In order for top-level performance horses to compete at their best, they must have full range of motion throughout their bodies as well as the ability to move freely. When a horse is out of alignment, a joint, whether it is in the spine or elsewhere in the body, is restricted in its normal range of motion. Veterinary medical manipulation, or what is known as a chiropractic adjustment in humans, is a form of alternative medicine that aims to solve this issue. The goal of any adjustment is to restore the optimal range of motion to that joint, which will subsequently alleviate inflammation in and pressure on surrounding nerves and soft tissue.
Dolton, a nine-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Karin Flint, is a well-known name in the para-dressage world. The gelding won two individual gold medals with Roxanne Trunnell at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Dolton was special from a young age and won his first bronze medal when he was only six years old at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games. The pair is trained by Andrea Woodard, who often rides Dolton herself and stays very involved in all aspects of his care. Woodard and Dr. Natalia Novoa of Palm Beach Equine Clinic, who have worked together to treat Woodard’s own horses, thought Dolton could benefit from medical manipulation.
“What I found with Dolton was very common with any dressage horse,” noted Dr. Novoa. “When working with Dolton I make sure that he is correctly aligned. I also address any pinched nerves, tight muscles, tight myofascial, and anything else that could create pain. I saw that the adjustments and the myofascial release were very beneficial for him.”
When a horse is out of alignment, it may result in their gait appearing different than usual, even at a walk. If one area of the body is not functioning properly, horses have to compensate, which can result in many common sport horse injuries. Medical manipulation aims to fix this issue by applying varying amounts of pressure to specific segments of the horse’s body, mainly focusing on the spine. This form of manual therapy, performed by a certified practitioner, often targets joint issues and muscular development. Additionally, medical manipulation can help in stimulating nerve reflexes and reducing pain.
“I like that I can tell Dr. Novoa what I’m feeling, and she tells me what she feels,” described Woodard. “We trust each other’s judgment, which helps in pinpointing where the issue is in the horse. Sometimes it’s something in Dolton’s body that’s not sitting how it’s supposed to. If something is out of position and Dolton is not moving how he is supposed to, other parts of his body can get sore.”
If done routinely, medical manipulation can benefit a horse’s natural balance, topline, and overall performance while also aiding in pain and soreness relief. Once Dr. Novoa began working with Dolton on a regular basis, it became easier for her to not only focus on the areas he needed help with the most, but also to fix them.
“The more I continued working with him the better he performed,” commented Dr. Novoa. “We were able to identify the misalignments and any patterns so that we could more easily correct them. He was progressively more comfortable with treatments as we continued with a regular program in place because he knew what to expect. He is a very sensitive horse. I know his areas of strength and weakness, so we developed a system that works for him, and we continue to have great results.”
Being certain that Dolton’s body is functioning properly is extremely important in para-dressage. Flint makes sure that both Woodard and Dr. Novoa are integral in his care so that Trunnell and Dolton can be confident stepping into the ring.
“With para-dressage you never know what you’re going to get that day with your body,” described Flint. “This means that it is really important to know what horse you’re getting. That’s why chiropractic work, all their care, and overall health is so important.
“The reason we like Dr. Novoa is that she’s very knowledgeable about the physics and mechanisms of the horse,” continued Flint. “Someone who isn’t familiar with this can do more damage, which is true with humans too. Someone who doesn’t listen to signals can end up putting the horse in more pain. She is very, very good at what she does.”
Sport horses are able to perform at their best when they are comfortable and have proper range of motion throughout their body. It is helpful to have horses examined by a certified veterinary medical manipulation practitioner to check that their body is moving properly and to decrease the chance of an injury due to compensation. Call Palm Beach Equine Clinic today at 561-793-1599 to set up an appointment.