Northeast Performance Equine

Dr. Carol Vischer-Safran



Riding, training and confinement will make horses sore.Our job is to detect our horse’s soreness before it snowballs into loss of performance, lameness and negative behaviors. We, as riders need to listen to what the horse is trying to tell us.Horses usually start out with subtle messages which become louder as the problem deepens.The longer the problem is ignored, the more difficult it is to treat.

Questions that riders need to think about when evaluating their horse’s performance.

Is the horse slow to warm up?
Back pain and stiffness increase warm-up time
Longissimus dorsi pain
Subluxations in thoracic, lumbar, or pelvic area

Does the horse lack flexibility?
Subluxations result in fixations & decreased flexibility

Does the horse resent being cinched?
Subluxations in the thoracics or rib heads
Muscular problems, latissimus dorsi

Is the horse difficult to bridle or resent the bit?

Upper cervical, TMJ, dental problems

Is the horse heavy on the bit?
Horse may be shifting forward off the back to compensate for pain in the rear
Horse may be holding bit to avoid cervical movement that causes pain

Does the horse resent leg pressure?
May indicate decreased flexibility
Pain from rib head, thoracic, lumbar subluxation

Does the rider use a mounting block?
Rider may be crawling up side of horse thus pulling upper thoracics to the left and left hip down

Does the horse have difficulty with a lead?
Foreleg/contralateral rear leg lameness

Is the horse uncomfortable to ride, rough and choppy gaits?

Does the horse kick out, buck, rear, run away?

Is the horse hitting or refusing jumps?
Decreased muscle power from the rear
Decreased spinal flexibility

Does the rider slip to one side in the saddle or does the saddle slip to one side continually?
Horse has tilted pelvis
Lumbar/sacral subluxations

Does the horse use the back correctly or is it a “leg mover”?

Is the horse acting in pain, i.e. pinning ears, repeated evasions, tail wringing, hollowing back?

Does the horse have difficulty putting head to the ground or has to extend one leg to put head down?
Cervical/thoracic inflexibility
Upper cervical subluxations

Horse constantly shakes head?
Upper cervical subluxations
Ear or upper respiratory pathology
Horse does not sweat (anhydrosis)
Sympathetic nerve interference as the result of thoracic subluxation
Horse is uncoordinated
Proprioceptive problems resulting from cervical/thoracic subluxations
Horse is sway-back (lordosis)
Thoracic/lumbar subluxation
Weak abdominal muscles
Horse has hunter’s bump (kyphosis)
Thoracic/lumbar/sacral subluxation
Horse drags toes/ wears shoes/loses shoes
Back pain results in decreased flexibility
Sacroiliac problems
Hock problems
Lumbar/sacral/pelvic subluxation
Horse interferes/strikes/forges/or hits feet and legs
Decreased limb extension or joint movements
Spinal inflexibility

What to do?
Noticing that the horse is in pain is the most important step to diagnosis and successful treatment.The horse then is watched at a walk, trot and canter on a straight line and on the longe line.The horse is palpated with the acupuncture meridians and the integrity of the spinal column is assessed with static and motion palpation.If indicated, the horse’s lower limbs are flexed in an attempt to evaluate a gait abnormality.

Last updated September 10, 2019