If there is something to be noted about the equestrian times we are living in it is probably the huge rise in our horse’s health problems. Dermatitis, laminitis, myositis, osteoarthritis, osteoarticular, musculotendinous, infections of hooves, dermatophilosis and many more are now common and increasingly complex issues to resolve. Maybe this is the case because we are not looking at these issues with the right perspective? What if, in reality, movement was the key to a horse’s health ?
Have you taken the time to be curious about how the original horses lived before humans had any influence on them ? Have you ever looked at how the last semi-wild horses live ? And have you compared that natural and wild lifestyle with the lives of our domestic horses ? When we take a closer look we come to realize that in nature horses travel several kilometers a day on a vast terrain of approximately 300 to 400 hectares. Domestic horses are on the opposite end of the scale. Nowadays most horses live in a stall of about 12m2 or, if lucky, outside with a couple of hectares to themselves.
Most horses do enjoy more or less regular exercise depending on their lifestyle and owners’ agenda. But how many of them spend hours upon hours standing still in their stall or in one corner of their paddock, alone or just hanging around a haystack?
Every osteopath knows the saying that : “movement is life.” This sentence contains the knowledge that the movement of fluids and energy through the body is of vital importance. And that each bodily structure’s movement is related to those around it. Every time there is a restriction of movement somewhere in the body, its entire functionality is reduced and illnesses begin to manifest. In this regard, osteopathy is an important and multi-faceted healing technique. An osteopath brings movement back into the body along with good health and life !
Animals are made to move. Their bodies utilize the inner-movements that are generated by the outer-movements (walking, turning, etc) to optimize bodily functions. For example, when the hooves continuously lift up and land back down, muscular and bodily movements and vibrations are optimized. These movements allow for correct activation of the lymphatic system, for blood to be circulated from the extremities back to the heart and are indispensable for efficient detoxifying processes towards emunctories (i.e. the organs in charge of eliminating toxins). These musculoskeletal movements also help in the motility of the intestines and the alimentary bolus. All of these things can only function well when horses have enough movement in their lifestyle !
Good health and functioning of the horse’s organism depends on sufficient movement the musculoskeletal body and thus all inner-movements (fluids, energy, structures). The opposite is true. When the horse doesn’t move enough, his bodily functions are less efficient and stasis begins to form, meaning the normal flow of bodily substances stops. When there is a deficiency in bodily movement the heart must work harder to pump the blood back from the extremities which otherwise become engorged. And toxins stay stagnant in the muscles, which causes recurrent pain. Cells don’t consume all of the carbohydrates from food and this sugar is then stocked as fat. Digestion is weakened and the horse suffers from the discomfort that badly digested and assimilated food produces. All of these things lead to deeper and deeper imbalances which final express themselves as real diseases/illnesses.
For example, when toxins are not evacuated correctly, so much of them are excreted through the skin that the horse develops dermatitis. Another example is the excess of unused sugars in the system causes insulin resistance, which generates a syndrome known as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) which can, in turn, cause laminitis. Furthermore, the lack of regular physical activity allows for PSSM expression. Which is inherently present in his DNA but not activated in a natural healthy lifestyle. Another example is that horses who have become lame due to insufficient activity and accumulation of toxins in the muscles are more prone to tendinous wounds. Again lack of movement also allows for the development of degenerative osteoarthritis.
In all of these illnesses, lack of movement plays a major role. But we also make things worse by providing unsuitable nutrition or one that is too rich for the horse’s daily activity. The consequences of this combination are serious because the horse cannot appropriately expend the intake of energy.
As expressed prior, a lack of movement is often the cause of many health-related problems. We can conclude that bringing a horse back to good health is greatly facilitated by adding more movement and physical exercises to a horse’s lifestyle.
In order to do that it helps to provide more living space for horses to enjoy in the company of each other. This is the only lifestyle that allows horses to move all day long. To optimize their daily movements, it’s important to disperse the specific “stations” (food, water, etc) throughout the space. However, this is sometimes not enough when only limited space is available, like most places in France.
It is thus so important that we commit to our horses. That we provide them with enough of our time to go out and give them as many possibilities to move as we can ! We can do this through riding but also by walking alongside our horse with a good sustained rhythm. It is amazing to notice how simple daily walks on varied terrain can cultivate better digestion, flexibility and overall wellbeing. The more a horse walks the better his/her health !
Whatever your horse’s health issue may be, try this. For one month, go out together on a daily 1-hour brisk walk and see the results for yourself.
Photos : Kevin Simonet