detect pain in the horse. Keeping a performance horse sound can be one of the greatest challenges of competing; therefore, being able to recognize problems before they become actual injuries is a skill you can't afford to be without if you are looking to stay at the top of your game. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- There are many ways to evaluate a horse for pain. There are the obvious signs of behavioral issues and performance issues that we have all heard a thousand times and hopefully are able to easily recognize. Then there are the not so obvious signs. For example, palpating a horse for soreness. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- One of the most common ways I see the lay person (and even some professionals) attempting to assess pain is to take their finger nail or other sharp object, with varying force, and dig into certain areas of the horse's body. They will hit a point that they have learned means "hocks" or "stifles" etc. and then, because the horse flinches, they will declare the horse to have an issue in said area. While you can certainly create an alarming reaction this way, it actually tells you very little about the issues at hand. If I took my finger and jabbed you in the back, I bet you a buck, I could also make you jump! ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- These points I am referring to are acupressure points. And they are, without a doubt, a very effective way of assessing and addressing dysfunctions in the body. Horses have 12 meridians: The Lung, The Large Intestine, The Spleen, The Stomach, The Heart, The Small Intestine, The Kidney, The Bladder, The Pericardium, The Triple Heater, The Liver, and The Gall Bladder meridian. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The most common points I see folks "jabbing" are the hock and stifle points located in the bladder meridian located between the biceps femoris and the semitendinosis area. But are these the only hock and stifle points in the body? The answer would be a big fat NO! There are many others. So how, might I ask, does getting a "knee jerk" reaction on one stifle point indicate that the cause of the horse's performance problems are its stifles? As you may have suspected, it typically doesn't... ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Further, the aforementioned pressure points can also indicate sacropelvic issues and sublaxation, back stiffness, enteritis - inflammation of the small intestine, and cystitis - urinary bladder inflammation. The hock point in this area can indicate not only hock pain but hind-limb arthritis, enteritis, nephritis - inflammation of the nephrons in the kidneys, and cystitis. And that's not even taking into consideration the location of the points, the bladder meridian. As an energy system the bladder is intimately related to the functions and balance of the autonomous nervous system. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ With that said, we can now see things are a little bit more complicated than they may have appeared. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- When acupressure is utilized correctly, points are assessed with the finger tips - searching for temperature changes of the points, indentations, protrusions, and pulses. As well as doing a thorough examination of all related points and meridians in question to determine the best course of action. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The average lay person cannot be expected to know how to locate and evaluate the multitude of acu-points that are located on the horse's body. However, there are several things they can do to help determine where the issues may lie. To start with, knowing what is that horse's "normal" is - is a valuable tool. On a regular basis you should take the palm of your hand and run it over the horses body - paying attention to how the tissue feels under your hand. Is it warm? Is it cold? Are you running over "ridges" in the muscles? Are the muscles taut like a drum or are the tissues smooth and palatable under your hand? With your finger tips and medium pressure, check the neck, back, croup, legs, and hamstring muscle groups for abnormal sensitivity. Range of motion of the joints can also be determined when performing a regular stretching regime after workouts. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- To get optimal results from any training program and to ensure valuable time and money is not lost to preventable injuries takes a team of skilled professionals (including bodywork!) to keep the horse performing at the top of its game.....and to stay there for years to come.

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