It is not surprising; in view of the requirements of the various animal disciplines, that back injuries sometimes occur. Horses of today are asked to do far more than evolution could have expected, with greater pressure to perform at high standards. Placing a weight upon the back of these animals poses many questions into the effect it has upon the underlying anatomy. Pain or discomfort in any degree is inhibiting and detracts from the performance ability of an animal.
The most common reason for presentation of a back problem is for poor performance rather than overt pain.
The fact is that the musculo-skeletal system in any athletic pursuit is vulnerable to overstress, which can lead into patterns of muscle tension. Competitive animals benefit from regular maintenance checks because often residual injury can remain from an incident such as a fall.
Animals are no different to people except they hide pain far more easily and are just as likely, if not more, to suffer from back, neck, pelvic and musculoskeletal problems. They can therefore benefit from therapy.
It is part of evolution and the ‘survival of the fittest’ for a predator to kill a weak or poor animal out of the wild. These days such evolutionary powers are lost to man’s control. Adaptation to minor musculo-skeletal problems can occur for a period of time but soon enough the animal in the wild will be unable to use its fight/flight response or feed and therefore languish. Horses have a very high pain threshold and their ability to adapt is unique. In the wild the predator hunts the young, weak and old. Therefore the sight of an unlevel, lame, short striding horse is easy pickings and a more likely meal. For this reason the horse has adapted and learnt to disguise its faults, not only making it difficult for the predator to see but also the poor owner who cannot quite work out what is wrong with their horse or pony.
The use of the horse has developed over the last few decades from hunting to a mass variety of disciplines. The expectations upon horses of today are much greater. Working horses within enclosed arenas, putting them on tight circles and asking for lateral work. A hunter can cope to a degree with back pain, working predominantly in a straight line, hollowing over fences with the adrenaline pumping around the body. Today’s horses express problems far more readily with slow, flatwork manoeuvres. Expecting the horse to remain balanced and in rhythm, fully engaged in an enclosed space, will most certainly provide the opportunity for the horse to say ‘NO’. These days we ask more questions as to why our horses may say ‘no’ to certain work. In the past it would often be classed as bad behaviour and the horse would either be destroyed or beaten. People have become much more open minded and far less willing to add their “pet” into the meat market.