With foaling season in central Kentucky fast approaching, farm managers and veterinarians remain especially busy caring for late-gestation mares and foals in their first weeks of life. A mare’s body condition, hoof health and hormone levels are all major concerns throughout her pregnancy, but some riders and practitioners are beginning to include chiropractic work in the carousel of things they owe. thinking for brood mares.
Chiropractic work has become commonplace in the world of human medicine. Chiropractic care involves the use of physical manipulations, most often of the spine, to improve range of motion and nervous system function. This manipulation is performed by high-velocity, low-amplitude thrusting at key points on the body by a trained practitioner, which can stimulate muscle receptors, break up adhesions, and in doing so, improve comfort and range of motion. .
Learn more about the basics of equine chiropractic care in this 2021 article.
In the human world, it’s not uncommon for someone to seek chiropractic therapy to combat pain or stiffness, to deal with an injury, or as some sort of preventative maintenance. Even infants can be adjusted by many chiropractors, and the therapy is recognized as the key to comfort for women in the later stages of pregnancy.
In the equine world however, experts say there is still a bit of a learning curve for many horse owners.
When Dr. Larkspur Carroll changed her veterinary practice to focus exclusively on equine chiropractic and acupuncture in 2008, she was an anomaly. Now, she says, both therapies are common in sport horses, both in the race and sport horse world, and she’s as busy as ever.
While it’s easy for people to see the potential benefits for a horse in hard work under saddle, Carroll said it’s still not that common to see broodmares undergoing chiropractic adjustments — and that’s is a real missed opportunity for the mare and the owner.
“People don’t blink in the human world because they prefer to control back pain and musculoskeletal issues in non-drug, non-pharmacological ways because they see the downside of doing it in a pregnant body. “Carroll said. “Any type of chronic pain or chronic musculoskeletal problem will affect your mare’s conception rate or tendency to complications during pregnancy and/or foaling 110%.”
Although it can be easy to dismiss the job of a broodmare as easy work since most are not ridden, the later stages of pregnancy can be a time of intense physical demand.
“We have this term ‘broodmare sound’, but at the end of the pregnancy, a 125 to 150 pound thoroughbred colt – that’s [the weight of] one person,” said Erin O’Keefe, farm manager and partner at BTE Stables. “And it’s not one person for an hour on a trail, it’s 24/7 at the end. I don’t think it gets the attention it probably should.
As the unborn colt grows and gets heavier, Carroll said he can place greater demands on the pelvis. Additionally, the hormone relaxin, which is designed to help relax ligaments in the pelvis in preparation for childbirth, may also have the side effect of reducing soft tissue support for the lower back and pelvis. Carroll said she can feel substantial changes in a mare’s pelvis just by putting her hands on it during a pregnancy. The mare may also load her lower limbs more heavily later in pregnancy, resulting in a braced stance that can sometimes spread to create stiffness in the neck. Older mares who may have a naturally lower lumbar back and who have gone through the hormone cycle with relaxin more times may have these accentuated problems. And of course, conformation plays a role in how well a mare’s back can evenly support the load of a foal.
All of this can lead to stiffness and limited range of motion. It can also lead to pinching of the nerves that serve visceral organs, leading to discomfort in other areas.
Currently, Dr. Woodrow Friend of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital says most of his clients use chiropractic care on breeding stock to address a perceived problem. In fact, he thinks it’s most effective when used as a prevention tool.
“I think as acupuncture, chiropractic, all of your Eastern medicine modalities become more popular, you’re going to see more people using them on a regular basis and not as therapy,” Friend said. “It’s really easy to want to use a laser, a shockwave and a PEMF unit when you know you have an injured horse. Chiropractic is very different in that it is preventative. Often you don’t know you have a problem until you’ve overcome their spine.
“I think more and more people are doing foal chiropractic work as well. You get a foal that has been tied up in a body with contracted tendons and all that – that’s also happening in his pelvis and neck. I’ve had foals that don’t suck well, they can’t suck from one side or the other.
There are several reasons Friend and Carroll believe they don’t routinely see chiropractic care used this way for broodmares. Friend points out that, on the one hand, it is laborious for a farm to breed horses, have someone available to hold each horse during treatment, and then clean all the stalls in situations where mares might normally be returned. To complicate the logistics, a practitioner can only perform examinations and adjustments on a certain number of horses each day.
O’Keefe and Carroll also think there can be limits on the part of owners and handlers as to how an adjustment could benefit a mare.
“Unless the owner has personal experience with chiropractic care and how it can help a body, any body type, then it feels like an intangible concept,” Carroll said. “It’s a bit vague if you don’t have personal experience with it.”
O’Keefe agrees. As a partner at BTE and someone who also takes care of the mares, she is able to weigh the potential benefits a little differently since she is not managing the horses on behalf of remote clients who receive invoices by mail and telephone reports. She recalled a gray mare who had surgery last year who refused to lie down for foaling, which was stressful for O’Keefe as the person in the stall with her. . After her postpartum bath, O’Keefe realized that the mare would no longer lie down in the field to ride or rest for days. After some adjustments, dirt reappeared on his back. This year she had periodic adjustments before her due date and foaled lying down.
“For us it’s $125 for a chiropractic adjustment, so we’re looking at spending maybe $400 or $500 extra on this mare…but as someone who’s literally going to grab the foal if she foals standing up, I will absolutely pay this to give a better chance she’s going to bed instead,” she said. “If you’re three steps away from that person, it’s a bit difficult to call and say, ‘ We think your mare would feel better if she was adjusted.””
All three believe that over time this could change.
“A lot of broodmare managers, it’s not what their mentor did, what their father/grandfather did,” Friend said. “It’s just a transition.”