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Thursday, 25 June, 2020

Horse well-being and health after a long period of inactivity: how to solve a lack of tonicity?

Not all horses are equal when it comes to tonicity: some of them stay in shape and tonic with only two training sessions per week, when others need to be trained daily (no more than one or two days off a week) to maintain a musculature that is adapted to their sport level. Marbuzet’s case, described below, shows a horse that corresponds to the second situation and for who, 6 weeks of inactivity (due to the sanitary lockdown and the interdiction for the riders to go to the stables in France) were not valuable!

Find out in this article details about this consultation and solutions to solve Marbuzet’s movement problems.

1. Introduction: consultations’ process

The following article has been written by the veterinary doctor Eva Jonville. To understand it better, she explains her consultations’ process in the next paragraph:

Acupuncture is part of my work approach and is central during my consultations, built over a Traditional Chinese Medicine method. Then, I use osteopathy or Natural Medicine, in a complementary way, to evict musculoskeletal-type structural focuses when necessary.

Finally, depending on the problem, after a session using acupuncture needles, I realize a Chinese pharmacopeia treatment, that allows the acupuncture needles’ effects to last in time, avoiding too many consultations.

The diagnosis is therefore done and refined according to 3 methods:

  • Veterinary,
  • Traditional Chinese,
  • Osteopathic (structural, fascial, neuro-vascular, craniosacral...)

Ma Niu I Fang, 1399

The mutual use of these technics allows to have maximum results, the goal is to give horses an Integrative Medicine for a complete follow-up, that is also complementary and coherent.

That being said, there is not only one type of consultation: each horse guides me towards his needs, which are also my limits not to break the dynamic that is settled between the horse and me. It is about being precise in the choice of information given to the technic used.

Therefore, the method of treatment that is chosen depends on a precise and individual diagnostic, deep knowledge about therapeutic technics, and a continuously enriched experience.”

2. A reason for consultation: a horse with stiff hindlimbs

Marbuzet, a 7-year gelding, perfectly meets his owner’s expectations, mostly in showjumping. He is regularly trained, and always shows dedication during flatwork sessions and enjoys hacking. This being said, his musculature needs a regular workout to stay tonic: 10 days of grazing outside, and his back lost its quality. When he goes back training after a long period of inactivity, the rider needs to insist so he contracts himself and makes his back and abs work properly, his lateral displacements are less satisfying. When jumping, he gets closer to the fences and adds unexpected small strides right in front of the poles. Now, with 6 weeks of inactivity, his owner is afraid Marbuzet hurt himself or that he is suffering from arthrosis (whereas there was no previous sign before the lockdown) because he has “very stiff hindlimbs ”.

bay horse

In this case, Marbuzet shows a bending defect and instability of the stifles:

  • He performs a slight abduction of the hindlimbs at walk and trot,
  • He drags his hindlimbs on circles,
  • He rubs the floor with his hooves’ toes when he goes downhill. He does not want to go downhill anyway and starts to waddle. He even sometimes stumbles just like if he was “losing a wheel”.

3. Why?

Because Marbuzet not only lost back and abs muscles during this period of break, he lost in mass and tonicity: the muscular slings consolidating his articulations are less strong, which makes him less stable and uncertain in his movements. In particular, the femoral quadriceps do not play their traction role at the patella and does not allow the medial patellar ligament flexibility. The patella, when the stifle is bent, struggles "splitting" from the femoral tubercle. It is a partial patellar attachment.

Note: the contraction of the femoral quadriceps causes external rotation of the patella and thus its "detachment" from the femoral tubercle.

the stifle ligaments

4. What are the solutions to solve this movement deficiency?

The conservative treatment is to be favored and is progressive in its implementation:

First, restoring the tonicity, in particular the femoral quadriceps one with flatwork exercises, with ground poles, lateral movements, transitions, and downhill work.  Acupuncture can be very useful to restore the articulation’s balance and the tension of the medial patellar ligament.

Secondly, if the results are not satisfying enough after a few weeks, local injections can be performed at the medial patellar ligament and/or stimulate an influential acupuncture point on the medial side of the stifle. The horseshoes can also be adapted.

The critical step, which is not observed in Marbuzet’s case, is the patella attachment. Persistent or occasional, but recurrent, characterized by the recognizable look of a leg blocked in extension with the foot’s toe rubbing the floor. In this case, pulling the horseback is enough to release the patella, otherwise, it is necessary to manipulate the patella itself. If the horse is limping because of a persistent patella attachment, a treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is implemented. In recurring cases, if conservative treatments are not enough, surgical treatments can be considered.

bay horse with a saddle

Nevertheless, today, after 6 weeks of ground poles with his usual activity, adapted horseshoes and some acupuncture sessions, Marbuzet is back in shape, performant when jumping and walk downhill and uphill frankly!

5. Which Seaver exercises to choose in this case?

To solve this movement’s deficiency and progressively restore the tonicity, you can perform, over several training sessions, exercises with ground poles, walking, lateral movements, and transitions.

The Seaver catalog offers a various choice of exercises, in several disciplines, easily adaptable depending on the facility you have at home. Each exercise is composed of one or several explaining schemes, details on how to realize it, and advice.

In this case, two exercises in particular can help to improve the horse’s physical condition.

  • System of ground poles at walk:

This exercise, which requires 5 or 6 ground poles, has several advantages. It pushes the horse to stand on his own feet, to pay attention, and to remain active. To perform this exercise properly, you need to be careful about impulsion and straightness.

  • Working the transitions on a line of ground poles:

This second exercise, also composed of ground poles, includes transitions. It will allow you to gain control and confidence and will encourage your horse to be careful. When you go over the set-up for the first time, ask for a transition from walk to trot before crossing the last pole. Go back on the set-up trotting after realizing a volte; then, ask for a transition from trot to walk before the last pole. When this is done properly, it is possible to vary and get closer transitions.

The idea is to go through the ground poles walking to bend the stifles and so, tone up the femoral quadriceps. As well as lateral movements exercises, you can, on the voltes, alternate haunches-in/out which allows you to work on straightness and lateral movements at the same time.

These two exercises and all the Seaver team’s explanations and advice are to be discovered on the Seaver app, for free.

Marbuzet is not an only case, especially at the end of a long period of inactivity. Here, it is about a physical build paired to a particular physical conformation which can be found in every breed: a “weak stifle” horse physical build in Traditional Chinese Medicine with an assimilation function and the use of non-optimal nutrients, which results in a lack of tonicity and the conformation of an open stifle joint with medial patellar ligament flexibility. There is no actual joint fixation or injury of any kind in the case described above and the return to normal movement occurs with the active participation of the rider. That being said, the results depend on the relevancy and the precision of the diagnostic because the related treatment can be completely different for similar clinical signs.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article!

See you soon for the next article,

Dr. Eva Jonville