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By Gillian Martindale and Cormé Randlehoff.

Currently studying at Equine Librium College towards a qualification in Veterinary Physiotherapy.


SPORTHORSE Strength, balance and stamina are essential for the equine athlete to perform in any discipline and win. Just like humans; horses have a group of muscles known as ‘core muscles’ which are responsible for stabilising the horse’s spine and preventing injury to the spine while ensuring the horse moves in a balanced and correct manner.


ften these muscles are not well developed, even in top athletes, and without them the horse is at higher risk of injury and may only have a short career in competition. Animal Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in strengthening a horse’s core muscles and teaching the horse to correctly activate these muscles. For this reason, Animal Physiotherapy is indispensable when it comes to creating a top performing athlete. Every rider wants a strong, supple and sound horse and these muscles are at the very ‘core’ of achieving this. The horse has two groups of muscles that provide stability and core strength.These are the epaxial muscles which run along the top of the spine and the hypaxial muscles which are below the spine. The epaxial muscles consist of the M. multifidus (which is the most important for stability), M. iliocostalis and M. longissimus dorsi. Together these muscles keep the vertebrae in the correct alignment, stabilize the vertebrae during movement and extend the horse’s back. The Hypaxials consist of the Psoas group (M. Iliacus and M. psoas major), M. psoas minor, M. quatratus lumborum, M. transversus abdominis, M. obliquus internus abdominis, M. obliquus externus abdominis and M. rectus abdominis. As a group the hypaxial muscles flex the spine and lift the abdomen providing core stability. Both the Hypaxial and Epaxial muscles are not only important for flexing and extending the spine but the horse also has to contract these muscles before performing any movement so that it can move correctly and efficiently. The ridden horse is prone to muscular and spinal injuries because of the demands we place on them. Muscular pain is a common problem in the equine athlete and this is often the result of weak core muscles. Because the core muscles are weak the horse will use these muscles and other incorrectly while trying to stabilize his spine and control movement. This leads to the muscles becoming overstrained and painful. It can become a dysfunctional cycle because, the more painful the horse is, the less likely it is to use its core muscles correctly leading to even more pain which can then cause problems in other parts of the body such as gait abnormalities, lameness, difficulty working on 106


the correct rein and poor performance. All riders look for a well developed top line in a competition horse and it is likely that an underdeveloped top line is a result of weak core muscles. Pain and spasm in the epaxial muscles will make it more difficult to develop top line, because the horse will be unable to work in a correct frame.The musculature in the back is important in fitting the saddle. Therefore, any dysfunction within these muscles will cause the saddle to fit incorrectly which can cause a whole range of musculoskeletal issues. There are also a number of skeletal pathologies which develop secondary to core muscle dysfunction, of which the most important are “Kissing Spine”, Spondilosis, Spondiloarthrosis and Supraspinal Ligament Desmopathy. Animal Physiotherapy is extremely beneficial for improving core strength and resolving any core related dysfunctions. It is important to firstly decrease the pain within the muscles and joints so that they can function correctly. Pain relief is achieved by increasing blood flow to the area, relaxing muscle spasms, improving joint nutrition and increasing joint mobility for which the therapist uses massage, joint mobilizations, stretching and electrotherapy among other techniques. Once pain has been addressed the focus will shift to strengthening the core muscles and improving function. The horse needs to activate these muscles and this can be achieved by using Kinesio-tape which is placed along the muscle, in line with the muscle fibres, so as to encourage him to contract this muscle. Theraband can also be used to encourage the horse to contract his core muscles, engage his hind quarter and carry himself correctly when working. An Animal Physiotherapy program will also include specific core exercises designed to strengthen the core muscles. These exercises will be made more challenging as the horse gains strength and will become a permanent part of their training regime. The Veterinary Physiotherapist looks at the equine body as a functional unit and considers the interplay of the neural, muscular and skeletal systems in order to create a horse that is comfortable and strong and one that can perform at its optimum.

Sporting Horse Magazine Issue 19  
Sporting Horse Magazine Issue 19  

July 2014 Edition of Sporting Horse Magazine