Equine rehabilitation and therapy encompasses a range of treatments for horses following an accident or injury that requires more than medication for healing to take place. Techniques such as physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and massage are used alongside standard veterinary care to rehabilitate horses. Therapists working in this field are specially trained to work with horses. Courses in equine rehabilitation are available at a number of colleges in North America and Europe.
Reasons for Rehabilitation
Rehabilitation is frequently required after injury or illness. It is also recommended after orthopaedic surgery, or to correct emerging problems caused by degenerative bone diseases. Lameness is a common problem needing rehabilitation, as the horse’s gait is altered by the condition. If this new “gait” is not corrected, it becomes a permanent problem, which leads to further injury. Recovery from tendon and ligament injuries is also well supported by equine therapy. Some therapists believe that behavioural problems arising from trauma benefit from therapeutic techniques.
As Sherry Scott, founder of The College of Animal Physiotherapy, writes, the role of the physiotherapist is to complement the vet’s treatment and “optimise conditions so that the body can heal the injury in its natural time span.” Equine physiotherapy for rehabilitation uses a range of techniques, including ultrasound for deep tissue damage, laser therapy for inflammation, and magnetic pulsing and magnetic pads for bone damage, arthritis and back pain.
Hydrotherapy spas are increasingly used by equine rehabilitation centres. Hydrotherapy treats anything from injured tendons and ligaments to wounds, abscesses and fractures. Among the benefits of a 10 to 20 minute session in cool water of 2.00 to 4.00C (-16.6 to -15.5 degrees C Celsius) with a high salt level are reduced inflammation, improved circulation and pain relief. In addition, water bubbles massage the tissues. Leading veterinarian, Professor Evan Hunt, a key developer of the indoor equine spa, states that inflammation is particularly responsive to hydrotherapy when medication is not an option.
Equine Massage Therapy
According to the Equine Massage Association, equine massage applies human sports massage techniques specifically to horses. Massage therapists are trained in equine sports massage and must have a thorough understanding of horse anatomy and physiology. Horses benefit from massage for general stiffness and tension as well as for specific injuries. It is also used to prevent injury; for example, as part of a warm-up routine.
There is considerable expansion in the equine therapy and rehabilitation business; therefore, it is important that you choose a facility with professionally qualified staff. If your vet recommends that your horse needs rehabilitation, ask them for advice on choosing a centre. If the vet does not have a list of preferred therapists, contact the professional body for the therapy required to find a recognised practitioner.