Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Panama's first chiro

Panama has had a rough year.  He had been struggling with his weight since -- well, since last spring actually.  He seemed to level off last summer, but he never really became the roly poly he used to be, and over the winter he started really losing again.  A lot of people didn't notice or think it was very bad, because he has (and has always had) a big ribcage and belly, but he was dropping weight along his topline -- to the point that my new (used) jumping saddle, which I bought over the winter, stopped fitting him as well as it had when I bought it.

I think what happened is that the changing saddle fit caused some injury to his back, mainly because of the way things happened.  Sometime in the spring, I noticed that he had a lump on his spine at the base of his withers after being ridden in the jumping saddle for about an hour (it was after the girl I nanny for, V.'s, lesson).  I'd only had the saddle for about a month, but it had fit fine when I got it, so I tried riding in it with different pads, and then finally tried riding in my all-purpose (Panama's first saddle, which everyone said he would grow out of but he never does).  It didn't seem to make a difference.  He was stiff, didn't want to bend left (his better direction), and was clearly tentative and uncomfortable when I was in the saddle but much freer in his movement as soon as I got out of it into a two-point.

I gave him some time off, and he seemed better.  I also noticed that the jumping saddle sat lower in the front, and put a riser pad underneath it, and that helped too.  The bump stopped coming back, and in any case, V. preferred to ride in the all-purpose -- which, despite the fact that it is a fairly inexpensive saddle, still fits him best.  Even so, Panama had gone off his favorite lead -- he couldn't seem to pick it up easily anymore, and would either pick up the wrong lead, or speed up at the trot for a dozen steps before finally transitioning.

I knew I probably needed to get a chiropractor out, but my first priority was his weight.  That ordeal needs to be the focus of its own blog post (maybe more than one), but suffice it to say that he is picking up weight now (albeit slowly), and we think we have fixed the problem, so (once my checkbook recovered) I finally got a chiropractor out on Thursday.

The minute the chiropractor watched me walk Panama down the hall, he knew what was wrong.  He asked me what was going on, but wasn't surprised at all when I said Panama was having trouble picking up his left lead.  He walked him down the hall and asked me to walk behind and watch his left hip.  Sure enough, it was considerably lower than the other, and lacked the same range of motion.  When he started palpating the area between his spine and the left hip, Panama's whole back and butt bunched up.  I did let the chiropractor know that Panama is extremely ticklish along his spine, but he said that was more than ticklishness, and showed me the difference from the other side.  Above his right hip, he was a bit twitchy (ticklish), but above his left hip he practically looked like a camel when the chiropractor palpated a certain spot.

So the chiropractor started with doing a little acupuncture in that area to get the bunched muscles to relax.  At first Panama just stood there, but after a minute he started swinging his head around to look at where the needle was, and kind of nipped in the general direction a couple of times.  When the chiropractor took the needle out and poked and prodded the area some more, Panama was no longer jumpy and bunched up.

I don't really know what all the chiropractor did or what exactly was wrong, but he did a number of adjustments -- pulling the tail over to each side and straight back (Panama did his best camel impression for the straight back one) and pulling each leg forward (back and front), but mostly he focused on that left hip/lower spine area.  He did a number of manipulations, then had me walk Panama away from him -- then said, "Wait a minute," and did a few more before having me walk him away again.  At that point he seemed satisfied.  He said to back him up about ten feet every day, as a little backing irritates those hip joints in a good way -- but he stressed to my friend, who also got her horse adjusted (and who does lots of ground work with lots of backing), that too much backing is a bad thing.

I could tell, just in the loose feeling of his walk as I led him away, that Panama felt better, but I wasn't supposed to ride him that day.  The chiropractor said I could ride the next day, but it wasn't actually until today -- Tuesday -- that I finally got out there for a test-drive.

And man, am I ever a believer now in the value of chiro for horses!  I noticed immediately that he was actually bending to the left, instead of holding himself somewhat rigidly, as he had been doing.  The first time I asked for a left lead, he gave me a right lead instead -- but I slowed him to the trot, and when I asked again, he gave me the left immediately.  We cantered for a bit, and I was impressed by how smooth and fluid it felt -- I didn't remember his canter feeling so nice, especially to the left.  In fact, I think it's been rather choppy-feeling, because I often feel like he's on the wrong lead even when he isn't.

I asked for lots of transitions, especially to the left, and every time Panama gave it to me right away.  We cantered a lot, to both directions but more to the right, and did a few simple lead changes too.  The first time we turned down the diagonal, he started fussing and starting to crowhop a bit -- I don't know if it was because he has been fussy lately about sharp or unexpected turns (whether that was because of his back/hip, or because V. has a tendency not to give him any warning or bend him properly through turns, I don't know), or if it was because he was starting to realize that it felt pretty good, but I gave him a little half-halt and told him to knock it off and he did.

I do know that the longer we rode, the more he wanted to speed up and stretch out in his canter strides -- I was having to hold him back, partly because we were riding in a small indoor arena (avoiding both the weather and giving Panama too much space when I didn't know how he was going to react) and partly because I didn't have time for the kind of workout he seemed to be pushing for.  I need to get out there again sometime soon, and either ride again or turn him out to play with Rondo or both.

Sorry for the long post, especially when you haven't heard much from me in so long -- I have lots of other updates to share (about both horses!) but I especially wanted to share my wonderful experiences with having chiro done on my horse for the very first time.  It was an incredibly good feeling today to feel how comfortable and fluid Panama's gaits were, and to know that whatever was wrong, it's been fixed!



At September 11, 2013 at 4:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chiro can be very valuable - it's really helped my horses too. One thing to keep in mind - when a horse has a soreness like that and starts chiro, it may take a number of repeated sessions at intervals, a few weeks apart, to cause the change to stick. Once things are more stable, chiro has to be done much less frequently - my horses now only get done on an as-needed basis, usually less than every 6 months.

At September 11, 2013 at 10:36 AM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Kate, believe it or not, I remembered your regular sessions and asked my chiropractor that question. He basically said there's no way to tell how long it will last, and indicated that I should just make another appointment whenever it's needed. Quite a sensible approach, I thought. ;-)


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