Jackie Leftwich BSc MSc AMC MMCA FRCC (Animal)
Chiropractor [McTimoney/STR/IAVC] (Qualified to treat humans and animals)
Registered with GCC and RAMP
Telephone: 07738 110570
E-mail: info@watersidechiropractic.co.uk

How the Sport that Your Horse is Involved in May Impact On Your Horse – Part II – the Showjumper

June 03, 2014  |   Equine Chiropractic,Latest Posts   |     |   Comments Off

It is probably of no surprise to most that the type of sport that your horse is involved in may impact on your horse and its way of going.  The discipline of the individual sports horse has an important impact on training regimes, conformational problems, degenerative disease and injury.  This is why animal chiropractors and others that are involved with horses need to be familiar with the various sporting disciplines and the predisposing factors that may impact upon these equine athletes.  Waterside Chiropractic is going to examine the various different sporting disciplines over 2014; we looked at the Dressage Horse in Part I at the end of April and for Part II, we will be looking at the Showjumper.

Show jumping combines athletic effort of the horse and rider.  As the jumps get bigger, the potential for injury increases and many conditions develop from repetitive strain.  The fences are set at distances so that the horse must adjust stride length to fit in the appropriate number of strides.  Failure to do so means that the horse has to compensate at the jump in order to clear it, by putting in a short stride, take off further away from the jump, or in some cases the horse will not jump and just refuse or run out.  A good show jumper needs explosive power and great athleticism, combined with the ability and desire not to hit fences.

Many breeds are capable of show jumping; favoured breeds include Thoroughbreds (TBs), Warmbloods (WBs), TB-WB crossess and Irish breeds.  That’s not to say that many other breeds are good show jumpers and in many cases it can be down to what the horse enjoys doing.  Preferences are for lighter, taller horses with moderate muscling so as to enable greater speed and agility.  Larger horses that are not excessively heavy have an advantage because of greater stride length and overall strength and power.

Many showjumpers typically undergo a small amount of training compared with the other disciplines.  Training of the show jumper places emphasis on the hindquarters for engagement and collection which places more weight and stress on the hindlimbs as they are brought forward and under the rider during locomotion – the more natural posture for the horse is to distribute weight over the forehand.  These stresses may contribute to or accelerate the development of problems of the thoracolumbar and pelvic regions, and ligaments and joints of the hindlimbs.  Lameness often reflects musculotendinous problems in a young horse.  Training over fences increases the loads on the soft tissues and joints of the hindlimbs and stresses the forelimbs as they are involved in take off and landing.  The forelimbs are also involved in setting up the jump and helping with the directional change from horizontal to vertical.  On landing, the forelimbs take a considerable impact and load and have to absorb the entire weight of the horse, placing more stress on the feet, distal limb joints and soft tissues.

When the horse is in mid-flight over the jump, the horse bascules, the bascule being the natural round arc a horse’s body takes as it goes over a jump.  The horse should rise up through its back, stretching its neck forward and down, when it reaches the peak of his jump.  Ideally, the withers are the highest point over the fence. This is often described as the horse taking the shape of a dolphin jumping out of the water.  Bascule can also refer more generally to the raising of the withers while the horse is in motion.  A horse with bascule is one with a “round” jump, while a horse with poor bascule may jump “flat” with his head in the air and his spine relatively straight.  A hollowed back over the fence tends to prevent the animal from lifting his forearms very high, thus preventing the necessary tucking motion of his front legs to jump clear.  The forelimbs and hindlimbs should tuck up symmetrically under the horse; asymmetry may reflect an underlying pain-related problem.  The horse should also jump squarely across the fence; jumping obliquely may reflect hindlimb pain and uneven propulsion.  Most naturally talented jumpers have good bascule.   However, there are several very athletic horses that can jump great heights with considerably poor bascule due to sheer power.  Some bascule is an important trait for all jumping horses, as it is more mechanically efficient for clearing high obstacles.

Training, warm up and competition surfaces play a substantial role in ensuring the soundness of the showjumper.  It is of no surprise then that inappropriate riding and training can potentially cause clinical problems.

Back pain is common in showjumpers and there are many clinical signs such as sensitivity to grooming and saddling, resistance to rider weight, overall body stiffness, poor performance and pain on palpation of the muscles over the back.  When jumping a course, lead swapping is significant and may be an indicator of lumbosacral pain and should be subject to a more thorough examination by a chiropractor or vet.  Other back problems tend to include thoracolumbar region pain, croup and hip region and cervical osteoarthritis and pain.  Strain and inflammation of the gluteal muscles are common and sometimes result from an altered gait secondary to lameness elsewhere in one of the hindlimbs.  Sacroiliac strain is also common in showjumpers although many horses have chronic low-grade pain that never seems to adversely affect the ability to perform.  With severe pain, a horse may stand with the hindlimbs extended unusually and rest one hindlimb.  Chiropractic manipulation has proved useful as a diagnostic tool and may benefit those with mild sacroiliac strain, but rest and time are important factors too.

In addition to back and pelvic pain, the most common causes of lameness in the showjumper tend to be foot pain, distal hock joint pain, suspensory desmitis, fetlock problems, stifle issues, superficial digital flexor tendonitis and desmitis of the accessory ligament of the deep digital flexor tendon.

I hope that this will give those involved in the sport of showjumping some food for thought as to the various stresses and strains that are placed upon the showjumper in training and competition.  Regular chiropractic treatment can help to ensure that your horse can perform at its best and help to prevent back pain and ensure that your horse has the freedom of movement in its back and pelvis that this discipline demands.  Chiropractic, and in particular McTimoney Chiropractic, is a gentle non-invasive treatment that works to realign and balance the horse’s musculoskeletal system, restoring health, movement, soundness, freedom of movement and performance through manipulation that realigns the joints, relieving muscle tension and associated discomfort.  Waterside Chiropractic offers the McTimoney technique and can assess and treat your horse.  Initial consultations and assessments can be booked by calling Jackie Leftwich, McTimoney Chiropractor (Qualified to treat Human & Animals) on 07738 110570.  Don’t leave it until your horse has a problem, get your horse checked out so that you and your horse can both perform at your best in the world of showjumping.

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