By: Zea Kwon-Page
There is a stereotype that horse girls are crazy. And I supposed, as a horse owner, there is a little bit of truth to it. I do not think that it is helpful or productive to term things “crazy,” since it just adds stigma to mental health issues, but it is very true for me, and many of my horse-owner friends, that we make a lot of sacrifices for our four-legged babies that the average human would probably find incomprehensible. It was only natural then, that when my mare, Casey, started having mysterious lameness issues, I sought out every possible solution to help her feel better.
The Woes of a Failed Racehorse
Casey is an OTTB. For those who are not in the horse world, that means she is an “off-the-track-Thoroughbred,” aka a failed racehorse. I don’t really know why or how she failed on the racetrack, but I know that after she bounced around from reseller to reseller, before eventually ending up at my former trainer’s barn. As you can imagine, being a racehorse can be really hard on the horse’s body, but it also really messes with their mind, since they are not always treated like living, feeling creatures on the track. While my former trainer tried to work with her, there were still a lot of issues that ultimately led to Casey being turned out in a big pasture for several years.
When I started looking to buy a horse, my former trainer suggested that instead I should try working with Casey, which ultimately led to me falling in deep love with her and begging to buy her. It didn’t take long though for her history to catch up with her. Shortly after buying her, she had a suspensory ligament tear in her hind leg that required months and months of physical therapy to recover from. When we finally got the all-clear from the vet, we then had a mysterious lameness that couldn’t be definitively pinpointed. “Lameness” means when a horse is not moving correctly, almost always due to pain somewhere. Finding the source of this pain proved to be a big challenge.
And this is where the “horse crazy” term comes into play. I had my highly qualified vet take more than one look at her and we x-rayed various parts of her body. I gave her pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs, hock injections, and expensive supplements to no avail. Left with no answers, I then turned to more holistic methods. I had an osteopath come out to work on Casey - Casey met her with an attempted kick… I had a massage therapist come out - Casey absolutely LOVED it! Massage did make her feel better, but the positive effects seemed to wear off after about a week. With no answers to show for all the attempts at care, I finally decided to try equine chiropractic care and I'm so glad I did.
Equine Chiropractic Care
I was initially very skeptical about chiropractic care. Without fully understanding it, I feared that Casey could get hurt in some way, but at this point I was desperate for any solution. I just wanted her to feel better and be happy, and so was willing to stretch my comfort zone so Casey could return to hers. I went with a very well-referred equine chiropractor (who asked to not be named). This chiropractor has been working on horses for many years and is extremely knowledgeable. When Casey had her first appointment, I was very nervous, which I think the chiropractor could sense. They started out by asking me about Casey and what the issue seemed to be. They then ran their hand across her body, shockingly lightly, to see where she was responsive. It was magical to watch, the chiropractor was literally barely touching her, but Casey was communicating with them through her eyes, facial expressions, and body movements.
After doing a thorough examination, the chiropractor explained to me their findings, which were that Casey was essentially out of alignment in her entire body. She had subluxations in her upper cervical vertebrae, lumbar vertebrae, and sacral vertebrae. In layman’s terms, her spine was out of alignment in her neck, lower back, and pelvis region. This caused pressure to be put on her nerve roots, which resulted in inflammation. Her brain was sending energy down her spinal cord, but since the subluxations were interrupting that, it caused weakness and radiation in her lower back and hips. Due to these subluxations, she was incredibly muscle-sore essentially everywhere, since she was having to compensate for these subluxations. Her shoulders were especially sore. Since her lower back and pelvis were unable to “push” her forward due to pain, she was having to “pull” herself forward with her shoulders, which is not how horses are meant to move.
Having this knowledge made me better understand what was going on with her and how to fix it. It now made sense why the veterinarian couldn’t determine what was wrong with her, because it wasn’t just one part of her body that was hurting, it was everything. We had taken x-rays, but not of her spine, since the lameness was presenting more like a leg injury. The drugs had only masked the pain, but since we were not treating the actual cause, it hadn’t improved her overall symptoms. Massage had really helped the muscle soreness issues, but again, since we hadn’t addressed the root cause of that muscle soreness, it inevitably came back. It was a lightbulb moment for sure.
After the equine chiropractor explained all of this to me, they then adjusted Casey - which is a very interesting event to watch unfold, because horses are rather large animals. The chiropractor moved at Casey’s pace, adjusting one subluxation at a time, then giving Casey a chance to breathe and relax which gave me room to do the same. As they moved down her body, it was evident just how much pain was leaving her body. Her eyes softened and she began relaxing into the adjustments. When the chiropractor finished, Casey just stood there with a blissful look on her face.
The chiropractor handed the lead rope back to me and explained Casey’s care plan moving forward. She would get adjusted every week for the first month, then every two weeks until her symptoms started to subside. They also stressed the importance of physical therapy in helping Casey to improve. As they explained, since she had been compensating for her pain with her body for so long, she had trained herself to move in certain ways that were less painful. Those ways of moving though, were incorrect. Now that her spine was correctly aligned, if she continued to move in those ways, her muscles would work against her, and it would cause more subluxations in the future. Since she had been in that compromised position for so long, the muscles were pulling the vertebrae back into that subluxation. By doing physical therapy, we would be pulling the vertebrae in the opposite direction, into the correct alignment. The chiropractor gave me specific exercises to work on with her on a daily basis in between adjustments. They included backing up (even better if it was on a slight up-hill), trot poles to get her to extend and stretch her back, long and low movements (where she could drop her head and again, stretch her back), neck stretches, and a lot of walking.
I followed Casey’s care plan religiously. We did all of the physical therapy recommendations and we did all of the adjustments on the recommended schedule. It paid off! She was slightly sore for a few days after each adjustment, but then she was suddenly able to move again without pain. At each consecutive chiropractic visit, the chiropractor would remark on just how much happier she seemed, and she would have fewer and fewer subluxations that needed adjusting. Her behavior went from being extremely agitated and nervous, to be able to relax and focus. Her body also physically started to change for the better. She started developing muscles along her back and in her neck. It became clear just how much stronger she had become and felt like I had discovered a miracle treatment!
Stronger and Better
After about six months of frequent and consistent chiropractic care, Casey was doing phenomenally. She graduated to a once a month chiropractic treatment plan, which she is actually still on, years later (although, since she is still a failed racehorse prone to doing stupid things, we sometimes have to have emergency adjustments).
She went from being so hurt in her body that there were days where she would literally refuse to move, to being so healthy and strong in her body that we were able to accomplish some amazing athletic feats. We’ve ridden up mountains, galloped through fields, jumped gigantic jumps, and gone through trail obstacle courses. She is now a whopping 18 years old, which is not young for a horse, and is still going strong and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Not only that, but getting her the care that she needed really built her trust in me and helped mend her mind. She was such a nervous, flighty mess before chiropractic care. I used to not be able to give her days off, because if I did, she would actually try to kill me the next time I rode (and this folks, is why you should always be wary of a “free” horse). Now, she still has moments of being hyper, but she never tries to hurt me, she is happy to go on rides, and is so good that I even have trusted her enough to let children ride her.
I always say that my favorite thing about animals is how true they are. Horses won’t lie. They don’t know what the placebo effect is. I didn’t change anything else about Casey’s life, other than adding in routine chiropractic care, and that one difference made her life exponentially better. Her progress inspired me to seek chiropractic care for myself - which, not shockingly at all, made me feel a million times better in my own body. As a horse rider, my spine was really not happy with how many falls I’ve had over the years. And my treatment plan almost exactly mirrored Casey’s, because believe it or not, humans’ spines are not that different from horses’! I went from being scared of chiropractic care to being a true advocate of it - to the point that I now actually work at Pure Life Chiropractic. Chiropractic care changed Casey’s life, and through that, changed mine as well. So yeah, some people might say that I’m another “crazy horse girl,” but it most definitely is worth the nickname.
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