Horses, like us, can be one sided. A recent study by an MSc student showed that one sidedness can be measured in foals only a few days old, depending on difficulty of parturition and time to standing. If left uncorrected, this one sidedness can produce a reduction in flexibility later on when the horse begins ridden work. We can feel one sidedness in our horses when we are schooling, and our horses are able to perform exercises with greater ease and flexibility on one rein compared to the other. In many cases, regular consistent schooling will improve this one sidedness. However, when the one sidedness is a result of skeletal imbalance, then corrective schooling is not usually enough to improve the ‘bad rein’. In these cases, there are often additional problems such as the horse is throwing the rider to one side, preferring one trot diagonal or canter lead, and the saddle is slipping persistently to one side (see picture above right).
So what is skeletal imbalance? When your horse is stood square, all the vertebrae of the neck and back should be positioned so they create a straight line from top to tail. The points of hip of the pelvis should be of equal height from the ground and equal distance from the shoulders on each side. This produces a balanced skeletal system capable of equal movement to the left or right, and able to develop the correct muscle tone to perform the work demanded by the rider.
Imbalance of the skeletal system is seen when, despite being stood square, the spine does not run along a straight line. In mild cases, this can only be identified by a qualified practitioner but in more severe cases it can sometimes be obvious to the owner, particularly when the horse has been treated in the past and the owner is aware of what to look for. The points of hip are positioned at unequal height to the ground on each side and may be uneven distance from each shoulder.
Treatment by a qualified McTimoney Animal Practitioner uses gentle adjustments to bring the skeletal system back into balance, allowing your horse to move more freely again so corrective schooling can now improve any one sidedness. Previous issues with a particular trot diagonal or canter lead should resolve after treatment. Saddle fit may need to be checked after treatment, particularly in more severe cases, as the effect of improving spinal balance can result in significant changes in muscle tone and highlight areas of asymmetry which must be accommodated until your horse has had the chance to develop correct muscle tone where areas of weakness existed. And finally, you shouldn’t feel you are being ‘thrown to one side’ any more. However, it is worth noting that research studying the relationship between horse and rider pelvic asymmetry found that there was a correlation between horse and rider pelvic imbalance so if your horse has had an ongoing issue for some time, it is reasonable to assume you may also have a pelvic imbalance that you are not aware of, which requires treatment too.
McTimoney Animal Therapist
The information bought to you in this post has been written by Nikki Routledge who is a McTimoney Animal Therapist that treats horses, ponies and dogs in the South West. She also runs her own online massage courses for horse and pet owners. Nikki has been riding since she was 11 years old and competing in endurance since 1997. She began her career with British Horse Society Assistant Instructor and Intermediate Stable Manager qualifications, then continued this further with a BSc (Hons) 2:1 in Equine Science in 1999. In 2001 she qualified with a Post-Graduate Diploma in McTimoney Animal Manipulation, which she then took to Masters level a few years later with the McTimoney College, Abingdon. Her training includes equine massage skills which she completed with Equinology in California, USA. She then spent a year working with various animal physiotherapists. Most recently, Nikki has completed another BSc (Hons) 2:1 in Psychology from the OU. Nikki has written articles for various equestrian magazines and has competed in dressage, show jumping and hunter trials since she was 14 years old. Andrea Hicks is a great believer in Nikki’s methods, and AH Saddles have many years of experience working alongside her for horse and pony saddle fittings requiring the attention of a back therapist. Sometimes just fitting a correctly fitting saddle is not all that's needed to get a horse or pony back to its best performance and optimum comfort.