Chiropractic treatments are not just for our Equine patients!  Dr Henderson is happy to treat Canine and Feline patients as well!

Chiropractic treatment is considered an alternative therapy used in a holistic approach to health care.  Chiropractic care restores a horses normal movement and symmetry of motion which affects many of the health and performance problems of the horse. It focuses on the health and proper movement and function of all the joints in the horses’ body, but especially the spinal column.

The spinal column is made up of bones, called vertebra, as well as the surrounding ligaments and muscles surrounding the vertebra, which protect the spinal cord passing through the center of these vertebrae. The spinal column also functions to support the body and provide sites for muscle attachments. The many nerves that branches off the spinal cord pass in between the vertebra and go to all parts of the horses’ body. The ligaments and muscles that surround and hold the vertebra together also allow motion between the bones. The ligaments, muscles and meeting of two bones forms a joint, called a motion unit in chiropractic circles. There are over 175 motion units in the horses’ spinal column alone. Moving properly, the horse is a flexible, healthy, happy animal. Moving improperly, or not at all, the horse becomes stiff, resentful, painful and possibly sick due to subtle impingement on the nerves exiting the spinal column en-route to innervate tissues, muscles and organs.

Chiropractic treatment first examines the horses’ motion units, in the spinal column and extremities, for proper flexibility, fluidity, and full range of motion and second attempts to restore a normal range of motion to subluxated (restricted) motion units.


In chiropractic circles, the term subluxation refers to a motion unit that can no longer move through out its complete normal range of motion. In essence the joint is partially or completely ‘stuck’. Each motion unit, in the spinal column and in the extremities, has at least one (if not two) vein, artery and nerve passing by it. When a subluxation occurs, these structures become impinged upon, ‘pinched’ to some degree. The blood flow through the vessels may be sluggish and the nerves irritated, causing the horse to become stiff and resistant, resulting in sub par works and performances. Lack of lateral bending slows down gaming horses, neck subluxations prevent proper collection and frame development and sacroiliac subluxations create a weak hind end. Even one subluxated motion unit can cause the horse to lose flexibility and travel down this frustrating path.  Any vertebral subluxation can affect or ‘pinch’ the nerves branching of the spinal cord and passing through the motion unit at that site. These nerves are the communication lines between the brain and the rest of the body, carrying impulses both to and from all of the structures in the horses’ body, down to every last cell.

Think of a subluxation as cutting all or part of those lines. Depending upon the area and amount of damage, serious problems can occur anywhere. Every movement, from swishing the tail to the dressage piaffe, requires a constant synchronization of the horses’ muscles, some contracting and some relaxing. The communication lines that allow this precision motion are the nerves passing by the 175 + motion units in the spinal column. If these nerves are impinged upon, incoordination will result. Major, long term interference can cause major lameness, while minor interference may cause only minor, almost imperceptible changes. Just remember, the more you expect from your horse, the more these impairments will become evident. The slightest change may be seen by the judge, cause a rail to be dropped or add seconds onto your time. More importantly, lack of coordination in these movements may cause missteps or improper gaits, that can lead to damage in the remaining healthy joints, including the knees, stifles, and hocks as well as soft tissue and ligament injuries.

These impinged ‘pinched’ nerves will also cause pain. The degree of impairment will determine the amount of pain but any degree of pain, even subclinical will prohibit the horse form working to his maximum potential. Subluxations in the spine cause the horse to compensate in movement or posture. In attempt to avoid pain, the horse may shift its weight, or even refuse to do certain movements. This shifting of stress from one subluxated area, or joint, to a healthier more stable joint is called compensation. Secondary subluxations may begin to occur at these areas, further complicating the entire process. In addition, the improper motion also requires more energy, causing the horse to fatigue faster, predisposing it to breakdown injuries.


Traumatic and stressful situations occur throughout the day. Riders, saddle and tack fit, confinement, rigorous exercise, strenuous play, or every day slips and falls can lead to problems in the spinal column and subluxations. For example:

  • TRAUMA: slips, falls, missteps, missed jumps, being cast in a stall
  • CONFORMATIONAL TRAITS: long backs, short or crooked legs
  • BIRTH: a traumatic or normal delivery can affect the mare AND the foal chiropractically
  • CONFINEMENT: decreases balance and coordination and weakens muscles
  • PERFORMANCE INJURIES: all disciplines can create trauma and stress
  • EQUIPMENT: poor fitting or improperly used tack and equipment
  • AGE: with age the spinal column loses flexibility
  • SHOEING/HOOF IMBALANCES: create uneven forces up the limb and through the body
  • TRAILERS: long rides, poor suspension, quick turns, stops or starts, accidents
  • RIDER ABILITY: unbalanced riders, or riders with subluxations create unbalanced loads
  • POOR TEETH: improper motion of the temporomandiberal joint affects all the major nerves passing by it


The symptoms will vary depending upon the location of the subluxation; however pain is the most common symptom. The horse will compensate for the pain in gait or posture and often refuse or resist doing certain tasks.

Pain may be demonstrated by

  • discomfort during saddling or riding
  • abnormal posture at rest
  • evasion type maneuvers such as extending the head or hollowing the back
  • tail wringing, ear pinning
  • bucking, refusing or avoiding jumps
  • resisting lateral or collection work
  • developing unusual behavior patterns or sensitivity to touch
  • apprehensive expression

Symptoms that arise from associated muscle incoordination may include

  • poor gait coordination
  • improper frame
  • shifting lameness
  • stiffness coming out of the stall or in lateral movement of the body or neck
  • muscle wasting or shrinking
  • shortened stride in one or two limbs
  • decrease gait extension
  • inability to lengthen the top line or engage the hind quarters
  • rope walking or plaiting
  • difficulty flexing at the poll
  • continually shifting the rider to one side.

If the subluxation affects nerves that communicate with the skin cells a horse may have

  • unusual body or tail rubbing
  • increased sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
  • patchy or asymmetrical sweating.

These are just a few of the clinical symptoms that can present from a chiropractic subluxation in our equine patients.

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment please call the clinic at (585)243-5560.

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