What is it?
The McTimoney chiropractic technique is a holistic treatment designed to rebalance the horse's skeletal system. Areas of resistance are identified and treated using gentle manual adjustments. Once normal movement is resumed, the associated soft tissues relax and pain is relieved. The technique works on the principle that the body is designed to self-heal and the treatment merely stimulates the healing process. No drugs or sedatives are necessary and the procedure is totally non-invasive. Most horses seem to really enjoy the treatment and derive almost immediate benefit from it.
The technique dates back to the 1930s. Founder, John McTimoney, trained in the US with pioneering chiropractor Dr Mary Walker, returning to Oxfordshire in the UK and setting up a human practice. Several years later, a client asked him to try the treatment out on a horse which he did with spectacular results. There are now McTimoney practitioners worldwide.
Animal practitioners are required to have completed the two year post-graduate training course. The exams are stringent and a high standard is required to achieve a pass grade.
Signs of musculoskeletal problems
Your horse clearly cannot actually tell you that he has a problem and sometimes the signs can be quite subtle. Remain vigilant and look out for the following:
- Changes in behaviour: sudden unexplained bucking, rearing, napping, bolting, resistance or lack of usual energy, refusing or jumping to one side. Biting or kicking when groomed or having rugs changed. Refusal to stand whilst mounted.
- Sudden knocking down of jumps, loss of bascule and lack of enthusiasm for jumping.
- Stiffness on one rein, not tracking up, uneven steps, loss of engagement or impulsion, incorrect canter strike offs, going disunited in canter, reluctance to go forward. Leaning on one rein, tilting or shaking the head, refusal to stand square or still in halt, continually resting a hind leg.
- Uneven muscle tone; the saddle may continually slip to one side. Carrying the tail to one side, tripping or stumbling, uneven wear to the hooves or shoes.
Causes of problems
Most people have at some time or other twisted awkwardly whilst getting out of a car, or simply woken up with a stiff shoulder. Horses can injure themselves just as easily. Some suffer direct trauma as a result of a fall or can injure themselves through getting cast. An unbalanced rider can cause problems as can being worked unevenly resulting in asymmetrical stress being placed on the horse's body. Asking too much of a horse before he has been sufficiently warmed up can cause problems. Ill-fitting tack or rugs will cause the horse to hold himself unnaturally to compensate for the discomfort which over time will lead to muscular soreness. Overgrown or poorly trimmed feet will cause stress to be placed on the joints of the affected limb leading to chronic uneven gait.
Even a slight injury causes the horse to compensate elsewhere on his body. In chronic conditions, these compensations may become a habit and lead to long-term problems. Obviously, any behaviour indicative of pain or discomfort should be investigated initially by a vet. In cases of recurrent lameness or loss of performance where no obvious cause can be determined, McTimoney treatment can be extremely effective. Chronic conditions like arthritis can also benefit from maintenance treatment at regular intervals.
Initial assessment and treatment takes about an hour. The practitioner will then provide an individually tailored treatment together with full aftercare advice. Usually, two or three treatments are enough to produce significant improvement with a follow up visit six months later; more frequently in competition horses. This is a rough guide though as the treatment schedule will vary depending upon the injuries involved and the horse's individual reaction to the treatment as some respond more quickly than others.
Healing takes time and a couple of days off following treatment are usually required. The workload can then be gradually increased day by day and the practitioner may recommend exercises designed to strengthen muscle groups which may have become atrophied or weakened. Owners must follow the advice they are given and not be in a hurry to return the horse to work too soon.
So, is McTimoney just another New Age fad designed to fleece yet more money from concerned owners anxious to provide the very best care for their horses or does it really work? There are certainly plenty of happy owners who will testify in its favour and the fact that practitioners can study for a Masters degree in the therapy must surely be reassuring.
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