Neck, Ribcage, Knees and Toes–Nautica's Bodywork Update

As a sort of follow-up to my previous post and continuing with the theme of equine musculoskeletal health, Nautica had a visit from both his chiropractor and massage therapist over the past few weeks.

Leading up to these appointments, we had experienced a minor step backward in our riding. Before our brief time off (my shoulder injury) Nautica was really coming along in his basics. His little park-ey saddlebred hind end was one-half hoofprint away from achieving a fully tracking working trot. His canter was getting more balanced and less frantic and his sticky right lead was becoming significantly more solid from the trot. While Nautica hadn’t been entirely out of work during my hiatus (he received twice-weekly structured lunging sessions in the surcingle rig) we still seemed to lose a bit of ground in our ridden work.

During our first few rides back, I could feel there was a definite tightness in Nautica’s lumbar region. This resulted in a jackhammer effect on my lumbar region. I am pretty sure this is what riding a camel would feel like. I was able to “break” up some of his camel-esque motion with lots of bending and lateral work, but it was hard to achieve and even harder to keep—definitely not our new normal.

Ignoring the fact that Nautica had essentially just had an entire month off and could quite simply be thirteen and out of shape, his returning tightness and subtle loss of topline in his hind end were reason enough for concern for my hypochondriac horse-mom self. I signed him up for the works: feet, chiropractic, massage.

His hooves looked great, which was a first for him! We are officially out of the glue-ons (knock on wood!) and despite the always-present congenital high-low in his fronts, Nautica’s forelimbs are the most balanced they have ever been. His front end motion has really evened out. This improvement makes any funkiness in the hind end that much more obvious.

With hooves cleared, we moved onto bodywork.

Nautica’s massage session was interesting. The massage therapist found right away that Nautica was extremely tight in his hamstrings. This makes total sense within the context of our continuous hind end struggle. She demonstrated an example hind limb stretch both pre- and post-massage. The difference in his range of motion after she worked on him was considerable. We were given a list of stretches to work with both before and after our workouts. I believe these should help tremendously!

Hind limb stretch

Our chiropractic visit was also enlightening. Nautica benefitted from a limb adjustment in addition to regular spinal manipulation. Fortunately, we found no severe or major points of concern. Unfortunately, I still didn’t have the simple answer I wanted. After hearing about Nautica’s recent hamstring tightness, our chiropractor recommended it may be worth taking some radiographs of Nautica’s hocks in the next few weeks, just to rule out any possible hidden issues. As for immediate hock concerns, we couldn’t pinpoint anything on that day. From an external view, Nautica’s leg joints appeared to be in good health for a thirteen-year-old horse with his history.

Further chiropractic findings showed Nautica had a few ribs “stuck”, which is common for him. In Nautica’s case, the term “stuck” refers to a reduction in the normal range of motion in a particular area of the ribcage, not the actual rib head being out of place. In my experience, a subluxated or dislocated rib is an actual medical condition that must be addressed immediately. As someone with a connective tissue disorder, rib subluxation is unbearably painful. I can’t imagine many horses that would continue to work in that kind of pain.

Both stuck and luxated ribs can cause an inability to release tension within the horse’s barrel. It is my understanding that stuck ribs are very common in ridden horses and can be caused by factors too many to count whereas luxated ribs are a more rare and severe occurrence, and are almost always caused by a traumatic injury. A chiropractic adjustment can temporarily relieve the pressure caused by a rib being stuck, but it is important to find and treat the underlying cause.

Ribcage tension could certainly explain Nautica’s difficulty in obtaining the same level of performance as he had pre-hiatus. Similarly, hock pain can also be a cause of declining gait quality. I will be investigating both with a vet checkup planned in the next few weeks.

Continuing with our chiropractic appointment, there were no notable findings in Nautica’s thoracic or lumbar region. He was, as expected slightly tight in his poll and cervical vertebrae. I say “as expected” because dressage Nautica is still figuring out exactly where I want him to put his head and neck when riding. Concepts such as “back to front” and “on the vertical” are great in theory. Real-life is often more complicated than that, especially when working with a teenage horse who has had their entire world rocked.

Overall, the chiropractic adjustment seemed to help.

So, TL;DR: Nautica’s workload lessened during November, he atrophied slightly, we returned to work in December, and Nautica experienced some fatigue. He’s thirteen and might be showing some signs that he could use a little extra help with his musculoskeletal health. Or I could just be a hypochondriac. Either way, I am playing on the safe side.

Since all of Nautica’s various appointments, he has been steadily improving. He’s returned to full work and is, for the most part, moving at the same level of quality as he had before!

The massage session seemed to help the most noticeably. Nautica was much more supple and willing to stretch, flex and bend post-massage than he had been prior. I think this will become a regular part of our horsey-maintenance schedule. His chiropractic adjustment was also helpful, though more subtly so. I will be scheduling a veterinarian appointment for January to investigate his joint health and ensure that we are on the right track there. Additionally, I will be looking into a few different supplement options, which at the most will help and at the very least will let me feel like I have something to do!

Merry Christmas!

Nautica wants to spread a little Christmas cheer. Feel free to share—he wants to be internet famous! We wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season!

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