Log Cabin Chronicles

"They adjust horses, don't they?"

Chiropractic for Animals

Beachburg, Ontario

veterinarian Your horse is probably "subluxated," or has a "bone out of place," and you or a previous owner probably caused it. How do I know this? Because after examining horses in a wide variety of Ontario stables, I rarely find a "subluxation-free" spine.

Almost all of these horses had gotten this way through improper saddle fit, poor riding and/or handling techniques or through falls while being ridden. The best way that I have found to bring a horse back to full health and performance potential is through chiropractic.

My first encounter with animal chiropractic was during my last year in veterinary college. The equine veterinarian with whom I was training was asked to look at a thoroughbred colt who persisted in "fainting" when saddled, girthed or ridden. The jockey had narrowly escaped severe injury and both he and the trainer believed the action to be the colt's deliberate attempt to unseat and injure the rider. A chiropractic consultation was a last ditch effort to salvage an expensive horse.

I witnessed the first of the chiropractic miracles I would be exposed to that summer -- the horse was found to be subluxated at the sixth and seventh cervical vertebra of the lower neck, was adjusted once and never again exhibited the same behavior. Although further chiropractic treatments were recommended, the delighted owners sold the colt at a great profit after the first adjustment.

Animal chiropractic has always made great sense to me. As a veterinarian and a rider, I was constantly observing performance and conformational faults that resisted veterinary labels and treatments. Muscle spasms, head shyness, reluctance to accept the right lead, girthiness, inability to bend or flex, bucking at the canter, apparent nastiness -- these are all known faults with no apparent pathology.

I witnessed phenomenal changes in these traits both in my own practice and during that initiation to equine chiropractic in that first summer. The common thread linking these horses was the presence of subluxations.

Chiropractic was not new to me. My husband, Dr.. Kevin Mahoney, is one of four brothers who are all chiropractors. I had been adjusted for ten years on a regular basis when I first thought adjusting my patients. It made inherent sense that chiropractic, which kept me healthy and out of my physician's office, would accrue the same benefit to animals. Horses in particular seemed like good candidates for treatment, given the stresses we impose on their backs by riding them.

So where to start? Being a chiropractic patient had not taught me how to adjust. An adjustment is a rapid, gentle, and specific force applied by the chiropractor to the subluxated vertebrae to restore motion or position. This takes time to lean and is not taught in veterinary college.

I opted for additional training at the American College of Veterinary Chiropractic in Moline, Illinois. The founder, Dr.. Sharon Willoughby, is uniquely qualified as she has both veterinary and chiropractic training. She divides her time between an animal practice where she does only chiropractic, and running the program which teaches veterinarians and chiropractors to adjust animals. The five four-day sessions were intense and exhausting, but gave me the tools to begin my chiropractic work with animals.

As a veterinarian and an animal chiropractor, I often wear two hats. I see cases at the small animal practice which could be managed by either traditional therapies or with chiropractic treatment. I generally offer both alternative plans of management.

My equine work presents fewer conflicts as I restrict my work to chiropractic care and refer medical cases to a local veterinarian. The chiropractic work is very rewarding. I am generally welcomed affectionately by the patient -- a very different reception from the response I get as a white-coated, needle-bearing veterinarian.

There are Dr.amatic cures which delight the owners and bring great relief to the animals which are usually symptomatic because of pain. The most common comment I hear after adjusting a horse is "(s)he is not the same horse."

Horses can become misaligned in any number of ways, most of them caused by the rider. We all mount from the left. Why?

Historically, cavalry mounted from the left to avoid getting their swords, which hung from their left hip, in the way. The spinal stress caused by mounting is exaggerated if we mount from the ground and eschew mounting blocks. The result is a very common subluxation at the withers.

Improper saddle fit can subluxate a horse, as can a poorly fitting bridle. Poor or inexperienced riding can subluxate a horse and I have seen stables where the same pattern of subluxation is seen in a series of horses and the same rider was found to be exercising them.

A final, often overlooked, source is the subluxated rider. I started referring riders to my husband when I found that the adjustments would not 'hold' for the horses. When the rider was adjusted, my treatments were far more effective and longer lasting.

Kevin and I started to offer seminars to riders offering to examine both rider and horse chiropractically. The seminars led us to a fascinating discovery. Riders and their horses often share subluxation patterns. We would argue over which came first. Either way, we found that fewer treatments are needed for both horse and rider if they are both receiving chiropractic care.

Chiropractic is not a cure-all. Your horse will still need regular or traditional veterinary care. The important thing to realize is that subluxations can be present long before symptoms occur and are a product of the mechanical, dietary, and, yes, emotional stresses we impose on our animals. They should be checked by either a veterinarian or chiropractor with the expertise, experience, and qualifications to perform animal chiropractic.

Dr. Alison Seely is a veterinarian and certified animal chiropractor who adjusts small animals at the Pembroke Animal Hospital and operates a mobile chiropractic service for Ottawa Valley stables.

Dr. Kevin Mahoney is a chiropractor in the Ottawa valley and has clinics in Pembroke and Deep River.

Drs. Mahoney and Seely live in Beachburg, Ontario, with their chilren, Savannah and Forest. Savannah, age three, sums up the family roles by saying "Dad adjusts people, Mom adjusts horses and dogs, and I adjust dolls." Forest, at one year, hasn't selected a patient type yet. Dr. Mahoney and Dr. Seely can be reached at 613-582-7476.

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Copyright © 1998 Dr. Alison Seely, DVM/Log Cabin Chronicles/6.98