This week (7 May 2015) I have been to see a horse that has for the past few years popped himself into counter canter when on one particular rein. He has had many treatments from many therapists, all to no avail. A few weeks prior to my visit he had his S.I. joints and hocks medicated to see if that would help. Still no joy.
Fortunately the owner’s dressage instructor happens to be a client of mine (I had had a very good result in treating her horse for a certain issue: with regular ‘top-up’ treatments over the past few years he is now performing better than ever). So the instructor suggested bringing me in to take a look at the student’s horse.
On my first visit it was blindingly obvious to me that one back muscle on this horse was WAY tighter than the other. Based on the long history of the ‘counter canter’ behavioural signal, it has been like that for years. The scary thing is that this horse had been examined by many different therapists: if any of them had even noticed addressed muscular issues, none of them could have been using deep enough pressure. When I felt the hypertonic contraction in the muscles down one side of his back I applied *considerable* pressure as I palpated that area (anyone who has watched me work will know that this is A LOT of pressure!). I could feel the muscles release as I worked. He is due to see the osteopath again this week: I reckon he will have a lot more luck in trying to realign him this time, now that the back muscles are no longer in hypertonic contraction.
I can only comment on this situation from my own perspective, which is this: if muscles are in a state of hypertonic contraction, really deep soft tissue work is required to achieve the release. Think of the muscles as guy ropes. If one side is pulled tighter than the other it’s gong to have an effect on the structure (skeleton). And the tighter the guy rope, the more effort it takes to adjust. This I why I tend to work alongside osteopaths in chronic cases: two heads are better than one and we can bounce ideas off each other. This generally produces a better/faster result than using a single specialist. I am highly skilled at sorting out muscular issues and they are highly skilled at sorting out the structural side of things. Knowing when to call in another professional is part of my job. But it has taken years of practice to know what is best for your horse for certain issues.
In this case, with two highly skilled practitioners working together I am convinced we will have this horse cantering consistently on the correct lead really soon. However, having ingrained the habit of popping onto the counter canter over the past few years, they will also need to work on retraining his brain! Thats the thing with horses: once they THINK they can’t do something, trying to convince them that they CAN takes an awful lot of persuasion.
Quick follow-up: the osteopath just called me to say that he had been able to achieve a much greater adjustment on the realignment than at any time previously. So already a big improvement!
Further updates to follow, no doubt…