Back to the good ole days? (Sept 2015)

Back to the good ole days?

My clients are a very assorted bunch. From those competing at the highest levels of competition, to riding club riders and happy hackers, there are many reasons for requesting an equine back check up. From time to time, one of my more ‘vintage’ clients will comment on how equine back therapy is such a comparatively new idea and that ‘we didn’t need this kinda thing back in my day!’

It is true that since the 1980s there has been an explosion in the number and types of equine therapy on offer, but were the horses referred to in ‘the good old days’ really so badly off, not receiving back treatment as required? Well, our culture has changed so much over the last 100years that it really needs to be taken into context, and this is reflected throughout the whole animal industry.

Years ago, horses has ostlers rather than grooms, and strapping was a key part of the horse’s daily routine. Strapping helped stimulate blood supply and muscle strength, and these ostlers were knowledgeable in their work. Horses were used for transport, farm work and other such activities, rendering them vital to the household they were associated with. If the horse couldn’t work then the whole household could suffer. As with all farm animals raised and nurtured on a homestead, the horse’s life was intricately interrelated to that of the human inhabitants. In fact the word ‘husbandry’ comes from the Norse words ‘hus’ meaning house and ‘bond’ meaning bonded to the house. Animal husbandry was a life learnt skill passed from one generation to the next.

In the 1950s there was massive change, producing industrialisation of the agricultural industry with big machines replacing the natural horsepower and huge increases in the numbers of farm animals kept per acre of land. In later years drugs and other measures were developed to counter the diseases and injuries endemic to overcrowded conditions and the term ‘factory farming’ was coined to describe these new farming practices.

The horses were now gone from these huge commercial farming environments, becoming a commodity for the new generation of horse riders who were looking for enjoyment and relaxation through horse sport, rather than requiring the horse to perform a specific working job. Similarly, the husbandry skills which were previously learnt by each successive generation were lost, requiring an educational system to ensure skills were taught to those caring for horses now kept on livery yards and riding schools. Horses were ridden or worked for less hours per day than they had prior to the 1950s, but the demands made of them during jumping and racing competitions grew every decade. Now horse sport has to be the most demanding it has ever been for our four legged friends!

So enter the necessity for back check ups and treatment. Saddle fitting is an increasingly scientific sphere, teeth are now rasped, shoeing has undergone a huge amount of research and now back therapy is commonplace too. Today our horses, (as a general population) spend less time working, yet have greater athletic demands placed on them. They have been bred for specific disciplines, sometimes producing amazing performances but also suffering a large number of developmental disorders or predispositions to injuries too. The knowledge and generational experience of years ago has been replaced with sometimes conflicting advice on the best course of care for our horses, taught to us by various experts, colleges and articles… so when we think about why back therapy has found such popularity, it isn’t so surprising any more!