Pros, Cons, and Alternatives
In this article, I will be discussing my experiences with equine chiropractic, equine massage therapy and equine
I want to begin by stating that I am not a veterinarian, but that I am educated in equine chiropractic techniques. I
actually took the training twice to be sure I understood everything correctly. Although I know how to apply the
techniques, and have done so with positive results, I don't really use them. I actually don't know the last time I
needed to use them.
It is my experience that most problems that horses have can be solved without using equine chiropractic
techniques. There are a few cases where it might be the best decision to use chiropractic, but even then I would
suggest you also apply soft tissue therapy such as Equine Massage Therapy and/or Equine Myofascial
Release. It is, in my opinion, even more important to address the soft tissue problems than the skeletal
problems in most cases.
You may wonder why I would think this. So, let me explain. The bones can only do what the muscle allows
them to do. So, in most instances, it is better to correct the soft tissue and then the bones can return to
If the muscles are holding or pulling a bone into an unnatural position, putting it "back into place" with
chiropractic will only be a temporary fix. Or, if the muscles are so tight that they are causing the bones to crowd
together, chiropractic may temporarily allow the bones to regain some motion. But, the muscles will eventually
cause the crowding to return.
Now, I will say that I think there are times when equine chiropractic is necessary. Or, it may be a good choice
to get things back on the right track. But, if you are only using an equine chiropractor and not addressing the
soft tissue at all, you will most likely need your horse to see the chiropractor indefinitely.
There are multiple reasons that I have decided to stop using equine chiropractic manipulations. One is that I am
not a veterinarian. Even though - technically - I am not doing anything illegal (at least in the state I live in), I do
not feel that I want to take the chance of harming someone's horse. Chiropractic techniques are called "High
Velocity Thrust" for a reason. You need to apply them with a very quick movement. Even though I like to
consider myself a careful, gentle person, I recognize that at high speed things can go wrong.
I was talking to an equine veterinarian one time at a horse show and he was asking me what I do. I told him that
I was an equine therapist and went through my list of qualifications - which includes equine chiropractic training.
I continued to tell him that I was uncomfortable with applying chiropractic and had decided to no longer offer it
as a service. Partly because I was uncomfortable with it, but mostly because I was finding that correcting the
soft tissue was actually more effective.
He said he felt that was very responsible of me and continued to tell me a story about someone he knew who
was a human chiropractor who was willing to work on horses. This man went out to do an adjustment and
ended up crippling the horse. It ended up that the vertebrae had a fracture in it and the High Velocity Thrust from
the manipulation caused the bone to break and damage the spinal cord.
That was all I needed to hear to decide that I was going to stick with my decision to no longer provide equine
I became even more interested in finding ways to affect the skeletal structure of a horse without using the High
Velocity Thrusting necessary in equine chiropractic adjustments.
I studied more about Equine Myofascial Release and even altered some of the chiropractic techniques to turn
them into soft tissue therapies.
I remembered from the second time I took the chiropractic training that most of the adjustments were actually to
"break up the muscle spasm". I kept hearing the instructor saying this over and over and it made me think "why
not just break up the spasm"? Why do I need to do these manipulations in an aggressive way when I can apply
them in a gentle way that will correct the actual problem (the soft tissue) and avoid any possible harm to my
The other thing that I thought about was what I had
learned from one of my clients whose husband is a
doctor as well as from the massage therapy
school that I went to. It is a well known, but little
talked about fact, that skeletal manipulations using
High Velocity Thrust will actually loosen the
ligaments over time - or even one time if the
adjustment is too aggressive.
I have experienced this myself after seeing a
chiropractor for an extended period of time. My
pelvis actually started to feel "loose". I noticed it
mostly after getting off my horse after a ride. My
bones would actually "click". I could feel them
move in a way that didn't feel normal. I informed
my chiropractor that I no longer wanted him to
perform the techniques that were causing it. He
argued a little, but gave in. What was he going to
do, it was my body and I had said "no".
I also experienced this in a horse that I have had as a client. His hips were so loose that they kind of "clunked"
when I performed an evaluation on him to check for movement. He had been seen by an equine chiropractor on
and off for years. Not only did it not solve his problem, I believe it caused the loose hips. When they stopped
using the chiropractor and started using me, he improved immensely in just 2 sessions and the loose hip
problem has gotten much better.
Again, I am not saying you should never use a chiropractor, I am just saying to use them sparingly. Consider
that the soft tissue controls the skeleton. Think about using soft tissue therapies such as Equine Massage
Therapy, equine myofascial release , stress point therapy , Range of Motion Exercises, and/or Equine
Stretching Exercises to help solve the problem.
If you are willing to give soft tissue therapy a chance, I believe you will have to agree that your horse's comfort
and performance have been greatly improved. I have seen it happen with my own eyes time and time again in
my own horses as well as my client's horses. I strongly believe that equine structural problems can be
corrected better with soft tissue therapy than with equine chiropractic adjustments.
For instance, did you know that the horse's shoulder is actually only attached to the body by ligaments,
tendons, and muscle? Yet I have seen equine chiropractors "adjust" the shoulder. It is not possible to adjust the
shoulder. All you can do is influence the soft tissue. Doesn't it make sense to apply a soft tissue therapy to soft
Another problem in horses is to have the 7th cervical vertebrae (known as the C7) rotated. I have a book that I
got off the internet from a used book store that is the manual they use at the American Veterinarian Chiropractic
Association for their training. The book does not even mention the 7th cervical. It goes right from the 6th cervical
to the 1st thoracic vertebrae. Why don't they even acknowledge it? Because they cannot influence it. I have
found that the C7 needs to be addressed by using soft tissue therapies, such as equine myofascial release.
I have heard equine chiropractors say that the C7 is not a problem because it is so deep in the horse's muscle
structure. I am here to tell you that this is not true. My experience is that not only is it a problem, but it is fairly
common and it seems to affect the entire horse. I have had multiple horses who were being extremely "naughty"
and others who were just miserable whose main problem was the C7.
These horses have a major change in attitude as well as physical ability when the C7 is corrected. Meanwhile,
the people have been spending lots of money having an equine chiropractor come out and deal with the
compensation patterns, but the real problem was not addressed at all.
One particular horse was so miserable that he would no longer put his head down to eat. The owner had what
she said was one of the best equine chiropractors who also knew equine acupuncture come out at the tune of
$250 a session for 2 sessions. Needless to say, he did not correct the problem. I was actually the one who
corrected it by addressing the C7 and I didn't charge her anywhere near $500. The poor horse was so relieved,
he started eating hay off the floor during the session.
Another thing I want to mention before I close. Beware of people who call themselves equine
chiropractors who have no real training.
I went one time to watch a man who was supposed to be this great equine chiropractor. I have to tell you that
he was so aggressive and doing everything that I was warned about staying away from in my equine chiropractic
training. I had never witnessed this before, but it was so disturbing that I had to leave the barn!!! Meanwhile,
people were hauling their horses to this man and paying him a hefty fee for his "services".
He was extremely aggressive in his manipulations. I feel he was doing harm to the soft tissue by the way he
was "adjusting" them. The horses were rearing up and throwing themselves against the back corner of the stall
as he worked on them. He was forcing his manipulations on them by holding onto the cartilage in their nose.
At one point, he grabbed a front leg and yanked it hard and fast away from the horse's body. Now I don't know
how many of you realize this, but horses aren't meant to move that way. (This was one of the times a horse
reared and threw himself backward.) He explained that he had to do this to get past the reflex reaction (or some
ridiculous thing). I think that what he was calling a reflex, was really soft tissue. It is not meant to move that
way, or that fast for that matter. The muscle can go into a protective spasm if yanked too hard and then muscle
tissue can be torn or pulled.
He would probably know this if he had any real training - so.........
After a while, I decided to ask him about his training. I don't want to get into details about what he said - I don't
want to say bad things about anyone specifically. I will just say that he had no formal training. He learned it
from "some guy". He was using terminology incorrectly (he didn't know that I was a professionally trained
equine and human therapist and didn't realize he couldn't fool me). I think he was what my equine chiropractic
instructor called a "quack".
Also, beware of anyone who uses a hammer and a mallet to perform an equine chiropractic
adjustment. This is not the proper way to apply chiropractic treatment and these methods can cause damage
to your horse.
I am constantly amazed at how many people will allow someone to do something to their horse that they would
never allow being done to themselves or their child. In my opinion, the only difference between a horse's body
and a person's body is that the horse can be forced to allow something that a person would be able to say "no"
to. A horse's body is still bone, soft tissue, and nerves. They feel pain just like we do. Just because they are
big does not mean that they can not be harmed.
If you are going to use someone to do equine
chiropractic, or even equine massage therapy, on
your horse, please check into their education and
experience. Do not think that just because they tell
you they know what they are doing that they do.
Even if you get a referral, I would urge you to check
into this yourself. After all, I was told this guy was a
"really good equine chiropractor."
I hope I have been able to give you some things to
think about in regards to equine chiropractic. I hope I
have provided some education on the use of equine
massage or other alternative equine therapies that
can be used to complement or replace equine
chiropractic treatment. And, I hope I have shed
some light on what to look for if you do decide to
use an equine chiropractor.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I
hope you found it helpful.
Information presented is for educational purposes only and is not intended
to replace professional opinions or recommendations.
Consult your veterinarian for advice about any medical condition or
treatment needed for your horse
Equine Chiropractic - The Good,
The Bad, and The Ugly